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The GW Hatchet

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Blake suspends academic master plan after threat of no-confidence vote

Dean Whitelaw | Staff Photographer
Sarah Wagner, the co-chair of the Educational Policy & Technology Committee, during a Faculty Assembly meeting in 2020.

Provost Brian Blake is postponing the development of his University-wide academic master plan following criticism from faculty over a lack of inclusion in its development.

Blake said the plan would create qualitative and quantitative assessments of GW’s academics, but he decided to postpone its advancement after the Faculty Senate executive committee told him “faculty fatigue” was “too high” to start the initiative while the pandemic is ongoing. The move comes days after some faculty began pushing to hold a vote of no confidence, criticizing a lack of faculty involvement in the plan’s development.

Blake announced the suspension of the plan in an email sent to faculty Wednesday, which was obtained by The Hatchet.

“In light of this feedback, development of an academic master plan will be deferred and is subject to adjustments, following further consultations with FSEC,” he said in the email.

When reached for comment, Blake said the now-postponed plan included multiple facets – a senate group to “devise the general measure” and working groups, which drew at least 75 percent of their members from faculty led by a faculty chair, to assess individual academic programs and “glean” opportunities for innovation.

“Not only as provost, but as a member of the faculty, I am a true believer of transparency and shared governance, and I continue to seek input and make changes to plans based on feedback,” Blake said.

“The Faculty Association is gratified that we and members of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee successfully cooperated to force Provost Blake to postpone and redesign his terrible shock-doctrine plan to assess University programs according to an undisclosed return-on-investment standard.”

In the email to faculty, Blake said the 20/30 Plan has been “rendered obsolete” by the pandemic. Officials suspended the plan, which sought to reduce the undergraduate population by 20 percent while upping the share of STEM students to 30 percent, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I have not taken any actions to implement it and have no plans to do so,” Blake said. “The pandemic, though, has created many questions about the permanent changes that might impact higher education, and one aspect of academic planning is trying to explore innovations that respond to those that impact pedagogy and programs.”

The Faculty Association, an independent group open to all full-time faculty, sent a message to its members on Oct. 23 urging them to resist Blake’s plan, which the group said would assess programs’ success based on their revenues.

“He’s using cheap traffic signals to sort every program and department into lanes,” the group wrote. “If a program is a moneymaker – measured by how many students are taught with the least expensive labor – green light! If a program is flush in one aspect but stagnant in another, yellow light! If a program’s return on investment is low on the balance sheet, red light and goodbye! This depressing metric seems to be Blake’s only vision for how to measure program success and failure.”

Blake declined to say if the plan included a traffic-light assessment system but said it would assess programs in areas like reputation, operations and student success.

Harald Griesshammer, an associate professor of physics, began circulating a petition late last month – which has since been withdrawn – seeking to add a vote of no confidence in Blake to the Faculty Assembly agenda later this month, according to emails obtained by The Hatchet.

“The Faculty Code specifies that the provost serves with the confidence of the president and of the Faculty Assembly,” Griesshammer wrote in an email on Oct. 29 to a group of faculty. “We are now seeking signatories for a no-confidence vote in the assembly on 18 November.”

Griesshammer did not return a request for comment.

The petition, which was obtained by The Hatchet, states that Blake’s actions have “eroded” the trust of the faculty, citing recent restructurings of GW’s technology offices and research division.

“The Faculty Senate and its committees, the Faculty Assembly in discussions and votes on 6 October 2019 and 14 February 2020 as well as individual faculty members have made a repeated and reasonable effort to bring the substance of their concerns to the attention of the provost, the president and other stakeholders of shared governance, both informally and formally, without success,” the petition states.

Ivy Ken, the vice president of the Faculty Association, said the petition has since been withdrawn following the suspension of the academic master plan. The group originally endorsed Griesshammer’s petition but supported its eventual withdrawal, she said.

“The Faculty Association is gratified that we and members of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee (FSEC) successfully cooperated to force Provost Blake to postpone and redesign his terrible shock-doctrine plan to assess University programs according to an undisclosed return-on-investment standard,” the group said in a statement Thursday. “We accomplished this by standing together and threatening to vote Blake out of his job at the Faculty Assembly on Nov. 18.”

At the meeting, the assembly will consider a petition, signed by Griesshammer, Ken and 15 other faculty, calling for the launch of a faculty survey about University President Thomas LeBlanc’s “leadership and communication abilities” no later than Dec. 15, according to the meeting agenda. Hundreds of faculty have called on LeBlanc to resign in recent months.

The petition also urges Arthur Wilson, the chair of the senate’s executive committee, to call a special meeting of the assembly to report the survey’s findings. The petition’s signatories said the survey could include questions indicating faculty’s confidence in administrators.

“These might include an indication of ‘no confidence,’ ‘censure,’ ‘approval,’ ‘praise’ or ‘trust’ in the president and his administration,” the petition states.

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