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Trustees approve shared governance principles, still quiet on moniker change

Auden Yurman | Senior Photo Editor
Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights said trustees and administrators will work together to implement the University’s new shared governance principles.

The Board of Trustees unanimously approved a set of principles to improve shared governance and collaboration at the University, but did not give an update on the potential renaming of the Colonials moniker at its meeting Friday.

The shared governance principles – which the Faculty Senate approved in April – state that faculty should have a meaningful role in “key decision making” at GW and have primary authority over “specific areas” of academic policy. Trustees also plan to reach a decision on whether to retire the moniker by the end of the academic year in June but did not announce an update at the meeting Friday.

The principles also state that the Board should “periodically” review the University president’s commitment to GW’s system of shared governance through biyearly surveys, biannual meetings with the Faculty Senate executive committee and annual evaluations of the University president.

Board of Trustees Chair Grace Speights said trustees and administrators will work together to implement the University’s new shared governance principles.

“It’s a very important day that we have all adopted the recommendations in the statement of principles, and we look forward to implementing those and moving forward as we start our search for a new president,” she said.

Speights announced the formation of the next presidential search committee late last month, commencing the launch of the search for the 19th University president as GW prepares for the transition from interim University President Mark Wrighton’s term, which will last no more than 18 months.

The Board dissolved its Shared Governance and Environmental, Social and Governance Responsibility task force after the groups recommended changes to the University’s shared governance structure and environmental sustainability policies, including its recommendation to divest from the fossil fuel industry by 2025 in May 2020.

University spokesperson Tim Pierce did not return a request for comment.

Trustee Amyr ElSawy, who co-chaired the Board’s shared governance task force, said the task force’s work has “concluded” and its members had “stayed on track” while working to improve shared governance throughout the academic year.

“We need to make sure that we have the right education, the right transparency and the right focus on adjusting and being agile to the needs of the organ of the University as we move forward facing the challenges that are confronted by higher education,” he said.

Last October, the Board formed a task force made up of faculty, administrators and trustees to evaluate GW’s system of shared governance and collaboration mechanisms between the different groups after faculty expressed an “overwhelmingly negative” view on University leadership in an April 2021 faculty-wide survey.

The Faculty Senate passed a resolution, highlighting the same shared governance principles at its meeting in April, before they sent the principles to trustees for their approval.

Trustees did not vote to approve the University’s budget for the 2023 fiscal year, but Board Vice Chair Ellen Zane, who also chairs the finance and investment committee, said they would meet “later this month” to review the final budget.

Zane said the University’s ongoing project to renovate Thurston Hall is “on time” and will finish sometime during the summer.

“Last year, expectedly, was an excellent year for our endowment performance,” she said. “Many of the larger endowed universities have enormous market returns driven primarily by venture capital. GW’s endowment performed well with the pooled endowment, returning over 30 percent and the total endowment including our real estate holdings, returning close to 20 percent.”

Experts in higher education administration and finance said after the recent endowment boom, the value of GW’s endowment could see declines over the next few years due to nation-wide inflation and tightening markets.

The Board disbanded its Environment, Social and Governance Responsibility Task Force, two years into its five-year project to divest the University from fossil fuel companies and deliver on a string of sustainability commitments, like increasing the amount of investments in environmentally-friendly companies and expanding sustainability instruction at GW.

Trustee Peter Harrison, who co-chairs the ESG Task Force, said CFO Mark Diaz will continue to lead the University’s fossil fuel divestment and sustainability policies, while Provost Chris Bracey has committed to “holding the University accountable” for the social policies that the Board makes.

“We believe the task force has achieved our charge, and that the proposed recommendations are grounded in transparency and equity,” Harrison said. “It is our expectation to entrust the administration with addressing the goals and targets proposed by the community refined by the task force and to report on their performance relative to the corresponding metrics.”

Trustee Charles Bendit, who serves as the vice chair of the Board’s audit and compliance committee, said officials should implement a plan to “substantially increase” the number of faculty who complete Title IX training after finding that about one-fifth of faculty had completed the training.

“The audit and compliance committee has asked the administration to implement an action plan to substantially increase the training completion rates per faculty and to provide the Board with monthly compliance,” he said. “The committee finds the reported 20 percent completion rates to be unacceptable. So we hope that we’ll have more compliance in the coming months.”

Wrighton also awarded Zane with the President’s Medal – the highest award a university president can bestow – for her service to the University. Zane – along with four other trustees, including Harrison and ElSawy and trustees Chelsea Lenowska and George Wellde – formally retired from their positions on the Board and will finish out their terms by the end of the month.

The Board also approved a slate of three new trustees – shrinking the Board by two seats – and re-elected Speights as chair, Avram Tucker as secretary and promoted trustee Mark Chichester to vice chair.

“To all of our trustees who are retiring from service today, we appreciate you for your outstanding service to the institution and your dedication and advancing the mission and purpose of The George Washington University,” trustee and governance and nominations committee chair Donna Hill Straton said.

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