President LeBlanc previews the year ahead.
To the GW Community:
Welcome to fall 2019! For those marking your first semester with us, welcome to GW! I hope you are beginning to feel at home.
I have always loved the start of the academic year. There are new students, families, faculty and staff to meet. We have (mostly) caught our breath after the spring sprint. And we have fresh perspective on our priorities, both the old and the new.
Let me tell you a little about what is on my mind as we start this year:
The Strategic Planning Process
When I joined GW in August 2017 I heard great ideas from many of you about the university’s future. We talked about what GW is today, and what it should look like tomorrow, and five years from now. In meetings with faculty and staff I have encouraged big thinking: What would you do with $1 billion in unrestricted funds? What is the appropriate size of our faculty and student populations? Where do we focus our academic and research investments to further solidify GW’s standing among world-class universities?
The feedback I heard in many of these conversations can be summarized as “better, not bigger,” and, as I wrote recently, we have identified four areas that will be critical as we begin our strategic planning process in earnest: High-Quality Undergraduate Education, Distinguished and Distinctive Graduate Education, World-Class Faculty and High-Impact Research. I also emphasized the importance of expanding our commitment to science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and I noted our intent to gradually right-size the undergraduate population.
But this initial frame leaves the picture unpainted. We need your input and ideas. This semester you will have many opportunities to join what I am certain will be a robust discussion on where we are headed. I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities, beginning with an event I will host Sept. 12 at 4 p.m. in Jack Morton Auditorium. All university community members are encouraged to attend. During the event, I will share more information about the formal planning process we will undertake to collect faculty, staff and student feedback as well as answer your questions.
Our strategic plan will only be as strong as our commitment to being deliberate, transparent and collaborative in creating it. The more voices and diverse perspectives, the better.
The Strategic Initiatives
While the strategic plan will guide our efforts over the coming years, our strategic initiatives continue to provide the strong foundation from which we are building.
And I mean that literally in some cases. This summer we have been making improvements to our physical infrastructure across the Foggy Bottom and Mount Vernon campuses, dedicating an additional $10 million to support a community-oriented culture that benefits all students, faculty and staff. I hope you like what you see. This is just the first step of a thorough process to continually assess and improve campus infrastructure, and the strategic plan we develop will help guide future investments.
Thanks to our student experience initiative, students will find a new Student Services Hub on the ground level of the Marvin Center to better serve their needs. They will no longer pay for most laundry, printing and venue rentals. And they have access to an enhanced Safe Ride service to travel around campus. Plans also are well underway for the complete interior renovation of Thurston Hall, which will be the cornerstone of an undergraduate residential experience centered on building community and making connections.
We also are marking achievements in transforming our institutional culture, and faculty and staff will receive training this fall that aims to improve the experience of all members of our community. Meanwhile, we are implementing recommendations from faculty and staff work teams to make employees’ work lives better.
Our attention to strengthening our research enterprise, interdisciplinary scholarship and data analysis capabilities is paying off, most recently with a $5 million Knight Foundation investment in GW’s Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics. This semester we will launch a second phase of our research ecosystem review for faculty to examine additional areas for improvement and opportunity. And we remain focused on our medical enterprise goals and how we will continue to advance our academic, research and clinical care missions.
Finally, with our bicentennial quickly approaching in 2021, our philanthropy and constituent engagement teams are busy planning for how we will celebrate this momentous occasion in our university’s history, both on campus and around the world. And with fundraising and engagement goals recently exceeding expectations, we have been able to invest more in financial aid for students in need and make strategic decisions in our academic and research missions.
I look forward to a productive year ahead and wish you success in your academics, teaching, research, work and whatever your semester may bring! Please take care of yourself—mind, body and soul. Ask for help when you need it, and offer help when you think help is needed.
Save the Date
And don't forget: Mark your calendars for the university update on Sept. 12 at 4 p.m. in Jack Morton Auditorium. I hope to see you there.
Thomas J. LeBlanc