Bernard Wood, who joined GW in 1997, is a University professor of human origins.
The failure of GW’s leaders – millions of dollars spent on Disney consultants and trips to the Magic Kingdom, enrollment cuts, racial insensitivity and non-competitive high-level hires – was evident long before the current pandemic. The confused response to the pandemic, and the work involved in preparing for remote learning, have provided something of a smokescreen for the most recent examples of closed-doors decision-making and appallingly bad judgment, such as offering a high-level executive position to a person linked to the Michigan State University sexual abuse scandal. As we begin a new school year, the time has come to confront and resolve these chronic leadership problems. GW needs to act decisively, heal rapidly and move forward.
Leaders must be responsible custodians of resources, but effective leadership involves so much more than fiscal responsibility. They must lead by example – their behavior must be models of probity, honor and decency. They must be competent, respectful, inspirational, trustworthy and transparent. In the good times, they need to generate the stores of respect and trust they will need to allow them, and the community they lead, to weather the challenging times. Good leaders collaborate, they do not control. Good leaders surround themselves with strong-minded and competent colleagues, who are not afraid to talk truth to power. Good leaders respect the values, customs and ethos of the community they lead. If they think change is needed, they work to build consensus within the existing system. Good leadership is especially important for an institution like a university, which leans on the people who work and study there, who over the years have contributed to its reputation.
University President Thomas LeBlanc’s performance has fallen short in each and every aspect of the leadership criteria set out above. He has pursued fiscally irresponsible policies, he has squandered goodwill and he has disrespected students, staff and faculty. He has demonstrated poor judgment and insensitivity about people and policy. Instead of working with the administrative talent he inherited, he has indulged in blatant institutional nepotism, replacing experienced GW employees with a stream of ex-colleagues from the University of Miami. He has been less than honest in his dealings with faculty. He pays lip service to shared governance. He claims to listen, but he fails to hear.
It is evident from his behavior and decisions that LeBlanc has never had confidence in us. Now we have lost confidence in him.
The faculty have been outspoken at town halls and in unprecedented special formal meetings convened to express their frustration at the lack of effective shared governance. LeBlanc’s missteps have consumed thousands of faculty hours that should and could have been more profitably devoted to teaching students and pursuing scholarship and research.
It is time that the Board of Trustees recognizes LeBlanc’s appointment was a costly mistake. They have backed him through thick and thin, but now their obstinacy threatens the future of GW. They are throwing good money after bad. LeBlanc’s tenure has tainted GW’s reputation and sapped the morale of the staff and faculty at a time when their goodwill is needed as never before. At any time, but especially in these turbulent times, the staff, students and faculty of GW deserve a competent, empathetic and effective leader they can trust. LeBlanc is none of these things.
He must go.