University President Thomas LeBlanc will step down months earlier than planned as the former chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis begins as interim president starting Jan. 1, Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights announced.
Speights said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday that trustees decided to appoint Mark S. Wrighton to serve as interim president for up to 18 months as the Board searches for a long-term replacement for LeBlanc. She said LeBlanc, who announced his retirement after a faculty-wide survey showed widespread dissatisfaction with University leadership, had told the Board that he was “flexible” and would be open to leaving earlier if desired.
“We also felt that the University needed to be in the strongest possible position to attract the best talent,” Speights said in a message to the University community Friday. “It is clear that there is work to be done for us to be in that position, especially working together to strengthen shared governance and collaborative planning.”
Speights added that officials will start the search for a president in “early spring.”
“Maybe we’ll be lucky, maybe the market will be better, maybe we can have somebody in the summer or for the fall,” Speights said. “I doubt that, but maybe.”
Speights said in the meeting officials were “concerned” about finding a talented long-term candidate for LeBlanc’s replacement because of the large number of presidential searches ongoing at universities nationwide and because of negative media attention GW has received recently.
Officials had previously declined to provide any updates on the presidential search process.
She said GW has seen a “problem” with shared governance in recent years and a lack of trust between trustees, the senate and administrators.
Speights said the Board worked with experts from higher education groups like the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges to study shared governance at the University. She said trustees will continue the initiative, which will in turn help officials recruit the “best” candidate for University president.
“It is our hope that by taking this time, we will have a chance to get, for lack of a better way of saying it, our house in order for the next president,” she said in an interview.
Speights said in the interview that officials have not “given any thought” to the presidential search process at this time with Wrighton set to become interim president in January.
“The one thing I can say about the search process is that it will be very inclusive,” she said. “There will be representation from all constituents. We will focus on diversity, and we will focus on inclusion.”
Wrighton said in an interview Friday that he looks forward to working with student leaders to improve the student experience and with faculty to find a “common understanding” of shared governance.
“Our objective is to prepare the institution for a new president by coming to both an understanding and implementing that understanding,” he said.
Wrighton will take a sabbatical at Washington University during his time as University president, according to a Washington University release. He plans to return to the District “several” times throughout the fall to meet with student leaders to discuss ways to involve the student body in priorities like improving shared governance and student life, he said.
“I have a glimpse of what a great environment George Washington University has, and I look forward to learning a lot more,” Wrighton said.
Jared Gans contributed reporting.