Message from GW Board of Trustees Chair

President LeBlanc to retire in December; Mark S. Wrighton to serve as interim president.

September 10, 2021

Dear Members of the George Washington University Community,

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to welcome you back to what we hope will be a more normal academic year. We are very grateful to each and every one of you for helping us get through last year by focusing on health and safety, while still advancing our mission and sustaining the financial health of the university.

The Board has spent much of the summer contemplating various options for the Presidential search, since President LeBlanc has announced his retirement. The President, as he has said consistently, wanted us to do whatever was in the best long-term interest for George Washington University and indicated he would be flexible on the timing of his retirement.

Among the options the Board considered was proceeding with a traditional year long search for a permanent President; we also considered the possibility of an accelerated search. However, we grew concerned about the present academic marketplace for Presidents of universities of the caliber of GW because of the unusual number of vacancies (many as a result of retirements by Presidents after the stress of having to lead in the COVID-19 environment). We also felt that the university needed to be in the strongest possible position to attract the best talent. It is clear that there is work to be done for us to be in that position, especially working together to strengthen shared governance and collaborative planning. Therefore, the Board began to explore the possibility of an Interim President, with deep experience, to help us all position the university for a permanent President in what we hope will be a better Presidential marketplace.

We are delighted to have found an extraordinary leader to serve as Interim President: Mark S. Wrighton, Chancellor Emeritus of Washington University in St. Louis, where he continues to teach as the James and Mary Wertsch Distinguished University Professor. As you will see from his brief resume, Professor Wrighton has had a remarkable career with awards for both his teaching and research (including over 300 published articles and 16 patents); was selected as a MacArthur Prize Fellow; has served as a faculty member, department chair, and Provost at MIT; and was Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis (ranked number 16 by US News) for 24 successful years. He has had a model academic career, and we were able to convince him that he could do much to help our university. (And perhaps we were assisted by the fact that he and Risa Zwerling, his wife, have young grandchildren in the DC area). He indicated that he would be willing to serve the university as Interim President for up to 18 months and would be available to start on January 1, 2022, if we wished. President LeBlanc indicated that this timing would be consistent with his wrapping up of several projects and encouraged the Board to seize this opportunity to bring such an outstanding leader to GW. I hope you will join me in welcoming and thanking Professor Wrighton for his commitment to the George Washington University that is actually in Washington!                

As a result of this decision, we will postpone appointing a Presidential search committee, with constituent representation, until late spring. And we will launch, in full consultation and partnership with the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, a shared governance taskforce early this semester. It is our hope that this academic year will be a highly positive and productive one that leads to irreversible upward momentum for our university.


Grace Speights
Chair, GW Board of Trustees