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The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Presidential town halls marked by questions on diversity, innovation

Trustees Nelson Carbonell and Madeline Jacobs field questions at a town hall meeting for faculty. Madeline Cook | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Trustees Nelson Carbonell and Madeline Jacobs field questions at a town hall meeting for faculty. Madeline Cook | Hatchet Staff Photographer

This post was written by Hatchet reporters Lauren Gomez, Sam Rosin and Sera Royal.

GW students, faculty and staff attended a series of town hall meetings Monday afternoon to give input on the University’s presidential search.

At all three town hall meetings, Jonathan Post, the assistant vice president for board relations, moderated the discussion, while the Chairman of the Board of Trustees, Nelson Carbonell and Madeleine Jacobs, a trustee and chair of the presidential search committee, described the search process and answered questions. Deputy Executive Vice President Ann McCorvey also sat on the panel during the staff town hall.

At all three town halls, Post asked attendees questions about important qualities to look for in the next president, opportunities and challenges that face they face regularly and priorities they should have to help create a profile for potential candidates.

At the staff town hall meeting, around 90 GW staff members gathered to talk about issues from diversity of the search committee to transparency.

Carbonell said he is unconcerned about the search committee’s current level of diversity, after some faculty raised concerns over the makeup of the committee, and stressed his belief that a new president must embrace diversity as a core university value.

“From the board standpoint, diversity isn’t just something that we want to stress just because we are nice people, or we think that it’s popular,” Carbonell said. “In 20 years, we are going to have a very different country, and GW has to be a place that’s welcoming to everyone. It has to be a place where everyone can thrive and succeed. If we don’t have that environment, we’ll fail.”

He later noted during an interview that when looking at the overall makeup of the committee, including board members, the committee becomes significantly more diverse.

Carbonell said the University must also select a president committed to finding new ways to fundraise, acknowledging that traditional fundraising techniques, like tuition and philanthropy, currently provide the bulk of the University’s resources.

“We need to have somebody who’s going to think outside the box to bring resources to the university,” Carbonell said. “We need somebody to innovate to help us gather the resources we need to operate.”

Staff attendees, which varied from board members to men’s basketball coach Mike Lonergan, underlined the need for the new president to value online learning, international recruitment and coordination with groups and institutions in the greater D.C area.

Staff members also expressed their hopes for a change in leadership style. They encouraged the search committee to hire a candidate with an “open-door policy,” who would properly the “appreciate” the high-level of staff effort.

At the open town hall later in the afternoon, about a dozen students, faculty and staff emphasized a focus on student engagement, philanthropy and affordability for the new president.

International students said they wanted more avenues to provide their perspectives to the GW community, and other students said they wanted the administration to be more receptive and respectful toward student activism.

Some students spoke about fundraising issues at GW. Yannick Baptist, the president of GW Veterans, said he was particularly troubled by the low number of alumni who participate in fundraising efforts and give back to the university.

“A majority of students see this as an institution where they pay, they do their courses, then they leave,” he said. “How do we create this environment that will be more of a home for them, so they’ll be more inclined to give back?”

Attendees also voiced concerns about the accessibility of the University given its high tuition rates.

“Higher education institutions across the country are facing increasing tuition and decreasing family income,” Thomas Falcigno, the Student Association’s executive vice president, said. “GW is facing this issue of affordability, and I’d like to see GW to be a leader in how we address those problems.”

At the faculty town hall, about eight faculty members voiced concerns on issues like finding a president committed to academics, generating increased resources and revenue, especially given D.C.’s cap on students for the University and taking better advantage of GW’s location in D.C.

Gregory Squires, the chair of the sociology department, said he believes it is important to have a president with strong academic values.

“We need somebody who is committed to core academic values and understands something about the pursuit of knowledge and critical thinking,” Squires said. “That’s my concern because with basic core values, the rest just follows.”

Marie Price, a professor of geography and international affairs, said she was concerned about finding alternative revenue streams to traditional things like tuition and sponsored research, as well as negotiating the student enrollment cap currently placed on the University by D.C.

Carbonell said the he is trying to get a meeting with D.C.’s mayor and city council to discuss the cap, which he called a “constraint on resources,” and something the next president will have to address.

“The student cap itself borders on ridiculous,” Carbonell said. “It’s one thing to cap undergrad students, and there may be some reasons to do that, but it’s absolutely ridiculous for us to have a cap on grad students. So the next president is going to have to be able to be a pretty good politician on that.”

Carbonell said in an interview Monday that as the search process moves forward, he and other trustees will continue to meet with different schools and programs at GW and solicit feedback from all different kinds of members of the University.

“That’s so when the president shows up, he or she can be a successful president, and all of us are behind our president and we see them collectively as our leader – not just the board picked the president,” he said. “So I think that’s why we’re putting the energy in now upfront.”

Jacqueline Thomsen contributed reporting.

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