With a new University president comes a new vision for GW, and last week, we finally got a closer look at what University President Thomas LeBlanc will be focusing on in his tenure.
LeBlanc, who officially took over as president Aug. 1, sat down for an interview with The Hatchet last month where he shared his priorities, which included improving the student experience and retention.
The public announcement of his priorities came at just the right time. Waiting until the first week of classes shows that he spent the last several months – since he was announced in January – meeting with people, understanding student concerns and then developing his priorities.
Overall, his priorities are well-chosen and address some of the main concerns students have, such as affordability. But with about nine months spent assessing these topics, it is difficult to understand how LeBlanc plans to follow through without visible benchmarks to show students progress on his goals this year. Of course, we realize that LeBlanc is still assessing data and won’t fully accomplish these overarching priorities in a year, which he clearly acknowledges, but there should be progress. LeBlanc can give students a better idea of the direction he plans to take the University regarding these specific priorities by consistently communicating his plans with the student body through public progress reports and University statements throughout the year.
An effort must be made to reach out to the students who have not found a community on campus.
One of LeBlanc’s major foci is on improving student experience and increasing affordability. It is encouraging to hear that LeBlanc is recognizing issues that concern all students, especially when it comes to student dining. Students know that dining dollars are rarely enough to cover the cost of food, and they usually end up paying out of pocket. Recently, the University increased the amount of dining dollars by $200, which is a promising start but not enough. LeBlanc said he plans to continue assessing these costs, but he should take steps towards addressing the issue this year. Further increasing the amount of dining dollars would make many students, especially those who are reliant on financial aid, better able to cover their dining needs.
But this focus on student affordability does conflict with LeBlanc’s desire to be unafraid to take financially risky decisions. Although it’s important we aren’t impeded or held back by our “risk-averse culture,” the reality is that GW is heavily reliant on tuition. Decisions that increase expenses can translate into higher tuition for students. During former President Steven Knapp’s tenure, some of his financial decisions, especially his 3 to 5 percent budget cuts on all administrative units, were unpopular. But they weren’t unfounded. Taking financial risks may be good for the future, but for now we need financial responsibility to ensure long-term sustainability. LeBlanc will need to find a balance between long-term goals and short-term concerns, and students should be kept in the loop as he tries to find that balance this year.
GW is made up of more than just SA leaders.
Along with the finances comes the red tape. LeBlanc said that many students shared with him that they feel their relationship with the University is “too transactional” and expressed a desire to cut down on bureaucracy. And while this sounds promising in theory, he hasn’t given an official layout for those specific plans yet. He should start with small changes, like increasing communication between faculty and departments. Better educating University employees on what each individual department does can prevent students from needing to run around campus to several different offices to get their questions answered or issues addressed. And since he focused on improving institutional culture at University of Miami, this is something he has experience in doing.
Yet, one of the approaches of working towards improving student well-being contradicts with the lofty goal of creating a less bureaucratic GW. The Board of Trustees decided to launch two task forces, one on student well-being and another on alumni engagement, after speaking with LeBlanc this summer. Task forces are intended to make recommendations for improvement, but a task force can often be an impersonal approach. Adding more middlemen, even if some of those people are Student Association members, contradicts LeBlanc’s desire to cut down on red tape at the University.
Although representing every single student on campus is not possible, GW is made up of more than just SA leaders. Those are the students who usually get to speak to administrators about what they think should be improved on campus, but an effort must be made to reach out to the ones who have not found a community on campus in order to improve all students’ well-being. Another task force is not the best way to do this.
Something LeBlanc has definitely hit the right note on is choosing when to speak out on national issues. It’s not necessary to comment on every single national event that hits the news, but commenting on the ones that affect students and specific groups of the student body, like Charlottesville, shows he and the University support students when national incidents or policy changes occur.
Although LeBlanc’s priorities could use more tangible benchmarks, we acknowledge that these are not set in stone. His priorities will likely shift as he continues in his role and really gets to know the University and its students. In fact, we welcome and hope that he does. In the meantime, LeBlanc should communicate with students, whether it’s telling them new priorities he’s developed or new ways to accomplish ones he’s currently working toward.
The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Irene Ly and contributing opinions editor Shwetha Srinivasan, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, copy editor Melissa Schapiro and design editor Anna Skillings.