Hundreds turn out to provide input for strategic plan committees in first forums

Media Credit: Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor

Hundreds of faculty, staff and students showed up to four two-hour-long forums to comment on the University's upcoming strategic plan.

Hundreds of faculty, staff and students turned out to four open forums last month to provide feedback to officials leading the University’s next strategic plan.

Officials held two-hour-long public forums for each of the four pillars – distinguished and distinctive graduate education, high-quality undergraduate education, world-class faculty and high-impact research – guiding GW’s next strategic plan. Committee chairs who hosted the forums said the feedback will frame their discussions moving forward as they synthesize their final recommendations for administrators.

“We’ve tried to structure it to encourage the committees to do outreach at the grassroots level as much as possible, but maintain a focus,” University President Thomas LeBlanc said about the strategic planning process in an interview earlier this month.

LeBlanc established the committees, led by faculty chairs, for each of the pillars in September to receive feedback from the GW community and develop recommendations for the Board of Trustees by February. The board will subsequently approve the final strategic plan in May.

Alan Greenberg, the chair of the high-impact research committee and the epidemiology and biostatistics department chair, said his committee is meeting this week to consolidate the information it has received so far.

Attendees at the research forum, held Oct. 10, expressed concerns about defining “high-impact research” and about how officials plan to distribute research resources moving forward.

“We have a lot of different ways of collecting information,” he said. “In November, we’re going to dig down into a lot of more strategic issues.”

Greenberg said he has tried to keep the planning process “inclusive” and “transparent” by encouraging as much input as possible from faculty, staff and students. Sonali Bahl and Danielle Gilmore, student representatives on the committee, are developing a survey to gauge feedback about research from the University community, and the committee will likely hold additional town halls, he said.

“We’re hoping that by the time we get to the end of this process, what we’re recommending won’t be a surprise to anyone,” Greenberg said.

Scott Kieff, the chair of the faculty committee and a law professor, said his committee has received a “lot” of feedback from the GW community at the town hall and online about differing views on how to develop world-class faculty.

“We are delighted that we’ve been spending a lot of time together – as a committee and individually as committee members – reaching out to speak with, listen to and gather input from all corners of our campus community,” he said.

Kieff added that the feedback will help the committee gain new perspectives and develop a “focal point” as it meets over the next few months to form its report to administrators.

Carol Sigelman, the chair of the graduate education committee and a professor of psychology, said the committee met this week to discuss the importance of diversity and the need for more competitive graduate student support packages – issues that committee members heard during the forum.

Sigelman said the input on these topics was “very constructive” and “very helpful” to the committee as it seeks input from the community about how to develop a distinguished graduate education program.

Attendees at her committee’s forum, which was held on Oct. 24, questioned how officials plan to evaluate graduate programs. Some faculty expressed concerns that officials have a “set of internal criteria” for evaluating programs that are not “driven by faculty” input.

“We went into the forum hoping for the community’s guidance, and we got it,” Sigelman said in an email.

Gayle Wald, the chair of the undergraduate education committee and the American studies department chair, said forum attendees expressed concerns about how officials will fund undergraduate academic initiatives that they will roll out in the next few months, like increasing the proportion of science, technology, engineering and math students from 19 percent to 30 percent.

She added that attendees expressed a desire to prioritize diversity “broadly speaking.” Faculty have previously raised concerns about how the planned cut in enrollment by nearly 20 percent over five years will affect the diversity of the student body.

“It is clear that there is a desire for more experiential learning opportunities and fewer barriers to students’ pursuit of their goals,” Wald said in an email.

Wald said students attended the forum this month, but she hopes they will also attend the committee’s additional forums, which are intended specifically for undergraduates, on Tuesday and Wednesday from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in Funger Hall.

Members of the committee are “particularly interested” in hearing student feedback on increasing STEM opportunities, improving academic advising, leveraging GW’s D.C. location for “unique” learning opportunities and providing “innovative” academic opportunities at the forums, according to an email sent to students Thursday.

“I was really pleased with the turnout at the town hall and impressed by the passionate commitment to a distinctive GW education expressed by so many in the room,” Wald said in an email.

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