Board of Trustees Holds Virtual Fall Meeting

President Thomas LeBlanc updated the board on spring planning; faculty, student, and alumni leadership provided reports.

October 5, 2020

Trustees Gate

The George Washington University is looking closely at data on the spread of COVID-19 and considering its options for the spring semester, with the goal of providing another update to the community “very soon,” President Thomas LeBlanc told the Board of Trustees during its annual fall meeting on Friday.

 “As has been true to this point, we will consider the health and safety of our community as the primary factor in any decision,” Dr. LeBlanc said, noting that GW’s public health and safety experts are gathering information and the university is working closely with the District government to discuss options.

Most recently, university leadership has been consulting with faculty and discussing options with student, board and academic leadership, Dr. LeBlanc said, adding he hopes to make an announcement on the spring in the “near future.”

Dr. LeBlanc also provided an update on the status of GW’s operations this fall, saying that virtual learning is going well thanks to faculty and staff efforts, adherence to public health protocols on campus is high and budget mitigation decisions for the current fiscal year are now finalized. The university also is making progress in naming committee work and on its divestment and sustainability commitments.

Importantly, Dr. LeBlanc said, the university also continues to provide support and engagement opportunities to students, including recently through #GWinSolidarity and other Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement programming at a time when political unrest and racial violence and injustice is affecting many in the university community.

The pandemic has presented various challenges for GW since the spring, Dr. LeBlanc said, and leadership will continue to engage in more discussions with students, faculty and staff on GW’s future.

“I know that for some in our community there has been strong disagreement with the actions that we have taken and with me personally,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “Being on a college campus with diverse opinions, that is not surprising. I have focused my energy every day on listening to everyone in our community and striving to do what is best for this university, which consists of many and varied constituents. I will continue that dialogue, try to find areas of agreement, respectfully disagree where it’s required and communicate openly and transparently.”

Dr. LeBlanc said he remains optimistic and excited about the university’s future, as GW works to ensure a successful fall, plans for spring and approaches its bicentennial in 2021. 

“I think we are positioning our university through this pandemic and thinking about a world post-pandemic where we will continue to be a strong and constantly improving university, and thinking carefully about our community and the university’s future together,” he said. “I do believe our university is well poised for greatness in our third century.”

Chair of the Board of Trustees Grace Speights, J.D. ’82, thanked Dr. LeBlanc for his “strong leadership” and for ably guiding GW through the pandemic, emphasizing his care and concern for the community as GW transitioned courses online and addressed financial challenges.

“Leading a dynamic, diverse university community with many differing and strong opinions is challenging in the best of times, and these have been among the most difficult, challenging times we have ever faced,” Ms. Speights said. “The Board of Trustees appreciates and supports the outstanding work you and your leadership team have done to navigate circumstances unlike any we have ever experienced before.”

Faculty Senate report
Faculty Senate Executive Committee Chair Arthur Wilson said his focus has been on partnering with the administration to address faculty consultation and shared governance concerns.

“We’ve had some disagreements, and we’ve had some successes on that, but like most everything else, it’s a work in progress,” he said.

Dr. Wilson said that moving forward the faculty want to see a “fresh start” on strategic planning, and he encouraged the administration to be more transparent in providing information, such as financial data.  

Ms. Speights said she has been “very pleased” with the board’s recent collaboration with faculty leadership.

“We look forward to continuing the dialogue with the Faculty Senate,” she said.

Student Association report
Student Association (SA) President Howard Brookins III said during his remarks that he continues to advocate for students and has concerns about the university’s leadership and future.

“In the past few months, we have been hard at work advocating for student needs and pushing for meaningful reform,” Mr. Brookins said, citing forums on financial aid and research on a pass/no pass policy.

Mr. Brookins also said he believed student efforts are being “slowed or stymied” and students feel “powerless” in the governance of the university. Mr. Brookins recently issued an executive order calling for Dr. LeBlanc’s resignation and the SA passed a similar resolution. Mr. Brookins outlined some of the reasons he believes that led to the executive order.

Ms. Speights said she was “disappointed” by students’ actions and that they are based on inaccurate and misleading claims, and she emphasized the need for “constructive dialogue” to continue to work together as the SA and administration has in previous years.

“Instead of putting so much energy into dividing us, I urge you and the Student Association to focus your efforts on continuing the collaboration with the president and his administration to serve our constituents and help us get through these challenging times,” Ms. Speights said.

GW Alumni Association report
“The George Washington Alumni Association has been very resilient and agile during this period,” GWAA President Richard Jones, J.D. ’84, said during his report.

This year, the GWAA is focused on increasing the “depth and breadth” of alumni engagement across all schools and units, Mr. Jones said. The group also is concentrating efforts on reaching out to donors and ensuring the recent class of GW graduates is welcomed and engaged with the alumni community.

Committee reports
Board committees also provided reports, including on academic affairs and enrollment.

Chair of the Committee on Academic Affairs Madeleine Jacobs, B.S. '68 and D.Sc. (Honorary) '03, noted recent collaboration among faculty, deans and administrative leadership, and said she is optimistic about GW’s academic future.

Board Secretary and Chair of the Committee on Strategic Enrollment Task Force Ave Tucker, B.B.A. ’77, commended GW leadership for managing enrollment through challenging circumstances, noting efforts such as enhanced recruitment, outreach and retention efforts.