Board of Trustees targets communication with students, faculty

Board of Trustees chair Nelson Carbonell said he will push trustees to interact more with the GW community through dinners this year. The involvement comes during a national push for stronger board governance. Hatchet File Photo

The University’s highest governing body is looking to shed its traditionally inaccessible reputation by connecting with the thousands of people its decisions impact most: students, faculty and alumni.

Board of Trustees chair Nelson Carbonell, who officially took the helm this month , said he plans to connect with more faculty this fall, before turning to student outreach in the winter and alumni this spring.

“I’ve encouraged Board members to get out and talk to people, not just sit in a boardroom and make decisions,” said Carbonell, who also served six years as the board’s vice chair. He said the Board will host faculty and staff events, such as dinners. He added that there would be more details in the next few months.

Carbonell, a CEO and business strategist, has reached out to students as the face of GW’s senior class gift campaign over the last two years, donating more than $100,000 through matched gifts. He’s also stressed transparency while leading a committee last fall that handled GW’s response to the discovery of decade-long admissions data inflation.

The Board ended its annual dinner with members of the Faculty Senate about a decade ago, professor Anthony Yezer said. Since then, the Board’s interaction with faculty has dropped to “about zero.”

“Faculty will always meet with the trustees – junior partners in a law firm want to socialize with the senior partners – but the amount of interaction is due to whatever the administration and the trustees want,” Yezer said.

The previous board’s chair, Russ Ramsey, also sought to increase student and alumni input and hosted 10 students at a dinner in 2007. He also pledged to increase the University’s endowment and decrease tuition.

Carbonell has said he is looking to give the typically slow-moving University a jolt, and move the 36-member Board away from rubber stamping administrators’ decisions. The shift reflects the national higher education landscape, as boards sought more direct oversight after scandals at Pennsylvania State University and University of Virginia.

Board can no longer focus solely on “big-picture issues as endowment, succession planning, capital campaigns and academic reputation,” University Business Magazine wrote last year. Instead, “substantially more time will be devoted to evaluating mergers, acquisitions and business development options” like the kind of international partnerships GW has looked to forge.

Ellen Zane, the Board’s newly elected vice chair, said the communication will help the board “understand the issues from the people who are closest to them.

“We don’t have a magic wand and we need to be realistic recognizing there are limitations to what we can ‘fix,’ improve or change,” Zane said. “But we need to better understand the challenges of others and celebrate their accomplishments as well.”

University President Steven Knapp said the Board’s primary functions are to be legally responsible for the institution and help develop a strategic vision. But because the members come from different “walks of life” and occupations, Knapp said their life experiences will help GW grow.

“They’re raising questions that if you’re in the middle of managing something, you don’t always have the ability to come up from air and take a broader look. The more they know about the University, the more helpful they can be,” Knapp said.

– Cory Weinberg contributed to this report.

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