Students are embracing the July arrival of Ellen Granberg as GW’s next president and first female leader who will look to continue building students’ trust in the administration a year and a half after the most recent permanent president stepped down.
Since officials and trustees introduced Granberg to the GW community Wednesday, more than 20 students have said they feel optimistic about her appointment to the role, expecting her experience in diversity, equity and inclusion to improve GW’s response to acts of discrimination on campus, enhance relationships between students and officials and make GW’s policies and programs more transparent. Students said they are hopeful Granberg will prioritize regular personal communication with students after former University President Thomas LeBlanc’s tenure ended with a series of controversial student interactions and administrative decisions.
After LeBlanc exited office at the end of 2020, interim University President Mark Wrighton has led GW thought the past year, aiming to expand the University’s financial aid resources, reform IT and fill vacant administrative positions.
In her welcome address at the event announcing her selection Wednesday at the Jack Morton Auditorium, Granberg said she hopes to continue advancing the University’s academic reputation during her term. She said once she and her wife Sonya Rankin move into F Street House, the on-campus residence for the University president, she plans to attend University events like women’s basketball games at the Smith Center.
“As Sonya and I are already quickly learning, this community is one of warm and welcoming people working together to have a positive impact on society and to create a more just and equitable University, nation and world,” Granberg said in her welcome address. “Your commitment to this work and your ambition to achieve preeminence as an institution together is inspiring.”
Student Association President Christian Zidouemba, who served on the Presidential Search Committee that selected Granberg, said Granberg’s experience in academia and business – combined with her commitment to collaborate with students, faculty and staff on issues facing the University – impressed the committee. Zidouemba said he’s confident in Granberg’s ability to listen to the GW community’s opinions and integrate them into her administration’s initiatives.
Granberg currently serves as provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where she helps lead strategic planning efforts, according to a University release. She also worked as a project manager and technical director for Pacific Bell Telephone Company for more than a decade prior to her career in academia.
“One of the things that I think that she’s done well is that she understands that to be able to be an effective leader, one must be able to listen,” Zidouemba said. “One must be able to collaborate.”
Granberg’s focuses include educational innovation, diversity, equity and inclusion, academic reputation and research and scholarship, according to the release. The release states she is a nationally recognized scholar of the sociology of identity and mental health.
Zidouemba said he hopes Granberg forges connections with the student body through events in Kogan Plaza and the presidential tradition of hosting Thanksgiving dinner for community members at F Street House. He said he hopes Granberg will work to connect GW to the greater D.C. area with local government engagement and invest in the University’s academic reputation by securing a spot in the prestigious Association of American Universities.
“Interim President Wrighton has positioned the University for the next president to be able to take all of those things that we already have and to make them excellent,” Zidouemba said.
Gianna Cook, the president of the Black Student Union, said she attended the University’s event Wednesday and is hopeful for GW’s future after hearing her speak with a “warm” and “welcoming” presence. Cook said she hopes Granberg will lead with a positive attitude, an “open-door” approach for students to meet with her, consistent office hours and regular attendance at University events.
“I think it’s very easy when you’re president to have all these ideas, all well and good, but I think it’s also important to listen to the community and see what they need first,” Cook said. “And she was definitely open in that aspect, as she voiced that in her speech.”
Cook said she hopes Granberg doesn’t repeat mistakes of LeBlanc, whom she said simply reacted to harmful incidents on campus instead of taking proactive measures to lead with transparency about University decisions and connect with students. LeBlanc announced his plans to step down from the presidency in spring 2021 after a rocky tenure in which students joined faculty, staff and alumni in calling for his resignation in light of a series of incidents, including “racially insensitive” remarks he made while discussing fossil fuel divestment.
“I think that that’s something the last administration was lacking, or sometimes if it was offered, it was always after something terrible happened,” Cook said. “And so even if it might have been genuine, it was branded as saving the University.”
Freshman Sinan Kassim, the SA’s special adviser to Zidouemba, said after seeing Granberg’s qualifications both within academia and the private sector, he feels optimistic that her term will bring a fresh perspective to the administration. Kassim said he hopes Granberg’s research into the sociology of identity and mental health will strengthen GW’s efforts to preserve the mental health of students.
“I see her as a transformative leader that will be able to take our University forward, and I think that the Presidential Search Committee and the Board of Trustees and our community did a really good job in identifying and selecting a great leader for this position to pick up the mantle from President Mark Wrighton,” Kassim said.
Jordan Fields, a freshman studying international affairs, said she was impressed to see Granberg’s “accomplished” resume while researching her background after hearing she’d be serving as the next University president. Fields said she hopes Granberg is open to the opinions of the student body on new policies or campus issues when students raise complaints to the administration.
“I think there should be an open-book communication within them,” Fields said. “She should be open to hearing what the student body has to say about her initiatives and what she plans to do.”
Anika Hahnfeld, a junior majoring in international relations, said she thinks Granberg being the University’s first female president is a “step in the right direction.” She said she wants to see Granberg host monthly meetings where students can ask her questions and give feedback.
“Just listen to the students, listen to your faculty and take action based off of what we would like to see in the future,” she said.
Raven McAuliffe, a junior majoring in women’s, gender and sexuality studies, said Granberg should acknowledge and address petitions about student issues during her term. McAuliffe said she hopes Granberg, as the University’s first openly LGBTQ+ president, makes an effort to connect with LGBTQ+ students on campus.
“I hope she has a relationship with the queer community here because there’s such a big community at GW,” she said. “It’d be nice to see her try to take initiative.”