The new GW president outlined some priorities for his tenure and acknowledged the challenges faced by the university community.
George Washington University President Mark S. Wrighton presided over his first Faculty Senate meeting Friday. His introductory address identified a few goals of his term, including developing a shared governance agenda, strengthening GW’s interdisciplinary projects, enhancing research across all fields, steering the transformation of GW’s academic medical enterprise, overseeing fundraising to expand the university’s financial aid resources and improving recruitment and retention for faculty and staff.
The president worked with GW’s Board of Trustees to identify and begin work on these priority areas, he said.
“I know that we have many talented leaders of the university who are already working on these areas, and I’m looking forward to working with everyone, building a consensus on what we want to be and what steps we need to take to do that,” Wrighton said.
The president also acknowledged the ongoing challenges that GW and other institutions face during the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly as students, faculty and staff prepare to return to in-person classes and activities this week. GW’s Medical Advisory Group, a team of medical and public health experts, continues to monitor and evaluate the latest data about COVID-19 transmission in the GW community as well as local and national public health guidance.
“I’m really very pleased with how the Medical Advisory Group and those associated with public health have been assisting the university in developing the protocols for the startup of this semester,” Wrighton said.
As president for “a relatively short term,” Wrighton said, his principal responsibility will be to put GW in a strong position to recruit “a truly outstanding academic leader” in his successor.
“I want to contribute to enhancing the quality and impact of the university, and it will be my hope that we can see evident progress over the time that I’m with GW,” he said.
“One of the topics of great interest to the trustees and to the faculty is the commitment to develop a shared governance agenda that will be rewarding for all constituencies here at the university, and that work is well underway,” Wrighton said.
As part of that work, Senate Executive Committee Chair Arthur Wilson delivered an update from the Shared Governance Task Force, which has been meeting regularly since December to develop ways of engaging with and getting feedback on shared governance from the faculty community. The Task Force will host four town halls for faculty members on the topic this week.
“The Shared Governance Taskforce has allowed an opportunity for faculty to work with the administration and trustees collaboratively, and these discussions have been very helpful in highlighting different perspectives,” Wilson said.
Return to campus
Provost Chris Bracey provided spring semester updates, including addressing concerns about COVID-19 protocols as in-person learning resumes. Faculty should anticipate some disruption in the event that they or their students test positive and should prioritize instructional continuity for students, he said.
“We are reassuring all members of our community that our layered approach to protection, which includes testing, vaccinations, including the booster shot, and the indoor mask mandate offer a strong protection against classroom spread and that classroom spread has not historically been an issue at the George Washington University,” Bracey said.
The school also will distribute N95 masks via testing centers and designated distribution areas, Bracey said.
Milken Institute School of Public Health Dean Lynn Goldman also endorsed the semester’s protocols, particularly emphasizing the effectiveness of N95 masks over cloth or surgical counterparts and the importance of booster shots in enhancing vaccine effectiveness against the omicron variant.
“We’re very confident with the booster shot, with the masking, with the general compliance of people on our campus…that we will manage through this very well,” she said.
Professor Joseph Cordes, chair of the Faculty Senate Committee on Fiscal Planning and Budgeting, delivered the Annual University Fiscal Planning and Budget Report on behalf of the committee and co-chair Susan Kulp. The presentation included a broad-brush review of GW’s budget model, analysis of the past year in university finances and discussion of the challenges and opportunities now facing GW, which Cordes said is in “very sound financial shape.” The report is available online.