Staff Editorial: Make your voice heard as GW searches for its next president

With the clock ticking to find GW’s next president, students, staff and faculty will have the option to give their input to the presidential search committee in a series of community forums next month. The time has come for students to consider whom they want to take on the helm of GW and what qualities they should have – if you want a say in the next president, now is the chance to have your voice heard.

The search committee’s members are responsible for finding experienced and worthy candidates for GW’s 19th president. But this process is less about finding a successor for interim University President Mark Wrighton than it is finding a replacement for the long-term vision that former University President Thomas LeBlanc created for GW. Time and time again, LeBlanc’s conduct and strategic plan for GW earned the ire of students, staff and faculty. Between concerns about the diversity of the search committee that selected LeBlanc in the first place, his “20/30” plan to increase the proportion of STEM students in a smaller undergraduate student population and a racist analogy about divesting from the fossil fuel industry, we’ve previously argued that LeBlanc was never the right fit for GW.

When LeBlanc stepped down from the role at the end of 2021, The Hatchet’s editorial board encouraged the University to search for a candidate who was the “anti-LeBlanc in every way possible” – we still stand by that comment now. To his credit, Wrighton has given GW room to recover from the open animosity that pervaded his predecessor’s era, swiftly handling two brief scandals in February 2022 over a project that tracked community members’ movements across campus and his initial decision to remove posters criticizing the Chinese government. And Wrighton demonstrated his sympathy with the University community this summer, recognizing the impact of the invasion of Ukraine, mass shootings and the overturn of Roe v. Wade.

But Wrighton’s transitional, 18-month-long presidency has prevented him from sketching out a long-term vision for GW’s future. As the search committee develops its own criteria, we’ve collected our ideal qualities that the next leader of GW should exemplify. GW’s next president should reflect the diversity of the student body, engage the University’s community and approach their position with an open mind instead of a tunnel-vision plan to reshape GW to their liking.

The past 21 permanent or interim presidents of GW have all been straight, white men, and the past four presidents were all at least 50 years old upon arriving at GW. Students deserve a president who understands and reflects the diversity of the University as a whole. The University’s student body has changed throughout the past 200 years to incorporate people from all walks of life, but GW’s leadership has remained the same. Messages of support at Pride and Juneteenth matter, but we need someone we can truly see in ourselves. A president who can connect with the concerns of queer people, people of color and women at GW would have a different insight on how to help those whose experiences differ because of who they are.

Jenna Baer | Cartoonist

If students need a president who represents them, they also need a president who engages with their concerns. Whether garnering feedback for upcoming plans or chatting about pets, communicating with students frequently and honestly at town halls or more informal settings would establish a rapport between students and the University’s president. These conversations should come out of a place of interest in what students are thinking instead of an obligation to hear them out – and substantive action needs to follow them afterward.

And like LeBlanc’s 20/30 plan that would have fundamentally changed the University’s direction, GW’s next president will almost certainly have ideas of their own – leadership requires initiative, after all. But unlike LeBlanc, they should be open-minded to students’ needs, wants and views before charging ahead with grand designs that are detrimental to the University community and its traditions. Whether through their own experience or through listening to the student body, GW’s president should understand what already makes the University so great – not throw it away.

This is just one vision of many for the University’s next president, but no one part of GW’s community may get everything they desire. So tell the search committee what you think – register to attend a forum or fill out a feedback form. What type of candidate are you looking for? Even though this process may seem overly bureaucratic and drawn out, it’s a real chance to steer GW in the direction you think is best. And while our collective thoughts can’t change every facet of University policy or pick a dream candidate to lead it, you still deserve a say in its future.

What we really want is a president who can make everyone – students, of course, but faculty, staff, alumni and many others as well – feel proud of GW. Will there be times when we criticize this new president? Almost certainly. But we would hope that they can make difficult decisions out of understanding and appreciation for the GW, not callous disregard and neglect. With the right presidential pick, we’re confident that the University’s best days are ahead.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Opinions Editor Ethan Benn and Contributing Opinions Editor Riley Goodfellow, based on discussions with Research Assistant Zachary Bestwick, Sports Editor Nuria Diaz, Copy Editor Jaden DiMauro, Culture Editor Clara Duhon, Design Editor Grace Miller and Contributing Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.

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