LeBlanc should resign – but GW needs to enact long-lasting change

Faculty and students are in a state of mutiny against University President Thomas LeBlanc’s leadership. At least a dozen organizations are calling for his resignation, signing petitions, writing letters and most recently protesting outside of his on-campus residence.

Calls for LeBlanc to step down have escalated, but they aren’t new. We always believed LeBlanc should step down, as did other students and faculty. It’s time to look at the deep-rooted systems in place at the University that allowed him to step in – and make the faulty decisions he did – in the first place.

When we first called on LeBlanc to resign, we were adding our voices to those of the Faculty Association and just a vocal minority of students. At the time, students and faculty expressed concern over a planned increase in STEM majors, proposed enrollment drop and a racially insensitive analogy LeBlanc used to tell a student why GW wouldn’t divest from fossil fuels at the time.

But since then, confidence in LeBlanc has cratered even further – and the reasons for his resignation have multiplied. Despite securing a $300 million line of credit, GW has commenced layoffs of staff, a devastating blow to workers and their families during a pandemic. And as layoffs took place, LeBlanc greenlighted the hiring of Heather Swain as vice president for communications and marketing – either without realizing or without caring that she had helped protect serial sexual abuser Larry Nassar from prosecution.

Behind each frustration was the simple notion that faculty and students never had a voice. Yes, LeBlanc should resign. But beyond his tenure, officials need to make a commitment to amplify the voices of faculty and students to ensure every president down the line can work in harmony with the GW community. Whether in the form of giving a student leader the ability to vote on the Board of Trustees or giving faculty a say in administrative searches, change needs to take place beyond LeBlanc’s resignation that ensures students and faculty always have a voice at the top.

This trail of mistakes and misjudgments is reflected in the newfound vigor of demands for his resignation. The Faculty Association held a protest outside LeBlanc’s house on Friday, decrying layoffs and expressing “no confidence” in his leadership. Several professors have written op-eds pillorying LeBlanc as a failed leader.

For students, the turning point has clearly come as well. Student organizations like GW Black Defiance, Sunrise GW and GW College Democrats have all released statements demanding LeBlanc leave GW. Students have cited Swain’s hiring as the latest failure of LeBlanc’s judgment – the MSU official only broke off her hiring after a massive student outcry, the latest example of the University having to be shamed by its students into doing the right thing.

The president’s stampede of mistakes and loss of confidence from faculty and students means he should resign for the good of the University. But he is a symptom of a larger problem: Students and faculty are clearly not respected attendees of GW’s decision-making table. Otherwise, professors would not feel antagonized and students would not feel ignored. That needs to change in order for things to get better.

Faculty and students never had any say in the hiring of administrators like LeBlanc, so it is no surprise that he has lost the trust and confidence of both groups. In order to avoid future mistakes like LeBlanc, faculty and students need to be brought to the discussion table. Administrators must diversify their search committees for any official or future GW president to include students and faculty, like those in the Student Association or the Faculty Senate. Had faculty had a say in the hiring of LeBlanc, they may have rejected him or not supported his vision for GW to become a more STEM-focused institution.

Students and faculty should also have a greater voice on the Board. The Board is ultimately responsible for approving administrators like LeBlanc. In their hiring process, they must have known that he wanted to shift the University away from the humanities that we are known for. This shows a serious disconnect between the Board and the University it is supposed to represent. The SA president currently gets to sit on the Board as a non-voting member, which is great when it comes to elevating student voices, but it means nothing when it comes to making tangible change. Students deserve a seat at the table and should have the ability to cast a vote on behalf of the body. One vote will likely not tip the entire Board, but it puts students on the record for decisions they support and don’t support.

LeBlanc is a symptom of a larger problem at the University. The GW community needs to recognize the larger problem if we want real systemic change.

The editorial board is composed of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s piece was written by opinions editor Hannah Thacker and contributing opinions editor Andrew Sugrue, based on discussions with managing director Kiran Hoeffner-Shah, managing editor Parth Kotak, sports editor Emily Maise, culture editor Anna Boone and design editor Olivia Columbus.

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