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Faculty doubtful over some presidential profile goals

Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor
Sam Hardgrove | Assistant Photo Editor

Some faculty say the profile for the next president is not completely in line with their goals for the position.

The profile, which was released last week, outlines what the presidential search committee is looking for in the University’s next leader and overall goals for GW. Faculty members largely said that although the profile covered a lot of ground, it missed some key issues important to them.

The presidential profile, crafted by the presidential search committee and executive search firm Isaacson, Miller, is essentially a detailed job description: It outlines the committee’s desired qualifications for candidates for the next University president, overall upcoming goals, the University’s mission and the challenges for candidates, should they become president.

Provost Forrest Maltzman said the profile accurately articulates both the opportunities and challenges for whoever fills the position.

“I would think that somebody would look at that description and think that this is a great opportunity,” Maltzman said. “They are getting to lead an incredible institution.”

But some faculty members said they do not believe the presidential profile reflects an ideal candidate or represents GW’s goals well.

Tyler Anbinder, a history professor and a member of the Faculty Association, said the profile’s emphasis on research funding for science and engineering fields could downplay other departments’ roles in the search and in the University’s long-term goals.

“Science and engineering students are a tiny fraction of the University’s student population,” Anbinder said. “I wish the University would embrace its strength in the humanities and social sciences rather than grasp at becoming GW Tech – which I don’t think there’s really any possibility of that happening.”

The School of Engineering and Applied Science houses about 2,500 undergraduate and graduate students out of the University’s roughly 26,000 students, according to GW’s institutional research office.

Anbinder said the profile is transparent with the University’s challenges by emphasizing those areas to potential applicants – like student satisfaction. The profile calls for the next president to make sure every student, “regardless of their national origin, socio-economic background, gender or race,” is comfortable and successful.

“The applicants understand that when it says we need to bring in even more research dollars, that means that the trustees aren’t happy with the number of research dollars that are being brought in right now,” Anbinder said. “When it says that alumni have to be more engaged, they understand that means that right now alumni are not perceived as being as engaged as alumni from other universities.”

Anbinder added that the profile highlights ways GW has grown and improved over the past 25 years, which will help recruit applicants and motivate them to continue that growth.

“This is a great job if you want to be a university president,” he said. “There aren’t too many university presidentships better than this one. So I think we’re going to get a lot of really good applicants, and it’ll just be a question of finding the right fit.”

Anthony Yezer, an economics professor, said in an email the presidential profile should focus less on the University’s strategic plan because he believes the plan is about what officials wish were true at GW, rather than what is actually true.

The strategic plan, a document that outlines the University’s goals, like increased globalization and interdisciplinary work, was created in 2012 by then-Provost Steven Lerman. When Lerman announced that he would be stepping down from his role last year, experts questioned the future of the plan without one of its chief architects. The University’s top leaders, however, have kept the plan in focus since then.

The profile outlines the strategic plan as it currently exists with goals that have been met and goals that have yet to be met. It says the new University president will have the opportunity to review the plan.

“What I can convey is that the general faculty opinion is that the strategic plan is dead, and that is generally regarded as a good thing,” Yezer said. “If we are recruiting a president who must believe in the strategic plan then we are recruiting a president who will arrive on campus with a view of the University that has little support among the faculty.”

The profile focuses on several goals that the search committee hopes to reach in the future under the leadership of a new president, like enhancing the academic distinction of the University, broadening diversity efforts and maintaining a growing reputation for research.

“I think the faculty believes that GW is trying to do too many things, and by cutting back proportionally we just weaken everything, ” Yezer said. “We need to identify things that we do not do well and in which we have a comparative disadvantage relative to universities not located on valuable land in the capital of the USA and stop doing those things.”

But faculty members said it’s important to remember, as mentioned in the profile, that no one person could accomplish every goal in the document.

Harald Griesshammer, an associate professor of physics and a member of the Faculty Senate, said in an email that he wished the profile would have placed a greater emphasis on collaboration between the Board of Trustees, faculty and administrators. He said he hopes the next president will engage faculty in all aspects of University decision-making.

He added that the next president should take advantage of faculty members’ passion and engagement in making decisions, especially when making unpopular choices.

“Students, staff and faculty care for GW,” Griesshammer said. “The next University president has the opportunity to channel this passion to help advance all aspects of GW, not just the flashy bits which are good for headlines. Sustainable growth comes in small steps, not in leaps.”

While the profile mainly discusses GW’s past achievements and future goals, Dina Khoury, a professor of history and international affairs and a member of the Faculty Consultative Committee – which is involved in the presidential search – said in an email that the profile lacked a portrayal of what GW is like today for both domestic and international students.

“The job of the incoming president is to help define a vision for the University in a climate that increasingly devalues the humanities and the social sciences that are critical for students who will be informed citizens,” Khoury said. “There is nothing in the profile that highlights the importance of addressing this issue.”

But Kim Roddis, an engineering professor and a member of the Faculty Senate, said she felt like the presidential search committee had done their job creating the profile well overall.

She said she took the listed qualifications and sent them out to her professional networks in hopes of reaching out to as many people as possible to increase the size and depth of the pool of candidates.

“Seventeen pages seems like a lot, but they’re covering a lot of stuff in there, and I was surprised at how well I felt they got both the challenges and the opportunities at GW,” Roddis said. “And that’s really important to attract the right person.”

Sera Royal, Rachel Ventresca and Avery Anapol contributed reporting.

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