Updated: Feb. 29, 2020 at 1:30 p.m.
More than 80 faculty have signed a Faculty Association petition calling on University President Thomas LeBlanc to resign.
The group released the petition Wednesday, adding in a statement that the call for LeBlanc’s resignation has gained “urgency” following the “racist remarks” he made earlier this month. The petition cites LeBlanc’s support for the 20/30 Plan, which “will have a negative effect on the racial, ethnic and economic diversity of GW’s student body,” and comes amid increased tensions over GW’s next strategic plan and the institutional culture initiative.
“Now it is time to act,” the group said. “We believe it is essential to show students, staff and faculty of color that the entire GW community stands with them in their right to safety and respect from the highest levels on this campus.”
The association has served as an informal labor union since more than a 100 faculty members banded together to create the organization in 2014, members said last spring.
LeBlanc apologized for making the “insensitive” comment, made in a video that surfaced earlier this month, the day after the video emerged. The comment, which also revealed GW’s fossil fuel investment profile, sparked multiple student protests the following week.
“We understand LeBlanc’s comment to be just the latest evidence of his disregard for both diversity and democracy at GW,” the group said in the statement.
The petition also criticizes LeBlanc for “ignoring a formal request for information” about the 20/30 Plan and claims that the plan will create “a condition of financial insecurity” and “jeopardiz[e] academic programs.”
LeBlanc’s plan calls for a reduction in the undergraduate population by nearly 20 percent while increasing the proportion of STEM students to 30 percent. Internal enrollment models obtained by The Hatchet last year reveal that the changes could cost GW between $8 million and $36 million in annual revenue loss and a 2 to 7 percent decline in minority enrollment relative to the baseline.
The Faculty Assembly – a group of all full-time faculty members – approved a petition in October requesting LeBlanc provide faculty with the data trustees considered when they developed the 20/30 Plan.
The Faculty Senate, a group of elected faculty members, established a special committee in December to address the petition, which received “fragmentary” information that did “not logically support” the enrollment changes. The assembly unanimously voted to support the senate’s actions Tuesday, hours before the Faculty Association began circulating the petition.
“Despite repeated faculty protests, LeBlanc has shown no recognition of this concern,” the association’s statement reads.
The statement also bashes administrators for “paying consultants from the Disney Corporation unknown amounts of University funds” to participate in their efforts to improve GW’s institutional culture. Disney Institute staff have hosted multiple conferences in Florida for University employees, facilitated culture training sessions for faculty and staff and conducted a survey of employees to kick off the initiative.
Administrators said the survey cost the University about $300,000 but have declined to provide the cost of the entire partnership.
“Enough is enough,” the Faculty Association statement reads. “It is time to show Thomas LeBlanc the door and to put GW on a course worthy of its considerable potential.”
Andrew Zimmerman, the group’s acting president and a professor of history and international affairs, said 82 faculty of all ranks and across multiple departments signed the petition in the first 24 hours.
“It takes courage for a faculty member to sign a petition like this, especially under – and against – an administration that seems to have thrown norms of academic governance out the window,” he said. “As is typical, the number of new signatures slowed after the first 24 hours – but we expect another wave over the weekend.”
He added that Guillermo Orti, the group’s former president, resigned to focus on his work as a faculty senator.
“He is pursuing an independent, but equally important and complementary, path that also seeks to bring transparency and accountability to the LeBlanc administration,” Zimmerman said in an email. “This is such a crisis for the University as a whole that it did not make sense to have one person leading efforts in the senate and in GWUFA at the same time.”
Guillermo Orti, a professor of biology, said serving as president of the association “has been a privilege and an honor” despite leading the organization during a “turbulent period of time.” Orti declined to say why he resigned or whether his resignation is tied to the group’s petition.
“It has been a learning experience and I am thankful for this opportunity,” Orti said in an email. “I remain tightly committed to working in a constructive way toward shared governance and making GW an excellent and equitable University.”
University spokeswoman Crystal Nosal said LeBlanc has acted “in good faith” to respond to questions and requests for information about the strategic plan and enrollment initiatives and will continue to do so.
“There are differences of opinion about how best to approach strategic planning and how to address the call from members of the university community to improve GW’s culture,” she said in an email. “Members of the university community who want to shape these efforts have the opportunity to do so and their active engagement is both welcomed and encouraged.”