Members of the George Washington University’s leadership and faculty gathered virtually Wednesday for a meeting of the Faculty Assembly, offering gratitude to the community and thoughts on GW’s future while also welcoming new faculty colleagues who have joined GW this year.
In a formal declaration of appreciation, Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82, announced that the board recently passed a resolution unanimously recognizing the faculty and the “entire campus community for its coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The resolution also stated that the board “looks forward to a brighter future together as the community will emerge from the pandemic stronger than ever and continues to aspire to preeminence as a comprehensive, global research university.”
Ms. Speights thanked the faculty specifically for their “extraordinary efforts” transitioning to online instruction during difficult and demanding times.
“Thank you for more than rising to the occasion and for coming together so quickly to ensure our students continue to get a great education virtually,” Ms. Speights said.
Ms. Speights also noted that she recognized the faculty’s concerns regarding financial mitigation actions and academic planning, and she emphasized the need to protect health and safety and continue to prioritize the academic mission while limiting impact on the faculty. Ms. Speights also said that the impact of the pandemic will “moot many of the assumptions underlying the ‘20-30’ aspect of the strategic plan.”
Moving forward, Ms. Speights said it will be important to continue to work with the faculty to focus on strengthening GW’s academic portfolio and consider lessons learned during the pandemic and how they may inform innovations.
“We are all called to work together constructively for the long-term good of this great university,” Ms. Speights said. “The trustees look forward to working with the faculty and administration to ensure that GW continues to achieve its academic and research mission.”
President Thomas LeBlanc echoed Ms. Speights’ words of appreciation for the faculty, commending their contributions, including delivering high-quality instruction, running GW’s labs and the clinical enterprise, caring for patients, keeping campus safe and providing extra support to students.
“Especially in these times, your contributions to the academic mission are truly inspiring,” Dr. LeBlanc said.
In addition to missing in-person interaction and some of the ways the university has built community in the past, the GW community has faced many unprecedented challenges in the past year, Dr. LeBlanc said, and leadership has prioritized health, safety and the academic mission before financial considerations.
Dr. LeBlanc also noted that “we are battling multiple pandemics,” including COVID-19, racial injustice, economic inequality, climate change and divisive national discourse.
The faculty have responded to these challenges in part by operating in-house COVID-19 testing, running a Moderna vaccine test site, researching disinformation and leading difficult conversations about diversity, equity and inclusion, Dr. LeBlanc said, adding faculty are “using the university’s mission to make our communities more engaged, healthier and more equitable.”
“I have been proud to see how our faculty already have played a key role in responding to these challenges,” Dr. LeBlanc said.
Dr. LeBlanc said that he remains optimistic about the future and that GW will use lessons learned through the pandemic to explore new opportunities, including for technology and virtual learning, telework, telemedicine, solutions to societal inequities, and how to work across disciplines to address big challenges.
“I believe our future will be very bright,” Dr. LeBlanc said.
Dr. LeBlanc added that he is continuing to meet with faculty in all of GW’s schools and colleges to have open discussions and answer questions.
“I pledge to continue to work constructively with the faculty and with our entire university community to move forward together, with purpose, and with focus on the unique ways that GW can use our academic mission to have an ever more positive impact on the world,” Dr. LeBlanc said.
Provost M. Brian Blake reflected on his recent first anniversary as GW provost, noting that while his first year looked different than he had anticipated, he is optimistic about the university’s potential for progress and its future.
“We are one of the most extraordinary universities in the country, and yes, we can be whatever we want to be. So the major question is, what is that?” Dr. Blake said.
Dr. Blake listed some of GW’s advantages, including world-class disciplines, a location “that makes GW synonymous with leadership” and enhances experiential learning, and a commitment to research, as demonstrated by more than $200 million in research expenditures last year and numerous national awards. He also acknowledged as a point of strength GW’s faculty, thanking them for their “selfless, empathetic and often innovative” support of students through the pandemic.
Dr. Blake emphasized the need to work with faculty in planning for the future.
“There are many paths to the future that we could take,” Dr. Blake said. “But we can’t take all of them, so we’ve got to choose wisely, and obviously I’m going to need your help with that. We won’t be able to do any of this, if not together.”
In the coming months, Dr. Blake said, his priorities will be to work with faculty to explore and advance innovations that have emerged during the pandemic and to support schools and colleges as they continually improve their academic programs and their scholarship. The university will achieve these priorities through more conversations among the Provost’s Office, school and college leadership, the Faculty Senate and the faculty broadly, he said.
“I certainly for one plan to listen, I plan to learn, and I plan to lead to the best of my ability,” Dr. Blake said.
Faculty Senate Executive Committee chair’s remarks
Arthur Wilson, Faculty Senate Executive Committee chair, provided an update on senate activities since the last assembly, noting there has been some progress in communication, collaboration and transparency between faculty and the administration.
Dr. Wilson emphasized the importance of shared governance and also asked faculty to be involved in the senate and its committees.
“I strongly urge all faculty to participate in these efforts by getting involved in the Faculty Senate and standing committees,” Dr. Wilson said.
Also on the agenda Wednesday was a petition to direct the senate to conduct a survey of the faculty’s views of Dr. LeBlanc. Because the assembly does not have rules established for online voting, Parliamentarian and GW Law Associate Professor Steve Charnovitz advised that if the assembly received unanimous consent it could conduct an online vote. The assembly received unanimous consent to conduct the vote and the faculty in attendance voted to approve the petition, 152 to 25. The number of full-time, voting-eligible faculty in the assembly is approximately 2,500. The petition requests the results of the survey be reported to the assembly by Jan. 31, 2021, and that the chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee call a special Faculty Assembly to report the results.
Faculty members spoke both for and against the survey. Some faculty said it was important to collect more data to understand the faculty’s views. Others said the survey was unnecessary and ill timed in the midst of a pandemic.
The Board of Trustees has a standard process for evaluating the university president, Ms. Speights said in her remarks earlier in the meeting, and the board’s review of Dr. LeBlanc begins in spring 2021 and will be led by a third-party firm, which will solicit feedback from the university community then.
The board “fully appreciates and supports how President LeBlanc has guided us through the most difficult and challenging times we have ever faced,” Ms. Speights said.