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The GW Hatchet

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PAUL closes in Western Market
By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Staff Editorial: How GW’s next deans can juggle student demands with school politics

It’s not easy being a dean at GW. Scandal has embattled top leaders in multiple schools over the last year and a half. Now, the University is searching for permanent deans in a trio of colleges.

This semester, it will be time to move beyond controversy and toward the future. Dean search committees in the GW School of Business, GW Law School and GW School of Nursing are working to find replacements. For two of the schools – law and business – the stakes are highest because of these schools’ significant financial and reputational value to the University.

When searching for top campus administrators, committees must pick inspiring leaders with visions for addressing student concerns.

Rebuilding lagging academic programs in the business school
Former GW School of Business dean Doug Guthrie’s 2011 five-year plan for the school sometimes reads like a fantasy novel. He would propel the college into the top-25 business schools in the nation with big investments from GW and aggressive rollouts of online programs, executive education degrees and classes for professional athletes.

We’re all for ambition, but the next dean must be realistic – there are more pressing issues.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo
Doug Guthrie, the former dean of the business school, was fired in August 2013.

The newly hired business school dean will be the school’s fourth in five years. That’s a frightening prospect for the school, whose undergraduate programs were ranked a meager No. 71 by Bloomberg Businessweek last year.

Guthrie was fired in August because he spent millions over budget – a surefire sign of a leader who lacked discipline. He was innovative, but his know-it-all style clashed with administrators and professors. Future leaders won’t be successful unless they can cater to both of these parties’ interests while also lending an ear to students.

Increasing donations is a crucial part of any dean’s job, especially with a major fundraising campaign approaching. But above all, the dean must focus his or her vision on developing a top-notch academic program taught by world-class professors.

That academic vision, in and of itself, will inspire donors and attract tuition-paying students.

The next dean must also advocate for a narrower focus on the business school. Guthrie was a globetrotting administrator who also steered GW’s operations in China and worked on economic development plans with the D.C. government.

The business school needs a leader who comes to work every day aiming to bolster rankings, expand interdisciplinary programs, and elevate teaching and research.

But Guthrie’s tenure was not a waste. In fact, his vision fell in line with GW’s strategic plan, released by the provost last February.

The school’s finance degree – approved last May and developed under Guthrie – would be a valuable area to continue innovating. The program requires students to double major outside of the business school. This aligns well with the University’s emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach to education, and could be expanded to the entire college.

So here’s a message to the new business school dean: Learn from Guthrie’s innovative approach, but make achievable goals and avoid replicating his temperament.

Keeping the GW Law School afloat in a sour job market
The listing for GW’s vacant deanship at a top-25 law school in the nation’s capital might entice quality applicants.

But the school’s future leader has some huge issues to face head on: slightly slipping admissions standards, a faculty skeptical of change and graduating classes where only about half get legal jobs not funded by the University.

Media Credit: Hatchet File Photo by Elise Apelian | Senior Staff Photographer
A student enters Lerner Hall, the main building of the GW Law School. The school is searching for its next dean.

Roger Schechter, a law professor and chair of the dean search, told The Hatchet that the next dean must bring “creative ideas about how we can be a successful player in what some people think is a new normal” for law schools.

That makes sense: If there is one area of higher education that is changing the fastest, it is likely law. In the past few years, law school applications have decreased as the legal job market turned on its head. There are already significantly more law graduates than legal jobs, and debt loads continue to rise.

Paul Schiff Berman, who now serves as the University’s vice provost for online education and academic innovation, left his post as the top man at the law school amid resentment and a possible no-confidence vote from faculty last spring.

That’s why, if anything, the next dean must be both a courageous leader and a masterful politician. He or she must be able to get faculty, administrators and students on board with big ideas that can help lower costs for students – and make everyone feel like their voice is heard along the way.

The University-funded program Pathways to Practice, where students are placed in full-time law positions, is a helpful way to give students job experience and bolster their resumes in a tough market. But a dean must recognize that this program is only a temporary solution and a way to pump up jobs numbers. It costs the school $3 million a year.

To cut costs, a new dean could look into the so-called 3+3 program emerging at other law schools. It cuts a four year undergraduate degree one year short so that students can get to law school sooner – while alleviating part of that hefty undergraduate price tag in the process. That sounds like something GW students would gravitate toward.

The dean should also not forget that better students get better jobs. So a dean who strives to increase the academic prestige of the school by accepting a more competitive class of students – instead of letting LSAT scores drop by a few points as they did this year – likely means that more students will be employed.

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