Faculty voiced concerns about the university’s strategic planning process and institutional culture initiative.
The Faculty Assembly voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday to accept the actions taken by the Faculty Senate in response to the assembly’s petition outlining concerns with the strategic planning process and institutional culture initiative.
During a special meeting held in a crowded Jack Morton Auditorium, faculty voted 189 to 0 to accept the senate’s and its committees’ actions, which have included gathering information and passing resolutions, one of which asked the administration to refrain from further implementing plans to reduce on-campus undergraduate enrollment and increase science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors until certain conditions are met “through recognized processes of shared governance.”
The assembly’s petition, which faculty had approved at an October 2019 meeting, primarily addressed faculty engagement in the planning process and the rationale and data supporting two of the plan’s enrollment objectives. The petition requested more information and asked for more involvement of the Faculty Senate and its committees. It also requested more information about the institutional culture initiative and work with the Disney Institute.
Each senate committee briefed the assembly on its findings and conclusions.
“The Faculty Assembly petition posed five sets of issues,” said Associate Professor of Anthropology Sarah Wagner, chair of a special senate committee. “Three and a half months later, the special committee finds that the senate, through its five committees, and President [Thomas] LeBlanc have addressed them partially though not completely.”
Dr. LeBlanc presented to the Faculty Senate in December key data and information that influenced the recommendations from the Board of Trustees’ Committee on Strategic Enrollment to develop the enrollment objectives. He also responded to the special committee’s questions about those decisions and addressed the ongoing and positive progress of the culture initiative.
Some faculty disagreed with the enrollment decisions, saying they are concerned it will reduce tuition revenue or could decrease student diversity.
“There is no logical rationale for a 20 percent reduction in the undergraduate student population,” Associate Professor of Physics Harald Griesshammer said. “Most importantly, this plan will adversely affect student diversity and inclusion and in particular the long-term health, the fiscal health, of GW. And since we are GW, it will affect us all.”
Dr. LeBlanc has previously said the university is confident it can manage the financial impact and emphasized the university’s commitment to maintaining the level of diversity in the fall 2020 class that was seen in the fall 2019 class.
Expressing dissatisfaction with the culture initiative’s engagement with the Disney Institute, some faculty members have questioned the validity of the institute’s survey and whether the cost of the initiative is providing a return on investment.
“In my opinion this top-down initiative designed by the Disney Institute is the opposite of what this university needs,” said Professor of Biology Guillermo Orti, one of the signatories of the Faculty Assembly petition and a member of the senate’s special committee.
Dr. LeBlanc told faculty in a letter recently that while contractual obligations do not allow the university to share the cost of the Disney Institute’s work, its survey was a useful instrument in gauging the university’s culture and the initiative has driven several significant changes at GW to improve all community members’ experiences.
Also Tuesday, Provost M. Brian Blake updated faculty on the work of the Future Enrollment Task Force.
The task force is coordinating with the High-Quality Undergraduate Education strategic planning committee, Dr. Blake said, not only to propose strategies for implementing GW’s enrollment objectives but also to consider future cross-disciplinary thematic areas for GW’s academic offerings.
“Our discussions are about the academic experience for students five to 10 years from now, and what that experience should be,” Dr. Blake said.
Some themes, which Dr. Blake said continue to evolve, include security, policy and international affairs; data interpretation in the humanities; political rhetoric; politics, society and the sciences; preventative medicine and health sciences; neuroscience; and sustainability.
Dr. Blake said he plans to share the task force’s findings with the strategic planning committees, Faculty Senate and broader university community.
He also urged university community members to continue to engage with the strategic planning process, including at a forum on Wednesday to discuss interim reports from faculty-led committees. Feedback can also be submitted through the strategic plan website.