Administrative shuffles, COVID-19 planning headline summer news

Media Credit: File Photo by Eric Lee

LeBlanc and Blake, two of GW's top three administrators, announced this summer they would step down from their positions at the University.

From administrative shakeups to a phased reopening of campus following a year of shutdowns, the GW community has seen unprecedented turnovers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

University President Thomas LeBlanc announced in May that he would step down from his position at the end of this academic year, and the following month, former Provost Brian Blake – who worked with LeBlanc at the University of Miami – stepped down to become the president of Georgia State University. Officials also developed and tweaked their fall reopening plan throughout the summer, requiring community members to be vaccinated against COVID-19, receive regular tests and wear face coverings while in campus buildings.

In case you need a refresher, here’s a roundup of everything that’s happened over the summer:

Leadership changes
After LeBlanc announced that he would retire at the end of the upcoming academic year following calls for him to resign, liberal arts professors welcomed the leadership change while STEM faculty felt disappointed that LeBlanc didn’t do enough to unite the University behind his vision to enhance STEM offerings. Student leaders said LeBlanc also failed to prioritize student interests with issues like fossil fuel divestment.

Experts in higher education were unsurprised at the announcement given LeBlanc’s rocky tenure at GW, though the Board of Trustees had maintained their support for the president amid the turmoil and consistently lauded his efforts to lead the University out of the pandemic.

Officials said in late May that the Board had started discussions about the search process for the next president but declined to comment on its timeline and whether LeBlanc would be involved. The Faculty Senate passed a resolution earlier this month to expand the faculty committee that will consult with trustees on the presidential search process to ensure more diversity of faculty rank, gender, race and discipline.

Following Blake’s departure, LeBlanc named Vice Provost for Faculty Affairs Chris Bracey as interim provost and said he would allow the next University president to oversee the search for a permanent replacement. In June, officials named deputy general counsel Charles Barber as the interim vice president and general counsel after his predecessor, Beth Nolan, announced she would retire in March.

COVID-19 policies
Officials said in early July that students must attend in-person classes in the fall – except for a limited number of classes designated for online instruction – after announcing in April that all students, faculty and staff must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to return to campus.

They also said community members with medical or religious objections to the vaccine could receive “limited exemptions” from the requirement, while those working or studying remotely would not be required to show proof of vaccination.

Officials said at a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month that 412 students – 2.2 percent of those registered for fall classes – received an exemption to the mandate. Officials also said earlier this month nearly 90 percent of the GW community was fully vaccinated, but hundreds of students, faculty and staff missed the deadline to submit their vaccine documentation by the start of August.

University spokesperson Timothy Pierce said earlier this month that officials would continue to accept uploads of COVID-19 vaccinated documentation past the Aug. 1 deadline.

In late August, Senior Vice Provost Terry Murphy reported to the Faculty Senate that 6.3 percent of students and 8.3 percent of faculty were noncompliant with the vaccine requirement, but she said they are largely those who have lost their vaccine documentation or are still obtaining a NetID that will allow them to upload such documentation.

As part of a broader plan, called “Onward GW,” outlining safety and public health protocols for the University this fall, vaccinated students must receive a monthly COVID-19 test to maintain access to campus facilities. Community members with vaccine exemptions must receive weekly COVID-19 tests and participate in daily symptom screening.

After initially lifting the on-campus mask mandate for vaccinated people in June, the University re-imposed the indoor mask requirement for GW community members at the end of July. The mandate aligned with Mayor Muriel Bowser’s indoor mask order following a spike in COVID-19 related hospitalizations and new mask-wearing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Officials said at this month’s senate meeting that they are encouraging faculty to remind students of the rules and keep extra masks in their classrooms.

Less than 1 percent of GW’s COVID-19 tests have come back positive in recent days, while the District’s total positivity rate stands at 4.8 percent, according to GW’s COVID-19 Testing Dashboard.

In early June, officials also completed upgrades to the University’s facility ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems to comply with safety and building regulations and help bring students back on campus in the fall.

Campus reform
The University renamed the Cloyd Heck Marvin Center to the University Student Center in June after the Board of Trustees accepted the Special Committee on the Marvin Center’s recommendation. The decision came after years of pushback from community members over the former University president’s discriminatory policies.

The committee published documents last October that showed Marvin resisted calls to end racial segregation on GW’s campus, threatened to kick GW Hillel off campus and fired members of The Hatchet’s editorial board for serving as a “communist mouthpiece” at GW.

Within hours of the announcement of the Board’s decision, construction workers removed signage referring to Cloyd Heck Marvin from the University Student Center.

University spokesperson Crystal Nosal said officials will not consider any other names for the University Student Center in the foreseeable future.

LeBlanc said in July that officials will consider those requests after the Board makes a decision on the Colonials moniker, a decision they said is still pending.

Officials also shuttered the Confucius Institute in late July after years of criticism from politicians, government agencies and community members over its financial ties to the Chinese federal government.

In-person Commencement
After delaying in-person commencement ceremonies for the classes of 2020 and 2021 during the pandemic, officials announced in June that both classes would be invited to a joint, bicentennial commencement ceremony on the National Mall this October.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who attended GW from 1966 to 1968, will serve as the ceremony’s commencement speaker, and Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, will receive the President’s Medal, the highest honor a GW president can bestow.

Associate Professor Cindy Liu and Professor Andrew Maurano, who helped coordinate COVID-19 testing and vaccination at GW and in the District, will also receive the President’s Medal.

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