From the rise of the Delta variant to administrative shifts that could change the course of the University, there’s sure to be no shortage of major campus headlines this coming academic year.
After a summer packed with headlines about the COVID-19 pandemic, students are returning to campus for an in-person semester for the first time in a year and a half. Trustees are poised to make announcements about the search for GW’s next president and make a long-awaited decision about the future of the Colonials moniker.
As the fall semester gets underway, here are four stories to follow:
Campus return with the Delta variant
Thousands of students have returned to campus for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the most substantial test yet of GW’s public health protocols.
Officials have been preparing for this moment for more than a year, spending millions of dollars to upgrade HVAC systems and administer tens of thousands of in-house coronavirus tests to students, faculty and staff with campus access.
Administrators have mandated coronavirus vaccinations for the on-campus community, hoping the requirement, regular testing and a reinstated indoor mask mandate will prevent major outbreaks on campus. The highly infectious Delta variant has caused a rapid rise in coronavirus cases across D.C., with cases reaching the highest level since March last week, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
As the University’s testing volume increases, GW’s positivity rate has remained below 1 percent – lower than D.C.’s rate – according to GW’s testing dashboard. GW set a new single-day high for the number of tests administered earlier this month.
Officials have said they are prepared to increase restrictions at any time if cases spike, which could include increasing testing frequency, limiting gathering sizes or even reverting to remote operations. Ray Lucas, the University’s coronavirus coordinator, said in a release earlier this month that officials may go beyond CDC and D.C. requirements for masks to prevent cases.
University President Thomas LeBlanc will depart GW next summer, and the search process for his successor has already begun.
The Board of Trustees has yet to publicize any updates on the search since May, but they have typically hired an external firm to assist a presidential search committee in identifying candidates for the job.
Faculty are expected in the coming weeks to approve a slate of up to 17 professors to serve on the faculty consultative committee, a group that will consult with trustees during the search. Faculty Senate leaders had asked schools to submit their representatives for the committee by Aug. 27 so they can be approved “as soon as feasibly possible.”
Potential administrative shuffles
LeBlanc has shaped the face of GW’s administration during his four years in Foggy Bottom, naming all of the University’s current vice presidents to their current roles. Now, administrators must decide if they will continue as part of the next University president’s leadership team.
Professors expressed “overwhelmingly negative” views of GW’s leadership in a faculty-wide survey that preceded LeBlanc’s retirement announcement, but the criticisms extended beyond LeBlanc. Chief Financial Officer Mark Diaz – who was mentioned 62 times in qualitative comments – and other leadership were never mentioned in a “positive light,” the group of faculty managing the survey found.
A string of top officials, including Diaz, had worked with LeBlanc at the University of Miami and came to GW under the wing of their long-time colleague.
One top administrator has already left. Brian Blake, a former Miami official hired as GW’s provost by LeBlanc less than two years ago, departed the University in June to become the president of Georgia State University just weeks after LeBlanc’s retirement announcement. Blake had also been a finalist this spring to become the president of the University of Rhode Island.
Colonials naming decision
The Board of Trustees voted to drop the University Student Center’s former namesake this summer as the first decision under the new Board-established renaming framework, and a decision on the future of the Colonials moniker is expected next.
LeBlanc, directed to do so by the framework approved last summer, created a special committee to assess the moniker. Officials have largely declined to comment throughout the process but the committee was expected to make their recommendation for trustees last semester.
The Board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Oct. 5 directly following the end of GW’s bicentennial celebration, according to the Board website.