Staff Editorial: Transparency, collaboration and input in the search for a police chief

Over the past year, GW has faced several sudden administrative departures: The head of the fundraising office, Mike Morsberger, and a top anti-sexual assault official, Tara Pereira – both beloved leaders in their departments – left their positions for personal reasons.

The latest in this line? University Police Department Chief Kevin Hay, who’s retiring after 31 years in law enforcement, including four at GW.

These are three high-profile departments – arguably, there are no three topics more talked-about on Foggy Bottom or at a national level right now than university fundraising, student safety and campus sexual assault.

The three offices will now have new leaders with the power to shape their teams’ cultures. It was Morsberger’s passion for his job and this school, despite never attending GW himself, that made him such a well-known leader, and it was Pereira’s warm personality that made students see her as a “guardian angel.”

Though we now have a new Title IX coordinator, the search to fill that position lasted almost a year and was less than perfect for a number of reasons – not the least of which being inadequate updates from GW throughout.

Now that the University is tasked with finding a leader for an equally important department, administrators can learn from their most recent search.

1. A transparent timeline
When officials who are supposed to serve and protect students – like the Title IX coordinator and the head of the police department – suddenly depart, it leaves a campus with feelings of uncertainty.

This anxiety only worsens when we don’t know when the period of uncertainty will end, which was exactly the case when GW searched for a new Title IX coordinator over the past year. After Periera stepped down at the end of 2012, we were first told a replacement would be found by May 2013, then GW announced the position would be reposted in the fall and it was finally filled just a few weeks ago.

Now, as the University conducts its national search for Hay’s replacement, it should provide students with a realistic timeline and periodic updates.

2. Collaboration between UPD and the Title IX office
One of UPD’s most important roles on campus is to investigate sexual assaults. Police are supposed to give survivors confidence that officers will handle their reports sensitively and thoroughly.

To accomplish this, the department needs to work closely with the Title IX office. With the search for a new police chief coming fresh off a search for a Title IX coordinator, the University has a unique opportunity to ensure that these two departments work well together.

When hiring, GW should choose someone whose work style is compatible with and complements that of new Title IX Coordinator Rory Muhammad. The two will learn about campus culture together, after all, and it’s essential that their lines of communication are open as they adjust to their new roles.

If the leaders of each of these essential departments are in close contact, students can rest assured their cases will be handled properly. Given the national conversation surrounding sexual assault – as well as the prominent discussions happening on this campus – GW should make this coordination a priority.

3. Solicit input
During the search for Pereira’s replacement, students were looped into the process: They gave input to Ann Franke – the lawyer GW hired to temporarily consult the University on its sexual assault policies – about what changes they’d like to see on campus, including more education and improvements to the resources website HAVEN.

With the issue of sexual assault, it’s hugely important to solicit student input – that’s why we’re also glad to see that a new committee will meet monthly on the topic and discuss best practices. Made up of students and faculty members, the group will be led by Muhammad and report to Provost Steven Lerman.

Granted, expert opinion is arguably more important than student opinion when it comes to hiring a new police chief, but GW could still follow this precedent and reach out to a few key student leaders as it searches for Hay’s replacement. For instance, certain Student Association representatives have made safety issues – like reforming 4RIDE or the blue light system – priorities during their tenures.

Students can be essential to pointing out the campus perception of UPD (arguably, not altogether positive as of late) and what changes they’d like to see in the police-student relationship. At the very least, this would be a welcome gesture from GW, and a way to show the University cares that students approve of the person who will be in charge of protecting them.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Robin Jones Kerr and contributing opinions editor Sarah Blugis, based on discussions with managing director Justin Peligri, design editor Sophie McTear, copy editor Rachel Smilan-Goldstein and senior designer Anna McGarrigle.

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