How LeBlanc has reshaped GW’s administration nearly four years in

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo

Several major themes have characterized LeBlanc's leadership at GW, from a focus on the institutional and workplace culture to the reorganization of departments in charge of research and the student experience.

University President Thomas LeBlanc arrived in Foggy Bottom less than four years ago, but he has already made a lasting impact on GW’s administration.

LeBlanc quickly identified improving institutional culture, philanthropy, the student experience, the medical enterprise and research as his five top initiatives as GW president, and he has since led major restructuring efforts in the departments overseeing each of these areas. Since his arrival in August 2017, LeBlanc has overseen the hiring of both of GW’s executive vice presidents, seven of GW’s nine vice presidents and seven of the University’s 11 deans.

File Photos by Alexander Welling, Ari Golub, Jack Borowiak, and Sophia Young | Staff Photographers

“We wanted to hire very talented leaders, and we were committed to diversity,” LeBlanc said in an interview Friday. “I think the results bear that out, and I’m very proud of that. I think we’ll continue along those lines as we move forward.”

Seven months after arriving at GW, LeBlanc announced the hiring of Mark Diaz as GW’s first Hispanic chief financial officer and executive vice president in February 2018, replacing Lou Katz. Diaz served under LeBlanc at the University of Miami in budget-related roles for a combined 12 years and has now worked with LeBlanc on implementing his top initiatives since coming to GW.

“Mark Diaz is a very, very talented academic leadership executive,” LeBlanc said. “He has a broad range of experience, a broad range of skills. He is trained professionally as an accountant, but he has extensive professional experience in the health care system.”

Diaz has overseen restructurings of multiple administrative units across GW, many of which were implemented in part as cost-saving measures during the pandemic.

“He’s been a great addition to the leadership team,” LeBlanc said of Diaz. “He has done some restructuring of his organization, and I think it’s benefited the University. He had to very quickly get his hands around a complex financial enterprise.”

Here’s how LeBlanc’s hires have shaped each of his strategic initiatives:

Institutional culture
Diaz and LeBlanc oversaw a broad overhaul of human resources as part of a push to improve GW’s institutional culture.

But LeBlanc’s institutional culture initiative has been met with criticism from some faculty, who raised concerns about the cost of GW’s partnership with the Disney Institute as part of the initiative. Officials have repeatedly declined to provide the cost of the partnership, which concluded last fall.

“When it came time to address HR, one of the things – and this is an observation that Mark made – is people are the most important resource at any university,” LeBlanc said. “And we ought to be clear that we’re sending a message that we believe very strongly in the value of our people.”

LeBlanc and Diaz announced the hiring of Dana Bradley, the then-associate vice president for human resources at Northwestern University, as GW’s first-ever chief people officer in July 2019 to manage the overhaul. Bradley has also served as a member of the Culture Leadership Team, which oversaw the institutional culture initiative.

“We were able to recruit Dana Bradley, who has extensive experience in higher education at first-rate institutions, to come in and make sure we promulgated a value around our people,” LeBlanc said.

Philanthropy
LeBlanc and Diaz have also overseen a restructuring of the Division of Development and Alumni Relations since LeBlanc hired Donna Arbide to lead the unit in late 2017. Arbide also arrived at GW after working at Miami.

“Donna came on board with a strategy to try to engage more alumni and to very much focus on, outside of the next campaign, building a structure that would have helped deliver a future campaign,” LeBlanc said. “And she’s worked hard to do that, I would say the first few years, including the pandemic year. We’ve done remarkably successfully in terms of fundraising despite all the challenges that we face.”

GW has experienced some of its best fundraising years since LeBlanc and Arbide’s arrivals while struggling to improve the University’s alumni giving rate, which has historically lagged behind most peer schools.

“It really was the question of ‘We’ve just finished this campaign, there’s a certain amount of donor fatigue because we’ve worked very hard to tap every donor for this campaign, we still have as an institution a relatively low alumni giving rate compared to some of our schools that were more successful in the campaign and some of the others, so what do we do next?’” LeBlanc said.

Research
LeBlanc replaced former Provost Forrest Maltzman, who announced he would step down near the end of LeBlanc’s second academic year, with Brian Blake, GW’s first Black provost. Blake, who had served as Drexel University’s provost, had worked under LeBlanc at Miami.

Since Blake’s arrival in November 2019, he has worked with LeBlanc to transform how the University manages research.

Officials announced they would transition to a decentralized “pod” research model in August following an extensive review of GW’s research practices. Administrators simultaneously announced at the time that Vice President for Research Robert Miller would step down to take a role in SMHS, and Blake would oversee research initiatives in the interim before a new research vice president is hired.

Student Experience
During his first year, LeBlanc integrated GW’s student affairs and enrollment divisions into a unified Office of Enrollment and the Student Experience, which houses a variety of departments like the Office of Student Success and the Office of Student Systems, Services and Analytics.

Ever since he identified improving the student experience as one of his top priorities, LeBlanc has overseen the realignment of various student affairs and enrollment offices and brought new leadership to Foggy Bottom dedicated to the initiative.

LeBlanc hired Cissy Petty as GW’s first dean of the student experience, who later took on more responsibilities upon being named the vice president of student affairs and dean of students in August 2019.

“With the launching of the student experience initiative that I did, I wanted to make sure that the voice of the student experience was at the leadership table and that’s ultimately what caused me to promote Cissy,” LeBlanc said.

In her expanded role, Petty serves as a member of the University Leadership Council, a group led by LeBlanc that includes deans, vice presidents and a few other top officials. LeBlanc said the group enables a “unified institutional leadership group” to guide high-level decision making.

Officials announced Jay Goff as the vice provost for enrollment and student success in June 2020, who has since overseen GW’s enrollment strategy during the coronavirus pandemic and managed the financial aid office and the Office of Student Success.

Medical enterprise
Officials sought to strengthen the Medical Faculty Associates as part of the medical enterprise initiative, leading the MFA to restructure its relationship with the University and provide GW more administrative responsibilities in December 2018.

“This new structure will help the University stabilize the MFA financially and more strategically align the clinical and academic missions,” LeBlanc said at the time.

Officials announced the hiring of Barbara Lee Bass as the first female dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences and vice president for health affairs in August 2019, replacing Jeffrey Akman. In her role, Bass is responsible for overseeing the MFA as chief executive officer.

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