President Thomas LeBlanc told the Board of Trustees the committees will organize outreach and engagement opportunities over the coming month.
With charges in hand, the George Washington University’s four strategic plan committees will begin meeting and holding outreach activities over the next several weeks, working on an “aggressive schedule” that will deliver a new five-year strategic plan for Board of Trustees approval in May 2020, President Thomas LeBlanc told the board on Friday at its first meeting of the academic year.
“In higher education, I’ve been told repeatedly we mark time with calendars, not with watches,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “But everyone involved in the process understands the importance of coming forward quickly.”
Dr. LeBlanc said he emphasized to the committees—which address the plan’s pillars of world-class faculty, high-quality undergraduate education, distinguished and distinctive graduate education and high-impact research—that they must remain “very focused” on their charges.
“There are many, many wonderful things we could pursue over the next five years. We need to pick the top two in each of these areas,” he said. “We can make a strategic difference in the long-term future of our university.”
The planning timeline makes community discussions all the more important, Dr. LeBlanc said, and in the following weeks each committee will plan a week of engagement opportunities.
The High-Impact Research Committee will hold activities first, beginning this week on Thursday. More information on these opportunities will be publicized on the strategic plan website and via other university channels as it is confirmed.
Meanwhile, a Strategic Planning Task Force, chaired by Trustee Christine Barth, B.B.A. ’88, and comprising trustees, faculty and other GW constituents, will remain engaged with the committees, coordinating and synthesizing their work throughout the year.
“We’re excited for the work ahead,” Ms. Barth said.
Although the past two years have laid the groundwork for the plan, the university formally launched the strategic planning process at an event with Dr. LeBlanc in September. Ahead of the board’s final plan approval in May, the board will receive draft recommendations from committees in February, so that initial ideas can influence the budget process for fiscal 2021.
“We know as a board that it is an aggressive timetable. But we believe that we have to do this quickly, and we can’t sit back and wait,” said Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82, who on Friday marked her first on-campus board meeting as chair. “We’re going to keep our foot to the pedal, pedal to the metal … to get this done.”
Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights, J.D. ’82, on Friday marked her first on-campus board meeting as chair. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
Safety, community and research updates
Dr. LeBlanc also outlined recent progress on some of the university’s initiatives, beginning first with safety, including recent updates to campus infrastructure funded by a $10 million investment and enhancements GW will make to improve security in residential, academic and administrative buildings.
“We will not compromise on safety,” Dr. LeBlanc said, describing the recent campus update work as an “all-hands-on-deck” effort.
Creating more spaces on campus for community gathering also remains a priority, Dr. LeBlanc said, showing a design concept for an updated Potomac Square.
Formerly a parking lot on G Street, directly across from Lisner Hall and next to the Law Learning Center, Potomac Square is earmarked as a new outdoor gathering space with a distinct GW look and will be outfitted with new furniture and a daily selection of food trucks.
A design rendering for the new Potomac Square.
“We are creating a big, open community space for students, faculty and staff,” Dr. LeBlanc said.
Meanwhile, the project to completely renovate the interior of Thurston Hall remains on track for a fall 2022 move in, Dr. LeBlanc said. The board approved the hall’s design concept at its meeting in May.
“We want Thurston Hall to be a model for a student living center on an urban campus in the United States,” he said.
Students also have more community space as part of the new Student Services Hub and can book spaces to hold events without having to pay a venue fee for many popular locations on campus, Dr. LeBlanc added.
Community among staff and faculty also continues to strengthen as part of the culture initiative, with a common purpose, institutional values and service priorities providing the framework for employee training sessions rolling out now.
Addressing recent research successes, Dr. LeBlanc highlighted GW’s funding from Knight Foundation for GW’s Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics; the sale of a portion of royalty rights from a GW-developed drug that will boost the university’s growth as a preeminent research university; and a $22 million grant to the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, which is among the largest grants GW has ever received.
On leadership searches, the university will soon announce its next provost, Dr. LeBlanc said.
The GW Law dean search committee is expected to make its recommendations to the administration before the end of the fall semester; the next steps and start date of a new dean will depend on the candidates, Dr. LeBlanc added.
Dr. LeBlanc also introduced new members of leadership who have recently joined GW or who have been promoted:
- John Lach, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science
- Ed Gillis, interim vice provost for enrollment and student success
- Dana Bradley, GW’s first-ever chief people officer
- Jared Abramson, inaugural vice president for financial planning and operations
- Scott Burnotes, associate vice president of safety and security
- Cissy Petty, who is now vice president of student affairs and dean of students
Barbara Lee Bass, incoming vice president for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine and Health Sciences, will join GW in January 2020.
Other board news
- In her remarks, Sylvia Marotta-Walters, chair of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee, said faculty are actively involved in strategic initiative efforts, especially the culture initiative and the second phase of the research ecosystem review, and the strategic planning process.
“Faculty are very invested in making sure they have a voice in the strategic planning process,” Dr. Marotta-Walters said. “I look forward to continued participation from the faculty.”
- Student Association President SJ Matthews updated the board on her administration’s priorities this academic year, including expanding the first-year forgiveness policy for retaking courses; building a greater sense of community, particularly through creating more student space and supporting civil discourse; and making accessibility improvements to GW’s buildings and campuses. Ms. Matthews also said the Student Association would continue to engage university stakeholders in discussions about the Colonials moniker.
Student Association President SJ Matthews provides an update to the Board of Trustees. (Harrison Jones/GW Today)
A member of the Strategic Planning Task Force, Ms. Matthews added she would be working to further incorporate undergraduate and graduate student voices in the process.
“This university works best when everyone is given a seat at the table,” Ms. Matthews said, later adding she would work collaboratively with the board this year “to build a GW for all.”
- GW Alumni Association President Richard Jones, J.D. ’84, said the association has been busy holding listening tours with alumni to better understand how they want to engage with the university. He said alumni remain interested in connecting directly with students, including for mentoring and networking opportunities.
“A stronger alumni makes for a stronger university, and we are committed to that end,” Mr. Jones said.
- A GW student who is a resident advisor (RA) told the board he has seen positive changes recently to the RA program and residential life at GW, but noted concerns with how RAs are compensated. He requested the board and university determine “how we can change the current policy and how we can have a more equitable system for all RAs.”
Ms. Speights said the board would work with Dr. Petty on the issue.
- The board continues in its process to identify a trustee for its recent alumni position. Applications must be received on or before 11:59 p.m. PST on Monday. Requirements, and more details, are available here.
- The board approved emeritus status for School of Business Associate Professor Neil Cohen and approved tenure for Dr. Lach.