The current pandemic crisis has caused an existential threat to all institutions of higher learning including the George Washington University (GW). It has abruptly disrupted the education of our student body and has caused severe financial stress. This has ramifications both in the short term and the long term. At GW, our first priority has been and will continue to be the safety and wellbeing of our students, faculty, staff, and community as we continue our mission to educate and increase knowledge through research and scholarship. As the financial challenges surrounding that mission are immediate and significant, the Board of Trustees is calling upon the administration and leadership throughout the University to begin planning and rapidly implementing actions that will forthrightly address the immediate financial needs of the University and as importantly, the Trustees seek concrete plans that are designed to materially address longer term operational efficiencies. Transformational thinking and best practices are paramount in order to safeguard the future and continue to promote the excellence of the George Washington University for generations to come.
As fiduciaries of the University, the Board of Trustees has worked closely with the President and the administration as they develop plans and actions to ensure that GW thrives well into the future. As these plans are developed, the Board of Trustees has requested the administration to adhere to the following principles and framework:
- Prioritize the health and safety of our community
- Expedient action involving consultation with stakeholders, including the faculty and others for advice and input
- Prudent cash management
- Considerations for the fall semester
- Permanent measures that have a lasting impact and sustain our course to preeminence in full recognition that the future will look very different from the past. These could include but are not limited to opportunities to restructure programs and services with the intention of materially improving the operations and financial efficiency beyond minor changes that would normally be implemented in a less severe financial downturn. This is in keeping with our commitment to positioning GW as a model of organizational resiliency.
The Board of Trustees and the administration must ensure that the University lives within its means; and produces appropriate and necessary margins to support ongoing operations, finance strategic ambitions, and ensure fiscal sustainability. Further, we must avoid dependency on highly variable sources of revenue and produce reasonable and sufficient operating contingencies. The George Washington University is not immune from the immediate decisions that are being made throughout higher education to ensure not only that we survive, but that we continue to thrive. While the Board of Trustees acknowledges there are no easy answers or paths to follow, we expect our next steps and actions will make us more prepared for future crises. Income from the endowment can and should support ongoing operations, but the designated purpose of the permanent endowment fund is to protect the long-term financial standing of the University and should not be considered by the administration to address the current challenges posed by this pandemic.
The Board of Trustees is directing the administration to explore and consider all appropriate options. A sense of urgency is warranted and the status quo is not an option. We appreciate President LeBlanc’s leadership through this unprecedented crisis, and it is further our direction and expectation that material, structural actions will be taken as the administration and the Trustees deem appropriate to address the University’s sustainability into the future.
Grace E. Speights
Chair, GW Board of Trustees