A group of faculty members released a letter condemning racially insensitive remarks about divestment that University President Thomas LeBlanc made in a video earlier this week.
The Faculty Association criticized LeBlanc Wednesday over remarks he made likening a hypothetical majority of students in support of shuttering GW’s Regulatory Studies Center to a theoretical majority in favor of wanting to shoot “all the black people here.” The letter states that the GW community “needs” a president who “goes the extra mile” to ensure students of color feel safe and valued on campus, adding that LeBlanc’s “glib” comments about “racist murders” make it clear he is not that president.
The letter states that LeBlanc’s remarks are a predictable consequence of the lack of diversity on the presidential search committee that resulted in LeBlanc’s hiring.
“Like much of the GW community, we in the GWU Faculty Association were appalled when we heard President LeBlanc casually invoking a hypothetical plan to murder African American students as an example of a majority decision that he would disregard,” the letter reads. “This is precisely the sort of thing we worried about four years ago when we opposed the lack of diversity on the presidential search committee.”
Faculty members expressed concerns in 2016 that the search committee was not representative of the University’s overall faculty community. All of the faculty members selected for the faculty consultative committee – which included one woman – hailed from the STEM, law or medical fields and were also all white.
The Faculty Senate later granted the Association’s request to add additional members to increase the diversity of faculty input in the search. But then-Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell said members of the consultative committee would not be involved in the interview process or know who the candidates were.
“We hope that the Board of Trustees will rethink their habitual disdain for faculty input,” the association’s letter reads. “President LeBlanc’s callous remarks are just one of a number of deeply offensive acts that might have been avoided had the university administration respected the voices of students, staff, and faculty committed to making the GW community a place where we can all flourish.”
LeBlanc apologized Sunday for the remarks he made Saturday on video, adding that he realized his “insensitive example” – which he intended to use to show that majority rule could not justify abridging academic freedom – was “hurtful to members of our community.”
“The point I was making – that majority rule should never suppress the human rights of others – was obscured by the example I used,” LeBlanc said. “I regret my choice of words and any harm I unintentionally inflicted on a community I value greatly.”
The video first emerged on the Facebook page “Overheard at GW” and depicts an individual – later identified as a member of divestment advocacy organization Sunrise GW – asking LeBlanc whether he would shutter the RSC if a majority of students agreed. LeBlanc responded by saying majority rule should not dictate every decision.
“‘What if the majority of the students agreed to shoot all the black people here?” he said in the video. “Do I say, ‘Ah, well the majority voted?’ No.”
Groups like the Student Association’s Black Senators’ Caucus, Sunrise GW, GW’s chapter of the NAACP and the Progressive Student Union have criticized LeBlanc in the wake of his remarks.
Andrew Zimmerman – the vice president of the Faculty Association – said the group has been “fighting the top-down management” style of the Board of Trustees and the University’s presidents since the group formed in 2014. He said the centralization of decision-making among trustees and the president creates a culture that is “out of touch” with diversity and inclusion, which leads to “hurtful statements” like the one LeBlanc made.
“I do not imagine that President LeBlanc or the Board of Trustees who selected him are capable of doing anything to address these kinds of problems,” he said. “They will be solved by students, staff and faculty empowering ourselves and making GW the inclusive and democratic university that it can and should be.”
LeBlanc could not immediately be reached for comment.