Officials offer updates on Class of 2024, negotiations with hospital operator

Media Credit: File Photo by Donna Armstrong | Senior Staff Photographer

University President Thomas LeBlanc committed at the meeting to greater transparency and greater faculty involvement with the strategic planning process.

Updated: March 23, 2020 at 10:05 p.m.

University President Thomas LeBlanc pledged to further his commitment to shared governance at the Faculty Senate’s March meeting Friday.

LeBlanc gave remarks related to a letter he and Chair of the Board of Trustees Grace Speights wrote to the faculty earlier this month outlining steps that they have taken and will take to increase faculty involvement in the rollout of the 20/30 Plan. Faculty senators also discussed the composition of the Class of 2024 and voted against a resolution that recommended limits on the length of senate sessions.

Faculty have complained that administrators made decisions in the strategic planning process without faculty input in violation of the principle of shared governance.

“While I believe these objectives are important, I understand moving forward that the faculty expect to be involved with establishing such goals,” LeBlanc said. “I know all our faculty care deeply about the University and I do too. I am committed to finding common ground with you that we can all support.”

He said there are “areas of disagreement” with respect to the plan but also “important areas of agreement” between faculty and administrators, like a commitment to enhancing diversity and growing the financial aid pool.

More than 100 faculty have signed a petition asking the Board of Trustees to scrap the current strategic plan and instead meet 100 percent of demonstrated need-based aid.

LeBlanc and Speights committed in the letter to improving communication with faculty when making decisions of shared governance, sharing “relevant” data and analytics with the senate before finalizing decisions, annually evaluating enrollment goals with the senate and providing data on “key metrics” like diversity and financial aid.

Joseph Cordes, a professor of economics and the chair of the senate’s fiscal planning and budget committee, said Jared Abramson, the vice president for financial planning and operations, told the committee at its previous meeting that UHS has “for the moment” stopped making dividend payments to the University.

Abramson said in a statement after the meeting that the payments have not stopped but are expected to be lower this year than last year, which is part of the reason for the drop in GW’s investment income this fiscal year relative to last year.

“We’re involved with some thorny negotiations with them now,” Cordes said of the hospital operator. “It sounds like the for-profit owners of the hospital are not willing to give very much at this point. It could be that that could have some negative consequences at some point. There’s a short consequence – apparently, we’re not quite getting the flow of revenue we expected from the hospital before.”

Cordes said the committee will start to follow the development more closely in the future.

Administrators sued UHS, which owns an 80 percent stake in GW Hospital, last year, claiming that the operator failed to turn over some profits for educational programs in the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Medical Faculty Associates.

Provost Brian Blake updated faculty at the meeting with enrollment statistics for the incoming Class of 2024. He said the class includes about 300 fewer students than the previous class, at about 2,250 new freshmen, in line with projections announced in December.

He added that the incoming class will also include a greater share of transfer students, at about 300 total, than previous classes.

“The recomposition of the students allows us to smooth over a five-year period,” Blake said.

He said officials’ goals with the incoming class were to maintain the amount of need-based financial aid available while increasing levels of diversity and growing the share of STEM students in the undergraduate population. He added that the average expected family contribution for students in the incoming class, a proxy for family wealth, is slightly lower for the incoming class.

“I was pretty specific in certain cases,” Blake said. “I said, ‘Do not miss on diversity,’ and in that, we’ve been conservative around diversity to make sure we didn’t miss there while fulfilling the other targets.”

The senate deferred a resolution to a later date that would have “established a norm” for all senate meetings to adjourn by 4:30 p.m. with the possibility for extension to 5 p.m.

The senate held a virtual meeting via WebEx with only leadership like LeBlanc, Blake and senate executive committee chair Sylvia Marotta-Walters present in the room where the senate regularly meets. The senate adopted a unanimous vote standard for the resolution because the senate lacked guidance for voting during remote meetings, LeBlanc said.

“The parliamentarian has informed me that the senate lacks rules for online meetings, quorums and votes, and so if any actions are taken today, we will do so under unanimous consent if consent can be attained,” LeBlanc said.

Anton Sidawy, a faculty senator and the chair of the Department of Surgery, said members of the executive committee heard from “many people” that longer senate meetings pose difficulties for senate members who need to pick their children up by a certain time or have long commutes to get home.

“I think limiting the length of the faculty senate is important, obviously that should be coupled by us recognizing that we have a limited time and maybe, therefore, we could be careful about our comments and keep them as brief and as useful as possible,” he said.

Sarah Wagner, a faculty senator and an associate professor of anthropology, said she was “concerned” with the language of the resolution, adding that senate meetings that run long have been the “exception and not the rule.”

“I wholeheartedly support us being as concise as possible with our own language, and I want to be supportive of my colleagues who have to get on public transportation or have children, spouses, people you have to get home and care for, but I’m deeply concerned about codifying and restricting conversations on the length of them,” she said.

LeBlanc said Sylvia Marotta-Walters, the chair of the senate’s executive committee, will ask the committee to adopt an “urgent” resolution later this month to establish rules for any future online meetings.

Marotta-Walters, the executive committee chair, said the senate’s next meeting scheduled for April 3 will also not be held in-person, in line with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control to limit the number of people gathering in one location.

“COVID-19 is obviously on everyone’s mind, and we’ve been working very hard throughout this pandemic to protect the health and safety of our University community,” LeBlanc said.

Lia DeGroot, Parth Kotak and Ilena Peng contributed reporting.

This post has been updated to reflect the following:
This post has been updated with a statement from Jared Abramson, the vice president for financial planning and operations, about the state of GW’s relationship with GW Hospital’s operator.

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