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Thomas LeBlanc to be next University president

Thomas LeBlanc, the provost and executive vice president at the University of Miami, will be the next president of GW. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer.
Thomas LeBlanc, the provost and executive vice president at the University of Miami, will be the next president of GW. Ethan Stoler | Hatchet Photographer.

Updated: Jan. 6, 2017 at 6:20 p.m.

Thomas LeBlanc, the current executive vice president and provost at the University of Miami, will be the 17th president of GW, the University announced Friday.

LeBlanc now serves as the chief academic officer and the chief budget officer at Miami, overseeing the university’s schools, libraries, and offices like student affairs, continuing and international education and admissions, according to a release. He will start at GW in August.

LeBlanc, who is 61 years old, is also a professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering and served as the university’s interim president in 2015. The University of Miami is one of GW’s peer institutions, meaning it is one of several colleges and universities GW leaders compare the University’s programs to regularly.

“It is a tremendous honor to be selected to lead the George Washington University,” LeBlanc said in the release. “I look forward to building on the work of President Knapp, the Board of Trustees and the university’s outstanding students, faculty and staff who have contributed to creating not only a world-class research university but also a vibrant and distinctive educational experience in the heart of our nation’s capital.”

The announcement comes just a little more than six months after the Board of Trustees began its search to replace University President Steven Knapp, who announced in June that he would be leaving his post at the end of the 2016-2017 academic year. The search was led by Board of Trustees Chairman Nelson Carbonell and Trustee Madeline Jacobs.

“Dr. LeBlanc embodies the qualities the university community articulated through more than 30 town halls and meetings with faculty, students, staff and alumni, as well as leaders and members from the local community,” Carbonell said in the release. “We have worked hard to find a proven leader who can bring GW to new heights, and I believe we have found the ideal person to lead the university into its third century.”

 Jacobs said during a ceremony for students, faculty and staff to welcome LeBlanc Friday that she is “proud” LeBlanc will serve as the next president because he matches the search’s presidential profile. 

“I’m pleased to say that everyone thinks Dr. LeBlanc fits this profile to the letter,” she said.

Members of the search committee unanimously recommended LeBlanc and the Board of Trustees unanimously approved his appointment, according to the release.

As of October, more than 100 people were nominated to be considered for the presidential position, similar to the number of those put up for the job in 2007, which was eventually given to Knapp.

Leaders of the search said they were looking for diverse candidates who had unique fundraising ideas and were willing to continue to improve GW’s reputation, which has evolved remarkably over the past three decades since University President Emeritus Stephen Joel Trachtenberg began his tenure. Knapp was selected in 2007 partially because of his vision to make the University a top-tier research institution.

But the search was not without its hurdles. Faculty complained that members of the humanities departments were left off the main search committee which helped to create the pool of candidates, meaning that those academic areas might not be priorities for the selected contenders. Others pointed out that faculty on the search committee were not diverse – all were white and all but one were men.

Carbonell countered those claims early on, arguing that the rest of the committee’s diversity and his own Latino background would make sure that the search thoroughly examined a diverse group of potential applicants. Faculty also voted on members of a faculty consultative committee to weigh in on the search.

As LeBlanc takes on his first term as president, he will lead a campus set to undergo several significant changes. Major University developments are planned to be built on Pennsylvania Avenue over the next few years, accessibility programs addressing admissions – spearheaded by Knapp – could lead to a more diverse student body over the next decade and officials will have to continue to address affordability issues at a University that was infamously named the most expensive college in the country nearly a decade ago.

As executive vice president and provost, LeBlanc’s compensation totaled $825,976 in fiscal year 2015, according to the University of Miami’s tax forms. Knapp’s was compensated about $1.2 million the same year. 

LeBlanc will take on major projects like the completion of GW’s strategic plan, after helping to create and implement a similar research-focused strategic plan at Miami. He also worked to strengthen the university’s online education programs, a major area of focus for GW as officials expand online courses offerings to reach more students and in turn generate more revenue.

He also led the university’s deans in designing a $1.6 billion fundraising campaign at Miami, which surpassed its goal in 2015. GW plans to reach $1 billion in its own capital campaign by June, two months before LeBlanc begins his post as president, but officials have left the door open for the campaign to continue in other ways after reaching that goal.

LeBlanc said in a phone interview Friday that when he arrives in August, his first priority will be to get to know the GW community before deciding on any major initiatives. Citing his experiences at Rochester and Miami, he said that each institution tackles different issues in different ways and that it would be “foolhardy” for him to come in with a master plan before learning more about the University.

“The responses will all be unique and distinctive,” he said.

He said that, in the meantime, there is “a lot more homework to do” before his start date, and that he will also be assisting with the transition to a new provost at Miami.

This isn’t the first time LeBlanc has worked with GW – he was chair of the evaluation team for GW’s accreditation during the 2007-2008 academic year, according to the release. University leaders are currently preparing to undergo the accreditation process again in 2018.

Before his tenure at the University of Miami, LeBlanc was a member of the University of Rochester’s computer science faculty and became the vice provost and dean of the faculty of arts, sciences and engineering. At Rochester, he oversaw the creation of a new undergraduate curriculum and improved the university’s recruitment and retention, according to Business Wire.

LeBlanc is also credited with developing a biomedical engineering department with the University of Rochester Medical Center and establishing a structure for the university’s College of Arts, Sciences and Engineering, according to Business Wire.

This post will continue to be updated.

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