Students need to open their eyes, speak out about GW’s habit of quiet turnover

We get it. Most of you do not interact with administrators on a day-to-day basis. Frankly, most of us don’t either.

Administrators can feel foreign to the average student, so news that appears plastered on our front page about vacant positions likely doesn’t phase most of you or compel you to pick up the print edition to learn more.

But when the University fails to fill key positions that oversee aspects of student life that are most crucial – health and security – GW is failing students.

You may not think that vacant positions affect your time at GW, but as long as the University puts off filing positions and dodging questions about why leaders leave, officials are not serving students. It’s easy to push this issue aside and continue worrying about personal issues – but it’s time to pay attention, spot the trend and demand answers.

The most recent troubling departure occurred over the past few weeks. A University spokeswoman confirmed two weeks ago that Darrell Darnell, the senior associate vice president for safety and security and the superintendent of police, left his position – at least temporarily. The University installed an interim leader for the GW Police Department but never issued a release about the change.

After quietly shuffling the department while keeping students, faculty – and even the department’s own officers – in the dark, officials continued to avoid questions about the change.

Even today, we still don’t know why Darnell left or if he will return to the department. We don’t even know the exact date that he left and when the interim leader became responsible for students’ safety. The reason could be simple and benign, but it could also be troubling. But without transparency from the University, we are left to speculate – and speculation often leads to anxiety and conclusions to the worst possible scenario.

This one quiet change is concerning, but turnover and hushed changes are not new in GWPD. Just last year, the University restructured the Division of Safety and Security after GWPD’s top two leaders abruptly resigned. At the time experts said the resignations could signal discontent in the department – especially considering former leaders also quietly departed and officers quit with complaints of a hostile work environment – and we are still left wondering what happened a year ago and what is happening now.

Ensuring students are safe should be the University’s top priority, and the only factor that may trump it is students’ health. But the University has quietly avoided questions about that department, too.

The Colonial Health Center has seen three different leaders over the past year and a half. Dean of the Student Experience Cissy Petty was tapped to lead the department while officials searched for a permanent leader with medical experience, but six months later officials admitted they hadn’t even begun searching.

Before Petty began leading the CHC, Glenn Egelman, the department’s first leader, left after just six months and administrators were again tight-lipped about why he left and what their plans were to find a permanent replacement.

Egelman later said the office was plagued with lacking transparency when billing students and failing to ensure it met national quality standards.

Over the past 18 months, the University has left this vital position hanging in the balance – and it has gone largely unnoticed by students.

Changes in leadership aren’t uncommon across the University, but they are cause for alarm when there are repeated leadership changes in departments that are vital for student safety and health.

These vacancies are examples of a growing pattern in which the University lacks transparency in making leadership changes. It has become apparent that the University doesn’t care about being transparent with students, even when transparency can only help the situation. While it is easy for students to push these seemingly distant issues to the backburner, it is clear that these issues are not new and administrators don’t seem to be concerned with hiring qualified staff or prioritizing the health and safety of students.

Students may not think they can have a large impact on how administrators work at the University, but the first step is to be informed. Vital branches of the administration, including GWPD and the CHC, have been functioning without qualified leadership or with a system that isn’t supportive of University employees. Students’ tuition dollars go toward paying administrators and if we continue to turn a blind eye to those issues and allow them to avoid their responsibility, there is no reason why the University will adjust the way it is currently functioning.

But these issues go beyond just asking for transparency. With absences and vacancies every few months, a pattern of failure is normalized. It is impossible to look at the consistent leadership vacancies in GWPD, the lack of a stable leader in the CHC and a former athletic director scandal that has been swept under the rug as parts of an open University. These patterns of incompetency should push students to ask administrators the big question: “What is going on?”

The University owes students an explanation for why these positions – which are so central to the health and safety of students – have been quietly changed or have still not been filled with a permanent replacement.

At the end of the day, the lack of transparency isn’t just about students being aware of how their tuition dollars are being used. Lack of stability in these positions causes students to worry about their health and safety, and this anxiety cannot continue.

Administrators haven’t been forthcoming with this information, and that won’t likely change in the next month or even the next year. But students need to pay attention and call on the University to be better. We can’t continue to let the University pull down the shades and ignore their responsibility to create the best possible environment for students.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Renee Pineda and contributing opinions editor Kiran Hoeffner-Shah based on conversations with The Hatchet’s editorial board, which is composed of managing editor Matt Cullen, design editor Zach Slotkin, managing director Elise Zaidi, sports editor Barbara Alberts and culture editor Lindsay Paulen.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.