GW Launches Innovation, Research Leadership Plan

Plan to dramatically boost investment in learning and research detailed by President Knapp.

Steven Knapp smiling at convocation
May 08, 2010

The George Washington University will significantly increase its investment in learning and research under a plan recently announced by President Steven Knapp. The president’s innovation initiative will seek to increase the University’s investment in its priorities over the next five years by $60 million per year, the equivalent of what GW currently spends from its endowment income each year. Achieving this goal would in effect double the impact of George Washington’s endowment.

President Knapp’s plan has three components: raising new funds from philanthropic sources; increasing the productivity of George Washington’s research and instructional programs; and finding savings in GW’s business processes that can be reinvested in GW’s faculty, students and academic initiatives.

The first component is already being addressed with an increase in GW’s development staff and active engagement of the University’s deans. To implement the other two parts of the plan, President Knapp has announced the launch of an Innovation Task Force.

The task force is led by a steering committee, chaired by Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Lenn, and two working groups: one focusing on business processes and the other on academic innovation. The business processes committee will be led by co-chairs Dave Lawlor, senior associate vice president for finance, and Kathy Newcomer, professor of public policy and public administration and director of the Trachtenberg School of Public Policy and Public Administration. The academic innovation committee will be led by co-chairs Dianne Martin, associate vice president for graduate studies, and Dave Steinour, chief information officer. Both working groups will include faculty and staff from across the university to ensure a diversity of experience and viewpoints as well as student representation.

In an Oct. 30 address to the Faculty Senate, President Knapp noted that his plan will build on the “tremendous progress” of the University. “If we’re going to achieve the stature that I think is our destiny as the largest university in the nation’s capital, we can only do that by matching our strengths in the undergraduate level with strength, distinction and powerful contributions in our graduate and research programs,” he said. “[If we do this] we will have more resources to invest in reaching our aspirations so we will be the greatest research university in this region and a world-class university, fulfilling the dream of our founder of having a world-class university in the nation’s capital.”

Input will be sought from the entire GW community through town hall-style meetings and other forums and through an electronic suggestion box: [email protected]. The goal of the initiative is to identify concrete objectives by the end of this academic year for recommended implementation.

The text of President Knapp’s op-ed about the Innovation Task Force in the Oct. 19 edition of the Hatchet follows:

Doubling the impact

George Washington envisioned a great university in the capital of the nation he did so much to create. He wanted to attract students from all the former colonies so that, together, they might overcome their regional prejudices and forge a new identity as citizens of the nation as a whole.

Today, we are that university, and we bring together citizens not only from every state but from more than 130 nations. We are a more selective university than we have ever been. We are firmly established on a base of three campuses and many satellite facilities. We are famous for the contributions of our faculty, and equally famous for the engagement of our students in addressing the pressing issues of our time.

In the coming years, we will continue increasing our selectivity and enhancing the opportunities our students enjoy. What it means to be a great university has changed, however, in the two centuries since Washington spelled out his vision in his last will and testament. We are still in the business of forging citizens, although now we forge citizens not just of the nation but of the world. We must now build our stature as a university that contributes intellectually to the solution of national and global problems. By matching the excellence of our instruction with the strength of our research, we will join the ranks of truly world-class universities and fully ensure the value of a GW degree. In so doing, we will also strengthen our instruction itself. There is no more exciting way to learn than to work with a professor who is pushing a frontier of knowledge, whether the field is neuroscience, early modern literature, environmental engineering, or international law.

Our priorities, then, are clear. We must continue investing in student learning and experience, on campus and off; and we must increase our investment in the kind of discovery that will firmly establish our international stature. In short, we must increase what we invest in our students, our faculty, and the infrastructure that supports them both.

It is reasonable to ask where the funds for these investments will come from. Fortunately, we have not faced the financial hardships currently affecting other universities. Precisely because we have not been forced to make draconian, across-the-board cuts, we have an opportunity to seek potential savings in the way we do business.

But we can do more than that. With trustee support, we are undertaking a bold initiative to increase what we invest in our priorities, over the next five years, by $60 million per year. That amount is the equivalent of what we currently spend from our endowment income every year. Our plan to, in effect, double the impact of our endowment has three components: raising new funds from philanthropic sources; increasing the productivity of our research and instructional programs; and finding savings in our business processes that we can re-invest in our faculty, students, and academic initiatives.

The first of those efforts is well underway, thanks to a build-up of our development staff and the engagement of all the deans. To implement the other two parts of the plan, we need fresh ideas. To that end, I have launched the Innovation Task Force. The task force comprises a steering committee, chaired by Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs Jeffrey Lenn, and two working groups. One group will focus on business processes, while the other will focus on academic innovation. Input from throughout the university community will be sought through a variety of mechanisms the task force may devise, including via a web-based suggestion box, Town Hall style meetings, and e-mail sent to [email protected].

Working together, I have no doubt that we can transform GW into a world-class, 21st-century version of the university George Washington envisioned.

The writer is the 16th president of The George Washington University.

Learning & Research