Updated: Feb. 23, 2020 at 4:24 p.m.
The Progressive Student Union has launched a campaign criticizing University President Thomas LeBlanc’s “disastrous” strategic plan, according to a press release the group published Wednesday.
LeBlanc announced the four pillars of GW’s next five-year strategic plan – distinguished and distinctive graduate education, high-quality undergraduate education, world-class faculty and high-impact research – at a town hall in September. PSU’s “Fight Back! GW” campaign aims to derail LeBlanc’s “disastrous” strategic plan the group said will transform the University into an “exclusively rich and white student body,” according to the release.
PSU delivered a letter to LeBlanc Wednesday asking him to meet with “a group of concerned students” about the plan by Feb. 28 and launched a petition calling for an “immediate halt” to his strategic plan until it has been “fully reevaluated” with input from students, faculty and staff.
The strategic plan includes tenets to cut the undergraduate population by 20 percent and increase the fraction of STEM students to 30 percent of the undergraduate total. The moves could cause a 2 to 7 percent reduction in underrepresented minority enrollment relative to GW’s baseline, according to models the Office of the Provost presented in October, but LeBlanc has repeatedly said officials do not intend to compromise an “inch” on GW’s diversity gains.
Administrators also eliminated GW’s longstanding fixed tuition policy for the Class of 2024, the next incoming class to GW, as part of the plan.
“LeBlanc’s strategic plan has already harmed working-class and students of color by eliminating fixed-tuition,” the release states. “If we allow LeBlanc to continue down this path, our University will become unrecognizable as it transitions from a world-class liberal-arts institution to a dollar-store MIT.”
The enrollment cuts could cost GW between $8 million to $36.2 million in revenue each year, according to the provost office’s models. PSU leaders expressed concerns that LeBlanc will compensate for lost revenue with his plans to cut enrollment by reducing financial aid, removing “already endangered” departments and reducing the number of tenure-track professors.
Cutting enrollment and prioritizing STEM educations are “drastic changes” that “pose an existential threat to the GW community as a whole,” PSU’s letter to LeBlanc states.
“Together, these measures would severely hamper the ability of working class students and students of color to attend this university, making our school richer and whiter,” the letter states. “Even according to your own models, your plan of ‘right-sizing’ is really about ‘white-sizing’ our campus.”
Junior Emily Harding, a member of PSU’s coordinating committee, said LeBlanc’s strategic plan has been on the organization’s “radar” for the past year after faculty members raised concerns.
“While members of GW’s faculty have organized and strongly voiced their grievances with the plan, we haven’t seen the same level of coordinated resistance from students,” Harding said in an email. “We feel there is an urgent need to stand up as students before LeBlanc succeeds in making this institution whiter and richer for years to come.”
Sophomore Bryce Maples, a member of PSU’s coordinating committee, said that at the launch event, which took place in the Science and Engineering Hall, a GW Police Department officer approached a participating student in an “aggressive” manner, began to yell at the students that “you know that you’re not supposed to be here” and tried to grab a megaphone from a student.
Maples said PSU’s police liaison tried to deescalate the situation by asking the officer to articulate the policy the students were violating, but the officer refused and issued a threat to arrest the students because they were on “private property.”
University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said officials are “still in the planning phase” and are collecting feedback from the “whole GW community” on the plan. She said the strategic planning committees are requesting more feedback by March 6 for the final recommendations that the committees will submit in May and before moving to a Board of Trustees vote in June.
“We encourage all members of the university community to follow the work of the committees, participate in campus discussions and share their ideas for moving GW forward,” Nosal said.
Nosal said GWPD encountered students protesting with a megaphone in SEH and informed them that the protest was “against GW policy.” She said a report was taken because a staff member had complained the protest was disrupting class, adding that students willingly left the building.