During University President Thomas LeBlanc’s disastrous time in office, student activism took an oppositional and contemptuous posture toward LeBlanc and his missteps. Now that the dust is settling and his successor is in place, it’s a good time to make an uncomfortable point – a lot of the discourse around LeBlanc, administrators and GW as a whole was immature and over-the-top. Not only did this reflect poorly on those who participated in it, but unless it changes, it is likely to jeopardize future efforts at getting administrators to accede to student demands.
Most of the criticism of LeBlanc was in bounds, and most of it was deserved. No one should be expected to observe strict decorum when talking about a president who made racially insensitive comments or who tried to hire someone who protected Michigan State University during the Larry Nasser investigation. But in the time between these specific, high-profile screwups, it seems like much of the way the GW community talked about administrators – especially LeBlanc – was decoupled from any specific critique about policy or personality. Criticism took on a life of its own, and people dunked for the sake of dunking.
This is just a generally unhealthy and immature way to behave. A handful of memes about a blundering college administrator is well and good, but there was a bizarre fixation on LeBlanc that crossed the line of how mature adults should talk about another human. It’s odd for college students to walk around with stickers on their laptop that have their university president’s face on them with the caption “this man ate my son.” It’s weird and gross to distribute a satire piece speculating about an administrator’s sex life.
Most current GW students don’t remember a pre-LeBlanc era, and the consensus on campus when most of us came in was already that LeBlanc was a disaster worthy of contempt. This was, of course, true by almost any measure. In substance and style, LeBlanc did a poor job in countless ways. But the barbs, dunks and withering criticism eventually became decoupled from any actual substantive critique. Students came to GW, entered an environment where people were constantly dunking on the chief administrator without quite knowing why, and joined in. By the time LeBlanc would make a distasteful comment or bad decision, the chorus of contempt would get louder, but it had never been quiet to begin with. Dunking on LeBlanc and on GW as a whole eventually became a means of scratching the itch to gang up on people in many cases.
This is just wrong on its face – but if the same thing happens with a new University president, it could kneecap actual efforts to collaborate and improve the University. Student activists – of which there are many at GW, and I would consider myself one of them – have a particular responsibility to be constructive and fair-minded in the criticism they level. Considering that interim University President Mark Wrighton seems to be presiding over an effort to mend fences among the GW community, students interested in fixing what’s broken at GW should take special heed to not let the dunk reflex manifest itself again. It could squander the first opportunity in a while to make positive changes without having to beg, plead or protest for them like they did under LeBlanc.
Students did not throw the first punch in the deterioration of discourse on campus between the student body and LeBlanc-era administration. His own parade of bad decisions saw to that, as did his constant antagonism toward students and faculty. It’s a University president’s job to take the slings and arrows from the community if he performs his role poorly. But it’s the student body’s job – not just in their capacity as students but in their capacity as human beings – to act like mature adults.
The relationship between students and administrators is at a low at GW. It is Wrighton and all new admins’ responsibility to step up their game. It’s also students’ responsibility to find quite literally any other way of spending their time beyond obsessively memeing University bureaucrats. Doing so is not only immature, but it trivializes the real missteps that officials have made – and it makes it harder for good faith efforts at collaboration that could benefit everyone to be successful.
Andrew Sugrue, a scolding buzzkill and senior majoring in political communication and political science, is the opinions editor.
This article appeared in the January 31, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.