In interviews, student leaders said they hope the transition between University President Thomas LeBlanc and Mark Wrighton, the newly appointed interim president who will replace LeBlanc on Jan. 1, will foster communication between students and administrators. After LeBlanc’s tense four years in office and widespread calls for his resignation, students said Wrighton’s administration should listen to their comments and concerns as he takes office.
Student Association Vice President Kate Carpenter said students should head into the new presidency with a positive attitude and break off from their tendency to look for the worst in situations at the University. She said she hopes the new administration will foster a productive environment to improve school spirit and implement new traditions she’s sought to promote, like wearing GW apparel for “Raise High” Wednesdays.
“We again have this opportunity to really build GW from the ground up, and I think that’s really important that the student body and the Student Association go into this new presidency with an open mind, that we make sure we do everything we can to foster productive environments so we can enact reforms that we’ve always wanted to see,” she said.
Carpenter said she will collaborate with Wrighton’s administration to expand the SafeRide program and implement U-Pass, which would give students unlimited Metro rides through an added tuition cost. She said she spoke with Washington University at St. Louis’ student body president and received “positive feedback” about his leadership.
“This is such an awesome opportunity to look at that narrative and really look for the positive things, so I’m excited to especially start that during my term,” Carpenter said.
Senior PJ Johnson, the president of GW College Democrats, said LeBlanc’s sooner-than-planned retirement will make the transition to a new permanent president easier as students’ trust in LeBlanc began to diminish with the 20/30 Plan broadening GW’s focus on STEM and a video capturing racially insensitive comments LeBlanc made last year.Johnson said he hopes Wrighton will listen to the concerns of students and regain their trust.
“I’m looking for someone who’s more open or who listens more to the student body,” he said. “That seems to be one of the bigger criticisms of President LeBlanc, was that he didn’t seem to be as connected to the student body.”
Johnson said the next permanent president should bring back fixed tuition, which officials eliminated for classes graduating after 2023, and make GWorld dining plans optional for students tomake the University more accessible and affordable. He said he hopes the permanent president after Wrighton will improve existing programs for the social sciences.
“I do hope it’s someone who understands the values of the social sciences and that they understand that GW is only as good as the students who come here,” Johnson said.
Senior Joe Markus, the actions and demonstrations leader at Sunrise GW, said he and other members of Sunrise are “concerned” about the selection of Wrighton because of comments he made defending WashU’s decision to not divest from fossil fuel companies.
Markus also said he was concerned about comments from Wrighton noting students’ lack of power to change university policy. Members of Fossil Free WashU published an op-ed in Student Life, the university’s independent student newspaper, in 2017 alleging Wrighton made clear in a private meeting that students have no power to influence WashU financial decisions.
Markus said Wrighton’s comments raise concerns that he will bring an “undemocratic” ideology to his time in office.
During the past two years, Sunrise has pressured LeBlanc through protests, demonstrations and letters to divest from fossil fuels and dismantle the Regulatory Studies Center, a GW research center receiving funding from the fossil fuel industry. The Board of Trustees voted last June to fully divest from fossil fuels by 2025.
“We, and myself in particular, and others are concerned that there’s a similar undemocratic, anti-shared governance ideology shared by Wrighton that we hope that he does not carry with him into his time at GW that he leaves behind at Washington University,” Markus said.
Black Student Union President Gianna Cook and Vice President Tony Peeler said in a statement they are delighted to welcome president Wrighton to campus. They said they hope the change in administration will welcome new and diverse ideas from members throughout the Black community and GW as a whole.
“We look forward to seeing how the new administration will be supportive and proactive with regards to the Black experience at GW,” Peeler and Cook said.