Earlier today, the GW community received news it had asked for but did not expect: University President Thomas LeBlanc is calling it quits. LeBlanc, who has come under fire from faculty and students alike throughout his tumultuous time in office, announced in an email to students that he will retire at the end of the next academic year.
As students, faculty and “GW Twitter” celebrate, it is worth taking stock of not just what led us to this point, but what should happen next. LeBlanc’s impending retirement is unquestionably good news for students and the University community at large, but the yawning gap he created between administration and students is not going away any time soon. To prevent the next University president from becoming LeBlanc 2.0, the Board of Trustees needs to bring students and faculty to the table to pick a replacement who is genuinely receptive to the GW community.
The end of LeBlanc’s time in office has been a long time coming. Over the years, dozens of student organizations have demanded his resignation. Students, faculty and staff have protested in front of his house. Petitions calling him a threat to GW’s values have garnered hundreds of signatures. The Hatchet’s editorial board has called on him to step aside twice across two separate volumes.
The most recent indication that LeBlanc had lost the University’s faith was a survey of faculty at GW, which showed abysmal confidence in LeBlanc’s leadership. His decision to retire comes just weeks after the survey’s damning results were revealed to the University and beyond.
The GW community’s years-long mutiny against LeBlanc has been justified time and time again. LeBlanc has seemingly taken every opportunity to ignore or belittle the University’s culture and the students who are its lifeblood. From the very beginning of his tenure, he ruthlessly set about advancing GW’s STEM program at the expense of the humanities. That effort, called the 20/30 plan, would have also increased obstacles for lower-income students and dealt a huge blow to campus diversity. Neither the student body nor faculty wanted this plan – and it took the COVID-19 pandemic thrashing GW’s finances to put it to a stop.
LeBlanc also consistently thumbed his nose at student activism – which is, by any official or anecdotal account, one of the hallmarks of the GW student body. The entire campus erupted in justified rage when he, upon being asked whether the University would accede to student demands around fossil fuel divestment, likened the effort to “shooting all the Black people here.” Not only did he demonstrate the depth of his apathy toward the ways in which the students he represents actually think and feel, but he managed to make just one more addition to the series of injustices GW students of color have had to endure. In all, it’s clear that LeBlanc never understood GW and doesn’t seem to have cared enough to try and do so.
As the Board of Trustees commences its search for a replacement, they must ensure that the next president is the anti-LeBlanc in every way possible. Whoever comes next should be invested in healing the perpetually contentious relationship between the administration and students. The next president should commit to building on GW’s long-established academic culture, rather than being more interested in “building new areas of excellence,” as the Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights wrote in an email shortly after LeBlanc’s message. The position is not, and should not, be treated as a vanity project that furthers the president’s personal interests over those of the community they serve, as we saw with LeBlanc’s relentless push to make GW a STEM-focused school or his decision to hire a slew of his old colleagues at the University of Miami. Instead, presidents need to be amenable to student and faculty concerns and focus on issues that the community believes are most important.
If the Board of Trustees is indeed looking for an anti-LeBlanc replacement, then an obvious point of consideration is to seek out a racially diverse group of women candidates. But identity in itself should not be treated as a quick and easy solution. GW deserves a president who both represents the demographic makeup of the student body and one who properly looks after marginalized communities at GW. Hiring a more diverse set of faculty members and administrators and listening to concerns from students of color are just two ways to gauge a president’s level of dedication to creating a more just and equitable campus environment.
The hiring process should be both transparent and take ample student input into consideration. In a staff editorial last September, we called on officials to do just that, whether by giving a student leader the ability to vote on the Board or giving faculty a say in administrative searches. The Board of Trustees could also consider creating student focus groups to discuss the qualities they desire in the next president and the direction they would like to see GW headed in to incorporate diverse voices in the search process for a new president.
Students cannot afford to spend their four years at GW criticizing the most important member of the administration for not doing the job he was hired to do. The next president must be everything that LeBlanc was not – considerate of the student body’s wishes, invested in and appreciative of the long-established academic and social culture at this school and dedicated to uplifting students from historically marginalized communities. LeBlanc might be on his way out the door, but it is up to the students and faculty to insist that his abhorrent style of leadership is leaving along with him.
The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by opinions editor Andrew Sugrue and contributing opinions editor Shreeya Aranake, based on discussions with culture editor Anna Boone, contributing sports editor Nuria Diaz, design editor Grace Miller, copy editor Jaden DiMauro and assistant copy editor Karina Ochoa Berkley.