In his first town hall meetings with the community, University President Thomas LeBlanc told students that he is looking to improve the culture on campus.
LeBlanc invited students and faculty to ask him questions about his goals and leadership at three town hall meetings on the Foggy Bottom Campus this week. LeBlanc plans to host two more meetings on GW’s other campuses, the Mount Vernon Campus and the Virginia Science and Technology Campus, next month.
LeBlanc answered live questions from audience members and inquiries that were previously sent in, covering everything from his goals in office to the correct way to pronounce his last name. Nelson Carbonell, the chairman of the Board of Trustees, moderated the event.
At the meetings, LeBlanc reiterated his priorities and said he plans to focus on improving the undergraduate student experience, using the funds from the $1 billion campaign wisely and examining the effectiveness of GW’s current investments in research.
LeBlanc invited the audience to attend his official inauguration on Nov. 13, including a ceremony in the Smith Center and a reception in the Science and Engineering Hall.
Here are some key takeaways from the town halls:
1. Supporting DACA students
When questions were asked about President Donald Trump’s decision to rescind the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, LeBlanc said the institution’s feelings about DACA have been made very clear and encouraged those affected to reach out for resources.
LeBlanc condemned the decision to end protections for young undocumented immigrants Tuesday and the University is bringing in lawyers from an outside immigration firm to provide free legal advice.
“We all believe this is an assault on our core values, we all believe this is an affront to our students,” LeBlanc said. “I think GW is out in front with all of higher education on this issue.”
He declined to comment when asked if the University will be a leader in opposing any future documents from Trump’s administration.
2. Talking Title IX
After high-level Title IX office departures and recent scrutiny from a case earlier this year, students asked what LeBlanc thought of Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos’ choice to rescind Title IX guidelines previously outlined by the Obama administration.
LeBlanc said that an outside firm is currently reviewing GW policies so that the University will be “best in class” in that issue.
“We are incredibly committed to the safety of our students and that’s not going to change,” he said.
The University is currently under investigation by the Department of Education for possible violations of federal law over its handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints.
3. Student push for fossil fuel divestment
Last year, the Student Association unanimously voted in favor of fossil fuel divestment, but officials have not addressed the SA vote. LeBlanc labeled fossil fuel divestment as a “complicated issue” that he hasn’t fully investigated or conversed about with the Board.
He declined to confirm his stance on the action but said that the University trusts the investment groups to evaluate the best financial move.
“We can’t simultaneously limit where they put all the investments. I would have to better understand exactly how we are doing that now,” LeBlanc said. “I’m happy to listen to the students, but I don’t always agree with them.”
4. Improving the undergraduate experience
When answering a question about improving the community on campus, LeBlanc said students and University officials need to discuss how to create more community space for students.
“When I toured the dorm rooms, the question I asked in every building was, ‘Where’s the community space?’” he said.
LeBlanc said students have told him that they feel GW prioritizes its finances over the students themselves and that the University needs to create a culture that serves the entire community.
“Students believe their relationship with the University is way too transactional,” he said. “They’re seeing individual offices that want to see their GWorld card, and they want to scan it and take money off of it.”