New official to shape University’s international strategy

GW is creating a new position in the provost’s office to oversee international strategy, which deans have developed over the past several months without a dedicated leader.

Officials and members of the Board of Trustees decided to create the post last month, looking to push forward the strategy that deans created this year. The new administrator will be GW’s chief officer for international programs and engagement, Provost Steven Lerman wrote in a letter to faculty last week.

“Many elements of the strategy – particularly enrollment growth, philanthropy and increased research from abroad – are critical to future growth in the University’s revenues, and we believe it is imperative to move forward with this key strategic plan priority despite our budget constraints,” Lerman wrote.

The hire will likely come from within the University, and officials plan to start reviewing candidates by the end of this month, Lerman wrote in the memo.

This will be GW’s first senior position to focus on international strategy, putting it in line with several other peer schools. The chief officer will join Donna Scarboro, an associate provost who oversees international programs such as study abroad and international exchange partnerships.

The University has recently added vice provosts to oversee areas like diversity and online education – an effort to centralize and coordinate programs across different schools. GW increased the number of administrative positions by 44 percent between 2004 and 2012.

Through a spokesperson, Lerman did not respond to specific questions about how the new position will differ from current ones, what type of person he hoped would fill it or why it was important for shaping strategy.

Shawn McHale, an associate professor of international affairs, said different departments often work toward international partnerships without realizing what’s happening in other parts of the University. GW needs a high-ranking administrator to oversee international strategy, he said, but that person must work closely with faculty and researchers across divisions.

“To put it simply: a strategy that is too top-down is doomed to fail. It seems obvious, but a person in this position needs to balance top-down initiatives with a real and enduring attention to initiatives from below,” he said in an email.

Several of GW’s peer schools, including Duke and Emory universities and the University of Southern California, have created positions for global strategy in their provost’s offices.

Administrators also created a new position in the GW provost’s office about two years ago, when former School of Business dean Doug Guthrie served as the vice president of China operations for about six months.

The University has since pulled back from its efforts to grow in China, including most notably a plan to build a branch campus there, and has focused on engagement in Asia more broadly, as well as other areas like the Middle East and Latin America.

Lerman has maintained that China is still important to the University’s overall international strategy. He formed a committee last year to make recommendations for how GW should move forward with its engagements in China.

The Dean’s Council, which brings together GW’s 10 deans every month, has focused on identifying schools with common international interests and goals, which could serve as a foundation for the University’s broader strategy.

Kris Olds, an expert in the globalization of higher education and a professor at the University of Madison – Wisconsin, said more universities have created senior positions for international strategy in recent years because schools need to better coordinate programs and manage different types of partnerships.

“There has to be a strategy because you can’t just flounder around and react all the time. You have to be strategic and make decisions,” he said.

In addition to building their presence internationally, more universities want to attract foreign students to their campuses. Because undergraduate international students typically pay full tuition, growing an international student body can help increase revenue.

By hiring a current GW employee, the University could also bypass some tension with faculty, he added.

Faculty pushed back against creating a branch campus in China last year, and argued that professors who already had partnerships in China weren’t consulted about developing potential partners.

“If it is a complicated administrative political context, having local knowledge, deep connections and trusting connections, sometimes that can help,” Olds said. “If it’s a tense situation or there’s lots of disagreement or lots of hard work to be done and you need a trusted person, then sometimes it helps to bring someone from inside.”

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