The future of strategic planning depends on picking a worthy University president

At the same time as GW is emerging from a disruptive global pandemic, the institution also approaching a post-LeBlanc era. After incoming interim University President Mark Wrighton’s up-to-18-month tenure is complete, a new chief administrator will have the opportunity to move GW forward in a new strategic direction that will benefit the entire GW community.

But in the meantime, GW is adrift. As higher education emerges from the COVID-19 era, a rudderless GW risks being left behind. GW needs a long-term plan that will make the University a place where everyone can thrive and feel welcome. Even in the absence of a strategic plan for the institution, making good on pledges to bolster shared governance and involve the whole GW community in picking the new president will put the University in a strong position to succeed.

Officials periodically draft a strategic plan that is intended to set a unified direction for the University. From facilities to academics, every aspect of GW factors into strategic planning. Any long-term goals the University hopes to achieve are laid out in the plan, and changes large and small flow from it. Officials were working on a plan when the pandemic hit, placing it on hold as operations moved online.

Since then, there has been zero motion on a strategic plan. For a University that has experienced a crisis of confidence in its leadership over the past few years, this is somewhat concerning. The entire GW community has been crying out for a new direction – whether it’s shared governance, divestment or balancing GW’s focus on STEM versus the humanities.

GW needs a new strategic plan. But first, it needs a new president. Wrighton’s years of experience as a college chief administrator make him well-positioned to guide GW through the immediate post-pandemic and post-LeBlanc period. But his role is as a caretaker. His task is to come in and steer the University through some of the more acute problems it faces, like layoffs and returning to pre-pandemic operations. But deciding on a new direction for GW should be left to a permanent president whose tenure will last longer than 18 months and who is chosen through a full and open process.

In one of our previous staff editorials, we laid out several goals that Wrighton should prioritize to put the next University president and the GW community as a whole in the best position to prosper after his departure. Most importantly on that list of goals, the Board of Trustees must act on their promises of shared governance and inclusivity as they pick the next University president.

LeBlanc’s last full strategic planning effort included the 20/30 Plan, which would have increased undergraduate enrollment in STEM disciplines and decreased humanities enrollment. The plan was a severe miscalculation in more ways than one. Non-STEM faculty members raised concerns about funding cuts in their own departments, and the Faculty Senate declared that the plan violated established shared governance principles.

The 20/30 Plan was rendered obsolete in light of the pandemic. But if it had taken effect, the plan was projected to reduce diversity levels in the undergraduate population while also decreasing the University’s net revenue. Needless to say, the plan was ill-advised, unapproved by the GW community and would have harmed both the undergraduate students and the University itself. The plan was also informed by a larger administrative culture of disregarding the University’s academic culture and ignoring the wishes of students and faculty.

Clearly, the problem with the previous strategic plan stemmed from the administration that authored it. GW’s next permanent president should be chosen via a process that solicits and internalizes meaningful input from all corners of the University. It is much more likely that someone chosen by that kind of process and steeped in the values of shared governance and diversity will point the direction in the kind of strategic direction that will benefit the entire community.

In the meantime, the outgoing LeBlanc administration and incoming Wrighton administration can lay the foundation for their permanent successor to succeed. They should continue to look after GW’s humanities departments and ensure that the University is affordable and racially diverse. Trustees must begin to create this new culture of shared governance and inclusivity by incorporating the community into the search process for a new president.

The University has an opportunity to move in a more inclusive and unified direction in a way that benefits every member and every level of the community – from individual students to staff to professors. The first step on that journey is to get the presidential search process right. The strategic plan GW needs will follow naturally from there.

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.

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