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In presidential search, faculty concerned about lack of representation

Hatchet File Photo by Dan Rich | Photo Editor
Hatchet File Photo by Dan Rich | Photo Editor

As the search for a new University president gets underway, some faculty members are concerned that those charged with naming a new leader are not representative of GW faculty as a whole.

After the University launched its presidential search at the end of June, some faculty members said they were worried that the search committee was not inclusive of the overall faculty community at GW. Faculty and experts said a lack of committee members with differing experiences can prevent a diverse hiring pool — meaning some qualified candidates could be overlooked.

All faculty on the committee are from the science, math, law or medical fields. All are white, and all but one are men.

Out of the other 13 non-faculty committee members, at least four come from minority backgrounds and five are women. Student Association President Erika Feinman, who also sits on the committee, openly identifies with a non-binary gender.

The 19-person search committee is made up of 10 trustees, six faculty members, the president of the Alumni Association, a staff member and the SA president, according to GW’s presidential search website. This committee is larger than the 14-person committee that helped choose Knapp in 2006, which included only three faculty members.

Trustee Madeleine Jacobs, chair of the presidential search committee, said in an email that the committee is a “diverse group” representing students, faculty, staff, alumni and trustees and that other faculty members would be able to provide their input on the search in other ways.

She said the Faculty Senate’s executive committee will help advise on the search, as will a faculty consultative committee, which will be elected this fall by the Faculty Assembly — a group made up of all faculty members at the University.

“The committee has been named, and we don’t anticipate changes to the makeup,” Jacobs said. “However, we will be consulting with many GW community members, and their input will influence the search.”

The Board of Trustees and the presidential search committee will hold a series of town hall meetings for faculty, staff, students and others outside of the University to hear their suggestions throughout the process, according to GW’s presidential search website. People can also submit input directly through the website.

But still, some faculty members said they are worried that the makeup of the search committee will mean the candidates presented to the Board of Trustees will not accurately reflect the composition of GW’s faculty.

Harald Griesshammer, an associate physics professor and a member of the Faculty Senate, said most faculty members — regardless of their positions or fields of study — are invested in the process of selecting the next University president, and some feel they have been left out.

He said the lack of representation of arts, humanities or social sciences professors, particularly in fields like political science, was “strange for a university that prides itself as being the place that is only three blocks from the White House.”

“It looks a little bit like we are not a liberal arts institution but ‘GW Tech,’ and I think that’s very dangerous,” Griesshammer said.

Andrew Zimmerman, the president of the GW Faculty Association, a faculty-run organization that operates separately from the Faculty Senate, said in an email that members of the group believe the committee’s membership indicates that GW leaders are not receptive to faculty concerns.

“I see the makeup of the presidential search committee as just one more sign that the Board of Trustees, as well as Rice Hall, is out of touch with a large portion of the GW faculty,” Zimmerman said.

The Faculty Association sent a letter to Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell, University President Steven Knapp and Provost Forrest Maltzman regarding these concerns over the summer. Only Carbonell, who “reaffirmed his decision on the makeup of the search committee” responded, Zimmerman said.

Other faculty members said they do not have issues with who was selected for the committee because they feel faculty will have opportunities to express concerns through other forums.

Murli Gupta, chair of the mathematics department who has been at GW for nearly 40 years, said he didn’t see a problem with the members of the committee and only became aware of others’ concerns last week.

“If the process continues the way it is supposed to, then there will be an opportunity for everyone in the University to make their opinions known,” Gupta said.

Experts said diversity on a search committee increases the chances of having diverse candidates for a position and makes members of a university feel valued in the search process.

Ann Zanzig, an emeritus consultant at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, said a search committee for high-ranking positions like the president or provost should include representation from groups on campus that traditionally feel underrepresented — a balance of men and women, undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, staff and administrators — to increase diverse input.

With a wide range of groups to represent on campus, Zanzig said that including everyone can be a challenge. But without diversity, she said communities that felt that they were left out of the process can distrust the person who is selected.

“Whoever is hired — he has some folks who are skeptical about him and who feel that that person, no matter how good that person is, doesn’t represent them because they had no voice in selecting them,” Zanzig said.

Julie Renee Posselt, an assistant professor of higher education at the University of Michigan, said diversity in search committee members’ experiences leads to a diverse candidate who may introduce new ways to run a university that could have been otherwise overlooked.

“From the standpoint of the administration, there’s a vision of the university that they are trying to enact through the selection of a new president, and then it’s understandable that the search committee would be composed of people who will help facilitate that,” she said. “But it’s also understandable that there would be pushback from the people who feel excluded from that vision.”

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