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Officials delay final vote on next strategic plan to Board of Trustees retreat next summer

Eric Lee | Staff Photographer
Officials will push back the approval of a new strategic plan after a faculty petition called for more information about the process.

Updated: Nov. 12, 2019 at 8:36 a.m.

The Board of Trustees will take a vote on the final five-year strategic plan weeks later than initially planned after officials heard faculty concerns over the original timeline.

University President Thomas LeBlanc said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday that the vote will be held during the trustees’ retreat next summer – not during the body’s final meeting of the academic year next May. The delayed timeline follows a petition introduced at a Faculty Assembly meeting last month demanding that officials provide more information about the data they used to craft several key aspects of the plan.

“I hear that concern, and I understand that concern, in significant part because I believe there was a faculty concern that the board would be asked to approve something before the faculty really had a chance to look at it,” LeBlanc said.

Sylvia Marotta-Walters, the chair of the senate’s executive committee, said officials, including herself, made the decision to push the vote last weekend.

The strategic planning process, which LeBlanc announced in September, focuses on what he called the four pillars of a “modern” university – graduate and undergraduate education, faculty and research. The four committees created to collect feedback on those pillars held several public forums this and last month which were attended by hundreds of faculty, staff and students.

Faculty raised concerns at the Faculty Assembly meeting about LeBlanc’s twin goals of cutting undergraduate enrollment by about 20 percent and increasing the ratio of STEM majors from 19 to 30 percent of the undergraduate population, two decisions that will be reflected in the strategic plan. After the assembly meeting, Marotta-Walters introduced a resolution at the Faculty Senate meeting encouraging the strategic planning committees to share information with faculty.

Marotta-Walters said the assembly’s original petition, which signatories wanted to appear before the senate, included deadlines for the committees to report their progress to the senate that do not work “with the way the senate conducts business.” The executive committee took “urgent actions” to change the dates to work with the senate’s structure and schedule, she said.

The resolution asks administrators to provide the data that forms the basis for the enrollment cut and STEM increase by the senate’s December meeting. The legislation also asks the strategic planning committees to provide a “first draft” of their reports to the senate by Jan. 3, a week prior to the January senate meeting.

“The senate urges its committees and the strategic planning committees to have ongoing communications as this process is laid out,” Marotta-Walters said.

Senators amended the resolution to strike the second and sixth sections, one of which states that the senate does not concur with the petition’s call for the committees to present their reports to the faculty for approval and amendment before submitting them to administrators because the move would “interrupt the flow of strategic planning.”

Marotta-Walters said the step is unnecessary because multiple faculty members are also serving in administrative roles on the strategic planning committees.

“Many people here are serving on committees, they’re already going to have the information,” she said. “Why unnecessarily stop the process to provide information to many people that already have it?”

Guillermo Orti, a senator and the president of The GWU Faculty Association, said the petition does not “suggest to interrupt” the strategic plan. He said the reports should be submitted to senate committees for approval and amended so faculty can provide input before administrators act on the reports.

“This is in some of the reports that we have on the table here,” he said. “Bypassing the process is sort of a contradiction of the structure from the senate.”

Harris Mylonas, a senator and an associate professor of political science and international affairs, said the inclusion of the section contradicts the intentions of faculty who introduced and voted for the petition.

“That’s what Sylvia brought to us, is whether by voting as a senate on these resolutions, we’re actually going against the actual will of the Faculty Assembly, and I think that’s what we’re discussing here, if I understand correctly,” he said.

After leaders of each pillar’s committee gave reports on their progress before the senate voted on the resolution, Mylonas said the original petition’s goal of having committee members update faculty on their progress was achieved.

“This was intended in my reading of how the petition meant it, so I consider No. 5 resolved as of today,” he said.

Sarah Wagner, a senator and petition signatory, said she took issue with the sixth point of the resolution because it ignored the association’s request for the senate executive committee to call a special session in January to hear the committee reports.

“I’m trying to represent the overwhelming majority of the faculty who raised their green cards on Oct. 22,” she said. “The majority of the faculty who voted on this did not leave this up to the executive committee.”

Brian Blake, the recently named provost and executive vice president, introduced himself at the end of the meeting. Blake entered his post last week.

“I am a strong, true believer that the best solutions come from those that receive those diverse insights,” he said. “I’m certainly looking forward to listening.”

Lia DeGroot contributed reporting.

This post has been updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that Guillermo Orti is the Faculty Assembly’s president. He is the president of the Faculty Association. We regret this error.

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