Staff Editorial: A dean’s mistake illuminates GW’s larger problems

The latest administrative debacle to hit GW, which unfolded last week, becomes more disgraceful with each thread you untangle.

The GW School of Business’ $13 million of overspending last year forced a budget standoff between Dean Doug Guthrie and Provost Steven Lerman to decide next year’s spending limit. To break the stalemate, the University kicked Guthrie out of his roles as both business school dean and vice president for China operations, Lerman told The Hatchet Friday.

The abrupt change, which surprised students, faculty and administrators, will likely stall the lofty goals of the business school and the University at large. And while it’s reassuring that Lerman was transparent about the situation that led to Guthrie’s firing, this mismanagement and poor leadership is especially unfortunate for students, who entrust University leaders with enhancing GW’s reputation and academic stature.

Taking GW off track
GW administrators constantly tout the University’s upward trajectory and claim that the school is “investing in itself.” But those investments – and tuition dollars – are wasted when University leaders can’t get their act together and engage in basic compromises.

Guthrie had his hands on several issues vital to GW’s progress, like development in China and cross-disciplinary studies. The money and institutional energy devoted to these causes are partially squandered when key leadership changes cause turbulence.

Granted, the business school will have an interim dean until a permanent one is hired, but this role will largely be a placeholder. Schools need full, confident leaders in order to hire star professors, court donors and set an academic vision.

And when it comes to online and executive education – two major areas where Guthrie overextended and overspent – the damage is done.

Administrators must remember that the University is not innovating in a vacuum. Everything that GW does is relative to the work of other universities, many of which are developing new programs in the same areas. That stalled progress now keeps GW further behind as other schools charge forward.

Guthrie’s financial mistake undercuts the legacy of his three-year deanship, which showed promise because of his forward thinking and high standards for faculty.

But the administrative issues did not come out of nowhere. Under his tenure, the school faced issues of staffing turnover and faculty discontent.

Over the past two years, the business school also saw a steady slip in its rankings. While many deride these lists as irrelevant, a school’s standing has real effects for alumni. A college’s prestige and name recognition matters to potential employers, especially to those of business graduates.

Problems run deeper
The issues at the business school are disappointing. But at GW as a whole, the problems seems to run deeper. This $13 million mistake is only the latest failure.

University President Steven Knapp’s six-year tenure has been marred by a series of high-profile turnovers, with many stemming from seemingly preventable political gripes and communication disagreements between administrators, deans and faculty.

This is an alarming trend.

The business school joins the GW Law School as another prestigious – and lucrative – college at GW without complete administrative guidance. The lack of stability puts at risk these schools’ ability to generate much-needed revenue and added prestige for the University.

And it’s head-scratching that Lerman and other top administrators could not compromise on a business school budget for next year without resorting to firing the college’s leader. While Guthrie made the major misstep here, Knapp and Lerman deserve some blame for failing to resolve the situation without putting the future of the entire school off track.

If leaders are incapable of basic communication skills, such as listening to advice from others and coming to mutual agreements on issues like spending money, then progress at the University will continue to hit major roadblocks.

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