GSEHD’s ‘transformational leader’ finds success with limited resources

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Dan Rich | Contributing Photo Editor

Graduate School of Education and Human Development Dean Michael Feuer came to the school five years ago, and has helped lead it through a time of change, faculty say.

This is the sixth in a series on GW’s 10 deans.

When Michael Feuer took over as dean of GW’s education school in 2010, he faced a school struggling to stay afloat in the highly competitive world of teacher training.

Five years later, with limited funding and minimal resources, Feuer is helping to turn that school around. Officials at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development are making the best out of what they have access to, creating research opportunities for faculty to bring in more dollars, promoting the school’s efforts to potential applicants and donors and projecting increases in enrollment over the coming months.

After enrollment dropped by more than 20 percent in recent years, GSEHD began to implement new programs through a strategic plan, called “GSEHD Vision 2020.” Under Feuer’s leadership, faculty and administrators are cautiously optimistic about the future of the school, and this year, enrollment numbers are expected to increase.

“He has proved adept at facilitating that process,” Michael Castleberry, a special education and disabilities studies professor, said in an email. “It’s not easy to lead a group of people who are ‘expert’ in their own areas toward a larger, more collaborative goal, and he’s making steady process. The fact that people trust him is probably his greatest asset.”

Feuer said in an interview last month that he is always looking for original ways to jump-start some of the school’s practices. A couple of years ago, he told faculty to push themselves in more creative ways for research — a challenge he says faculty have met.

“I said, ‘Do you think there might be ways for us in the school to foster, facilitate, promote — whatever word you want to use there — to have even more creative and innovative thinking with respect to research and instruction?’” he said.

He said faculty from different schools or programs have created new forums where they can collaborate on innovative ways to teach about education, and GSEHD administrators are experimenting with new ways to structure the school and its programs.

“When it comes to the overall organization of the school, we are working on some ideas about that, but nothing is formally in place as of now,” Feuer said.

He added that faculty from other schools or differing programs within GSEHD are collaborating with the education school’s faculty to create new ways to teach about education or generate more interdisciplinary research in an effort to amp up the school’s reputation.

Leo Chalupa, the vice president for research, said in an interview last year that Feuer had approached him at the start of the past academic year to discuss different ways for faculty to apply for more and higher-earning research grants.

Feuer also oversaw a collaboration between GSEHD and the GW Law School, scheduled to start this fall, for law students interested in education policy.

Senior Associate Dean Carol Kochhar-Bryant described Feuer as a “democratic and transformational leader,” saying in an email that Feuer strongly believes in including faculty and staff in making major decisions for the school.

“Everyone, both faculty and staff, is viewed as equal and invited to play a part in group decisions that impact the faculty as a whole and the future of the school,” Kochhar-Bryant said in an email.

From that “crucible,” Feuer has brought new goals and solutions to problems in the school, Kochhar-Bryant said.

“He displays confidence in his leadership, calmness when under stress, and a remarkable stamina, persevering through many challenges to accomplish his Vision 2020 goals,” Kochhar-Bryant said.

Feuer came to GW with an already strong reputation in education. Earlier this year, he landed a spot on a list of the top 200 education researchers with the most public influence and currently serves as president of the National Academy of Education.

Over the years, Feuer has been able to draw in new faculty like Josh Glazer, an associate professor of educational leadership, who is in his third year at GW. When Glazer and his family moved to D.C. for the job, Feuer invited him to a Washington Nationals game.

“I picked up my ticket in his office and I come down to these really nice seats, and there he is, not in his normal shirt and tie, not in GW clothes, but decked out in a Nationals jersey and a Nationals hat,” Glazer said. “He is eating a bag of carrots and hummus and he offers me a carrot.”

Glazer said he immediately pulled out his phone and texted his wife that “any doubts about this place have now been removed.”

Glazer described Feuer as an “eternal optimist” and a legitimate believer in the capacity of research to make a difference — and no one can convince the dean otherwise.

“He set such an ambitious agenda for the school. If you are working for him, you have to buckle up and go along for the ride. He will not just be coasting or doing more of the same,” Glazer said. “It makes GSEHD an exciting place. You feel like you are at a place where stuff is happening. We aren’t standing still here.”

While the school has seen these successes, roadblocks and missteps remain. Facilities for the school, which faculty and Feuer say are in need of upgrades, have been set aside in the midst of University-wide financial issues, and the school has slipped in rankings in recent years.

GSEHD also has developed global connections and programs through the University. Feuer supported GW’s May partnership with Taibah University for a doctoral program on educational leadership.

Linda Lemasters, an associate professor of educational administration, remembered how she and Feurer traveled to Saudi Arabia to work on developing the Ph.D. program. She said that “working with him is very comfortable.”

“He has worked on me with projects internationally, as well as projects here in the States, and when you are working on projects and grants there are always challenges, but he always keeps a sense of humor,” Lemasters said.

Robert Chernak, an associate professor of higher education administration at GSEHD, said in an email that there was “not a better subject” to write about than Feuer. Chernak moved to the school in 2012 after retiring from 24 years as the senior vice president for student and academic support services.

“Beyond his professional attributes, what I like best about Mike is his down-to-earth, people-to-people skills, his keen sense of humor, and ability to maintain a sense of calm and composure during times of challenge,” Chernak said.

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