As the coronavirus pandemic rages on around the world, many communities are suffering under economic strain. Institutions like GW are making painful choices in an effort to ease the financial burden of the pandemic, including a hiring freeze, pay cuts and layoffs. But some of those decisions are particularly callous, demonstrating the true colors of a university administration.
Despite the purported freeze, layoffs and furloughs already numbering in the low hundreds, the University announced plans to bring on disgraced Michigan State University administrator Heather Swain. Swain is tainted by her time at MSU, where she reportedly helped shield convicted sex offender and former USA gymnastics coach Larry Nassar. Swain was hired to be GW’s vice president for marketing and communications, and University President Thomas LeBlanc originally hailed her as someone who could “translate our strengths and aspirations into a comprehensive marketing and communications strategy.” LeBlanc took the blame for that hiring, but it doesn’t excuse the countless other mistakes he’s made.
This University is better off without someone who contributed to “MSU’s culture of anti-transparency,” and nearly bringing her on board constitutes a fireable offense. LeBlanc admitted in an email to the GW community that Swain’s appointment was a “mistake” he “deeply regret[ted].” Hiring Swain is antithetical to the work so many have put in to change GW’s own climate of sexual misconduct, anonymously or otherwise. And appointing her during a freeze on new hires is a slap in the face to the hundreds of GW employees who have been fired or furloughed. LeBlanc’s thoughtless move is the latest in a long series of missteps by GW’s president, and it is well past time for him to step down and let our community heal from his repeated, thoughtless mistakes.
Beginning with his extravagant, half-million dollar inauguration, which drew the ire of the Student Association, his tenure has been marked by repeated scandals. A quick search on The Hatchet website reveals a number of controversies sparked by LeBlanc, from his “insensitive” remarks comparing fossil fuel divestment to the murder of Black students to downplaying student discontent surrounding the 2018 Commencement speaker pick. On the faculty side, LeBlanc contracted the Disney Institute to heal GW’s employee culture, alienated staff and then extended the institute’s partnership despite poor feedback from the people who were supposed to benefit from it.
Ironically, the four main problems – inconsistent leadership, inefficient communication, poor service culture and a lack of employee appreciation – found by Disney could all be addressed by a change in University leadership. GW deserves a president who listens to the community in order to avoid these easy mistakes, not someone who feigns interest in our concerns and is forced to apologize once faced with backlash.
LeBlanc has once again failed our community, this time by ignoring calls to save the jobs of hundreds of employees on campus. To his credit, he has accepted a salary reduction, though he has declined to provide details after earning a more than a $1 million paycheck last year. Hiring a new, presumably high-priced administrator, especially one with the professional baggage of Swain, was beyond insensitive. LeBlanc’s hiring – and all of his subsequent decisions – falls on the shoulders of the Board of Trustees. It is time for trustees to fix their representational issues and work with a president who cares about our community.
Until our community can move past this turbulent and forgettable tenure, we will continue to struggle to be heard and our University will never feel like it belongs to us. We need someone who can bring together our community amid the extreme uncertainty from the pandemic and support the ongoing movement for justice and equality.
Matthew Zachary, a senior majoring in Latin American studies, is a columnist.