As students return to GW and get back into the swing of the new semester, they will find several empty top offices on campus.
There has been an influx of high-level administrators leaving their roles one after the other over the last five months. Peter Konwerski, the former vice provost and dean of student affairs, formally stepped down at the end of last semester. The University currently lacks permanent leaders in several other offices, including the Colonial Health Center, the Office of Student Rights and Responsibilities, the Office of Military and Veteran Affairs, the College of Professional Studies and the Virginia Science and Technology Campus. And just this month, University Police Department Chief RaShall Brackney and her assistant chief announced they would be leaving their posts this week.
Higher education experts have told The Hatchet that it’s normal for administrators to step down after a new University president comes in. Although we agree that this can be the case for the large number of top leaders leaving, that can’t be the reason behind every single vacancy. So many absences in such a short time frame is not normal. Looking at the University’s history of turnover, it is reasonable to think that there may be a systemic problem with the culture at GW that is causing at least some of these high-ranking administrators to become unhappy or unsatisfied with their work. It is unacceptable for the University to not address this.
As we start the spring semester, University President Thomas LeBlanc and the University will be actively searching to fill all of these vacancies. LeBlanc needs to be transparent with students and the community about his plan to simultaneously find these replacements in a timely manner, as well as his expectations and plans for the people he chooses to hire.
Specifically, the University needs a plan to not only fill, but retain, these positions for more than just a few months. While it may be normal for people to move from job to job, there is no reason why such a large number of simultaneous high-ranking administrative vacancies should be the norm at any university. The abruptness and crypticness of some of these vacancies offer hints that these resignations may be more complex than they seem. Glenn Egelman, the former director of the CHC, only said that “things speak for themselves” in response to a question asking why he resigned. Brackney and her assistant chief Michael Glaubach were not quoted in the press release publicizing their resignations.
GW must now do what they can to figure out why employees may be unsatisfied with the environment on campus or with their work – especially since the University has a long history of high turnover. The Title IX Office and UPD have faced problems with turnover for several years. Mental Health Services and the CHC have also seen one administrator after another leave since 2012. If the University finds that the bureaucracy or culture here is the culprit behind many of the vacant administrator positions, then the University must address that truth and work to find a solution.
Hiring the most qualified candidates cannot be overstated as LeBlanc and the University search for replacements for the growing number of open positions. While retention is important, the most vital quality of these administrators is their ability to improve the life of students and staff during their time here. However, the University should still do all they can to figure out how to better retain leaders and address what is within their control. It is unfair for students to not have a reliable administrator that they can go to with questions or concerns, especially in positions like UPD and the CHC that directly relate to health and safety.
An effort must also be made to hire replacements who will share similar goals with each other and with LeBlanc. This would allow the newly hired leaders to better work with the University, prevent potential disagreements that could cause employees to want to leave their roles and improve retention in the long run. These departments – like the CHC and the Office of Veteran Student Affairs – work together, so they should have leaders that can also work as a cohesive unit.
But it is especially vital that these vacancies are filled as soon as possible. No search should take more than a year. The 17-month-long search for the CHC’s first executive director ultimately resulted in a hire who only worked in his position for a few months, proving that a long search does not always produce the best candidate. While students may not personally notice the impact these vacancies have on their lives on campus, it will become problematic when these students want to go to these offices for help and there’s no permanent leader there.
We cannot say for sure why so many leaders are stepping down from their posts at once, but there are still actions the University should take to address this problem and prevent another string of vacancies from happening in the future. That starts with transparency with the student body and community about the plan for GW’s future.
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 Renee Pineda, based on discussions with managing director Melissa Holzberg, managing editor Tyler Loveless, sports editor Matt Cullen, and copy editor Melissa Schapiro.