President Acknowledges Past and Looks to Future at Faculty Senate

Dr. LeBlanc outlined context for GW’s next steps and Dean Brigety reported on the state of the Elliott School.

GW President Thomas LeBlanc addresses Faculty Senate on Friday. (William Atkins/GW Today)
GW President Thomas LeBlanc addresses Faculty Senate on Friday. (William Atkins/GW Today)
February 11, 2019

At a George Washington University Faculty Senate meeting Friday, University President Thomas LeBlanc said GW needs to adapt to shifting external conditions and expand access to STEM skills in its next stage of development.

Historically, Dr. LeBlanc said, university development rested on three strategic pillars: student population growth, the purchase and build-out of the Foggy Bottom Campus and maintaining excellence in fields traditionally associated with Washington, D.C., like law, policy, politics and international affairs. 

But external conditions require that the university rethink its reliance on these strategic pillars, he said.  First, the city some years ago imposed a cap on the number of students on the Foggy Bottom campus, so continued growth in the undergraduate population is quite limited. Second, the university now owns most of the area between Virginia and Pennsylvania avenues from 19th to 23rd streets, and while some buildings must still be upgraded, “The Foggy Bottom strategy has been successful, and we now have a campus that we can call home,” the president said.

Third, “We have to ask if this university can be a preeminent university by maintaining a strategy based on preeminence in politics, policy, law and international affairs,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “I would argue that the digital revolution is calling into question both how we teach those disciplines of historic strength at GW and what other disciplines we need to be teaching on this campus as the community and world around us becomes more science and technology focused.”

He cited the Elliott School of International Affairs’ introduction of a Bachelor of Science degree track and School of Engineering and Applied Sciences classes on the programming language Python that are open to all students as promising responses to these shifting conditions.

Before answering broader questions about its future, however, the president said the university must take certain immediate steps, including “renovating and transforming” Thurston Hall.  “Under any circumstances, this university has got to upgrade Thurston Hall,” he said. “As a defining part of the undergraduate student experience, it is a high priority.”

Dr. LeBlanc also repeated his statement from the morning’s Board of Trustees meeting, denouncing racist yearbook photos from the university’s archives that have recently circulated on social media.

“It’s important that we acknowledge this part of our past, even when we don’t like it,” he said. “Racism has no place at GW and has no place in our yearbook. We want to create a welcoming and inclusive university for all so we’re continuing to work on that every day.”

Report from the Elliott School

Elliott School Dean Reuben Brigety II opened the meeting with an overview report. The Elliott School is one of the nation’s largest schools of international affairs and is ranked in the top 10 international affairs degrees for bachelor’s and master’s students, he said. Its master’s graduates have a 90 percent employment rate. Since the Elliott School went test-optional for the GRE last year, the global diversity of its applicant pool has risen to 96 countries, including 36 in Africa.

The school also receives substantial funding from prestigious external grants. GW is currently the largest university recipient of Carnegie Corporation grants, and the Elliott School holds all but one of those awards. It also receives major long-term support from the Henry Luce Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation.

In response to a faculty question, Dr. Brigety said student interest in international affairs is growing substantially at the undergraduate level. The Elliott School had its largest ever first-year class in the fall, and he said peer institutions also saw historically large enrollment numbers.  At the graduate level, the picture is more complicated. Last year, applications rose to master’s programs in member schools of the Association of Professional Schools of International Affairs (APSIA) outside the United States. But inside the U.S., those application numbers declined for the first time. 

“We think foreign students are increasingly reluctant to come to the U.S. for study, and prefer—certainly in our fields—to go to Canada, the U.K., Australia, continental Europe and so on,” Dr. Brigety said.

Other Faculty Senate news

The senate also considered several resolutions that would recommend changes to the Faculty Code for consideration by the Board of Trustees.  One of those resolutions clarified to whom external letter writers should compare candidates for tenure or promotion. The resolution also clarified the promotion criteria applying to specialized faculty, whose teaching or research obligations may differ from those of tenure track faculty.

After an extensive debate and a divided vote, the senate also agreed to adopt an amendment to another resolution. This amendment proposes changes to the code to ensure greater confidentiality for tenure and promotion external letters and for the assessments that occur within the university.  Much of the debate hinged on the importance of anonymity for the peer review process vis-à-vis providing candidates with complete information about the assessment of their case.

The resolutions adopted by the Senate last week, along with resolutions previously adopted, will be shared with the Board of Trustees prior to the board’s final consideration of amendments to the code at its May board meeting.

In his remarks, Provost Forrest Maltzman also announced an upcoming series of opportunities, to train current and future academic leaders.

“The strength of our academic leadership really can impact very significantly the smooth operation of a school, unit, or department and it is imperative that we do what we can to ensure that we have leaders with the skills they need to ensure success,” Dr. Maltzman said. “GW’s continued success requires a very strong leadership bench at the unit level.”


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