We are at the beginning of the end of the LeBlanc era. The University president’s tenure has been a saga of antagonizing students, shunning faculty efforts at shared governance and unilaterally tilting GW toward STEM at the expense of the humanities. Now that he is retiring, the GW community is nearly-unanimously thinking some variation of let’s not do that again.
As the search for his replacement enters the early stages, it is important to lay out expectations of how the process should operate and what administrators should look for in a new president. In both the search process and in the final choice to replace LeBlanc, the values of transparency, diversity, shared governance and good-faith community outreach should be present at every step of the way.
Before going through what the GW community deserves in a new president, it is worth noting the process by which the new chief administrator will be picked. If it is similar to the search process officials used to pick LeBlanc to succeed retiring president Steven Knapp in the 2016-17 academic year, we should expect administrators to convene a search committee that will vet candidates, and a faculty consultative committee that will allow professors to weigh in.
The membership of the faculty consultative committee and the presidential search committee to pick the new president has not been finalized. This search process is three months behind the previous search process that resulted in LeBlanc’s hiring, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can even be a good thing. It means administrators still have time to make the search committee representative of the GW community and its interests.
Faithfully representing the GW community means a number of things. Primarily, the yet-to-be-announced search committee should include a wide range of voices. There should be direct student representation in the room where decisions are being made. Whether it’s the SA President or a member of a prominent advocacy group on campus, the student body has to have a representative – one not just weighing in on the process or making critiques from the sidelines, but actually helping to make decisions.
The same holds true for faculty. The relationship between administrators and faculty has been fraught over the past five years, with many professors feeling as though their needs and input were ignored by LeBlanc’s team. Professors from every school should be heard at every stage of the search process, and should be a large presence on the search committee. We have actually seen some solid progress on this front – the Faculty Senate made the right call in expanding the faculty consultative committee to include members from all schools at GW. Not only will this help bolster representation of humanities departments – a must, considering how the last search process helped give us the 20/30 plan – but it will also help increase representation of diverse voices on the committee.
This leads into the third key area that the search committee must pay attention to: diversity. Especially considering incidents like LeBlanc’s use of a deeply racially insensitive analogy on video, the committee has an absolute obligation to make sure that racially, ethnically and religiously diverse voices are heard. This isn’t just about checking off boxes of who’s on the committee and who isn’t – it’s about making sure the communities who have been hurt the most before and stand the most to lose now have sufficient representation in the decision to wield veto power over any potentially problematic pick to replace LeBlanc.
Representation should also go beyond the simple matter of who’s in the room and who isn’t. It will be important that students, faculty and staff who are not intimately involved with the process still have an opportunity to weigh in. In fact, that is probably the most important element of running a process that is truly representative. The committee, throughout the entire time it is working to fill the presidential slot, should be listening to what everyday GW community members are saying. This could come in the form of town hall-style meetings like the ones held during the previous presidential search. Administrators don’t need to be conducting person-on-the-street interviews in line at Sol, but they should at least be fully aware of the mood and sentiments of those they represent. Feedback from the entire community should be heard, should be listened to in good faith and should factor into the final decision in a way people can clearly see.
Finally, the search process must be transparent. People should know the status of the search. This could be as simple as a series of semi-regular emails to the GW community. Administrators have had a mixed record in terms of communicating with the student body, but they have gotten better at it recently – through COVID-19 and campus reopening, students have received frequent emails from administrators about progress toward returning to in-person classes. The search committee should keep that energy and make sure they are communicating with regularity, even if there isn’t huge news. A student or professor who pays a decent amount of attention to what goes on at GW should be able to say off the top of their head what the most recent step the committee took was – whether it’s finalizing its membership, laying out what it wants to see in the next administrator or releasing a shortlist of picks for the job.
Students and faculty have had an adversarial relationship with administrators since before most current students even got here. If GW’s community and administrators are to get along, the first step is for the next leader of the University to be picked through a process that students, faculty and staff genuinely feel like they had a say in. If administrators are able to get the process right in all of these ways, then chances are, whomever they pick will be a good choice to lead the University.
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.