To the George Washington University Community:
Happy first day of the fall 2018 semester!
To our new students, faculty and staff, welcome! (I was in your shoes just last year.) To those who are celebrating another year at GW, welcome back!
The beginning of the academic year brings a fresh start: renewed energy, opportunities and challenges for us all.
For me, much of this energy comes from you and our work together, aspiring to preeminence as a comprehensive global research university. And while the opportunities and challenges are sure to manifest in many forms as this year unfolds, I would like to address a few topics that I believe will be particularly important.
I hope that if you haven’t yet you will take time to learn about the university’s five strategic initiatives. They are a direct result of the feedback I heard from you during my transition and first year as president.
We already have made significant progress on efforts to improve the Student Experience, including by establishing the student-first structure of our recently formed Enrollment and the Student Experience (ESE) unit. The ESE, working collaboratively across GW, is responsible for changes to key areas that are important to all students, such as academic support, dining and affordability.
The Research initiative is well underway. Faculty are securing grants and leading innovative projects across all disciplines while contributing to a review of the university’s research environment. I am pleased that we will add newly appointed Vice President for Research Robert H. Miller to these efforts.
Off campus, I have had the opportunity to meet some of our loyal and enthusiastic alumni, family and friends across the country, most recently in New York. These trips teach me so much about the university and what it means to our community. It is invigorating to hear story after story of fond GW memories: faculty or staff mentors who changed lives, or relationships formed decades ago on our campuses. In the coming year I am very excited to continue traveling as one of several ways to enhance our Philanthropy and Constituent Engagement, fundraising and generating even more support to advance the university’s priorities and sustain our mission.
While our Medical Enterprise initiative may be less noticeable to the broader GW community, we are working diligently to make progress on our goals.
Our Institutional Culture initiative team is discussing our approach to assessing our culture. The anecdotes I have heard so far provided a general understanding of where we can improve, and we made a few immediate changes to benefit the community. But reshaping an institution’s culture is more complicated and bigger than any single area, and it requires for its foundation a more thorough assessment than selected anecdotes can provide. Although our assessment approach is still developing, I do know it will be critical that we take the time and invest the resources to get it right.
You will be hearing more from the culture initiative leadership team in the coming weeks about the assessment phase and how you can get involved. I hope all members of our community will embrace this opportunity to build an even stronger GW.
[video:https://vimeo.com/286703122 width:560 height:315 align:center lightbox_title:President LeBlanc Welcome Back Message]
Diversity and Inclusion
Part of our university’s institutional culture is our commitment to being a welcoming place for all, and I have seen innumerable examples of our students, faculty and staff helping to foster this environment. Unfortunately, I learned during the past year that some of our students, especially those who are black, have experienced racism or bias on campus. I made clear and want to reaffirm that this is absolutely unacceptable, and that inclusion is everyone’s responsibility.
So I was heartened when many of you contributed to the Response Action Plan for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which called in part for implementing mandatory diversity training for new incoming students. Programming will occur throughout the academic year. This and other actions are only a start, however, and I look forward to continuing to work together to ensure everyone at GW feels welcome and valued.
I also want everyone to feel safe. Last year, after discussions with students, faculty, staff and external experts, the university updated its Title IX policies, which govern how we respond to sexual and gender-based harassment and assault, among other issues. I believe the policies are crucial to better protecting our community, and they are reflective of best practices. That said, we will continuously monitor their efficacy and make improvements as necessary.
The Sexual and Gender-Based Harassment and Interpersonal Violence Policy and a related Policy on Prohibited Relationships with Students are now in effect. I urge you to become familiar with them.
Finally, in case you missed the news this summer, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education reaccredited the university. In its report, a team of academics and administrators noted many of the university’s strengths, especially around our educational and research missions, commitment to the student experience and policies protecting academic freedom, to which we remain committed.
This positive outcome was the result of a tremendous community-wide effort, much of it undertaken before I arrived on campus. We should all be very proud of the excellence of our students, faculty and staff.
As this academic year continues, I will be sure to share updates on many of these and other topics through GW Today and the strategic initiatives site, where you can also provide feedback on any of our five initiatives.
And as always, if you have any questions, concerns or suggestions for me, please get in touch.
In the meantime, I wish each of you a fulfilling start to the new academic year. I can’t wait to see what it holds for our university!
Thomas J. LeBlanc