Provost Leads First Faculty Senate Meeting

Meeting included updates from the strategic planning committees.

Brian Blake presided over last week's Faculty Senate meeting. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
Provost M. Brian Blake presided over last week's Faculty Senate meeting. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
February 19, 2020

George Washington University Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs M. Brian Blake spoke to the Faculty Senate Friday about current application numbers, GW’s new structure for graduate funding and the progress of the Future Enrollment Task Force.

It was Dr. Blake’s second GW Faculty Senate meeting and his first opportunity to preside as chair.

Dr. Blake said GW’s application numbers remain about where they were at this time last year, while institutions in its peer market basket have seen declines of five to 10 percent. Certain domestic applications have increased, but international applications—particularly from China—have declined sharply, he said. Underrepresented minorities also make up a larger percentage of the application pool this year than last year.

“I feel very confident that we’ll get a really good class moving forward,” Dr. Blake said.

Dr. Blake also discussed a recent model change around graduate scholarships and fellowships. Certain funding that previously was routed centrally through the provost’s office will now be allotted directly to the schools and colleges to which the funding pertains.

The advantages of the new system are twofold, Dr. Blake said. First, GW’s schools and colleges will now be taxed after they assign their financial aid to students, not before, affording them more revenue. Second, the new model eliminates what Dr. Blake called “flow through”—the bureaucratic waste involved in routing scholarships specific to schools through the provost’s office.

The new model “gives more revenue to schools and colleges, gives the deans more control and hopefully incentivizes competitive discounting,” Dr. Blake said. “I think ultimately this is a great move for the schools to be more academically entrepreneurial.”

Dr. Blake also gave updates on the Future Enrollment Task Force, which has had four meetings to discuss the academic experience of those students who will graduate from GW in five to 10 years. He said the group is not narrowly focused on the planned reduction of GW’s on-campus undergraduate population and its increase in in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors; rather, the task force’s goal is to more generally explore the possible overall composition of students and the development of programs around themed areas of future interest. The task force also held a joint meeting with the Strategic Planning Committee on High Quality Undergraduate Education and mapped out some goals for both groups.

Strategic planning committee presentations

Members of each of the four strategic planning committees presented reports on the progress of their work and the interim reports they released last month.

  • Diana Burley, vice chair of the High-Impact Research Committee, stressed the necessity of coupling the university’s research enterprise with the interests of its faculty. She said the committee’s intent in its interim report is to provide “a diverse portfolio of suggestions,” requiring a range of investment, to be applied as necessary across various units of the university.
  • Likewise, Jim Wade of the World-Class Faculty Committee said the group’s suggestions would require different implementations across GW’s schools and colleges. The committee has developed proposals around improving recruitment and retention of faculty, including a high-impact hiring plan focused on diversity and a possible mentorship program with emphasis on early-career faculty.
  • Carol Sigelman of the Distinguished and Distinctive Graduate Education Committee said the committee continues to work on ways to elevate all of GW’s graduate programs while identifying 10 programs of particular emphasis. The committee also continues to propose creating a position for a high-level academic administrator with broad responsibility for graduate education and experience.
  • Gayle Wald and Jason Zara of the High-Quality Undergraduate Education Committee said that most feedback the committee has received on its interim report has to do with two topics: inclusion and support of the humanities and funding for the strategic plan given the planned 20 percent reduction in on-campus undergraduate enrollment over five years. Dr. Wald said the committee will continue to prioritize the value of a broad liberal arts education, including for students in professional schools. “We tried to stay way away from being prescriptive and to be imaginative instead…about lifting up the undergraduate experience,” Dr. Wald said.

Special committee on strategic plan matters

Sarah Wagner, chair of a special senate committee convened at the request of the Faculty Assembly to address matters pertaining to the strategic planning process and other concerns, gave a detailed presentation on her group’s findings. The committee found that the Faculty Senate and GW President Thomas LeBlanc partially, but not completely, addressed the issues raised by the assembly. These included shared governance and the fiscal and demographic effects of the proposed reduction in enrollment and increase in STEM majors.

Other business

The Faculty Senate passed two resolutions on Friday. The first asked the administration to refrain from further implementing plans to reduce enrollment and increase STEM until certain conditions are met “through recognized processes of shared governance.” The second resolution alters the Faculty Senate’s guidelines for the conferral of faculty honors, awards and distinctions, adding an emphasis on distinction through local and global service.

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