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FRESHFARM workers ratify union agreement
By Max Porter, Contributing News Editor • February 15, 2024

Granberg tackles shared governance, new partnerships while settling into presidency

Ellen Granberg, GW’s first female president, seeks to collaborate with D.C. institutions and start strategic planning process in her first year.
Tom Rath | Staff Photographer
University President Ellen Granberg smiles in her office at 1918 F Street

Ellen Granberg saw more than a beautiful view when she gazed out at the sunset from the plinth of the Washington Monument.

From her vantage point at the iconic D.C. landmark during a visit this summer with her wife Sonya, she said she realized the full potential of her new home in her role as the University’s 19th president.

Granberg started her term July 1 and is off to a busy start. She’s bolstered programs like the Global Food Institute and embarked on a national tour to speak with alumni and donors, while responding to tensions on campus around the ongoing war between Israel and Hamas. For the remainder of her first year at GW, Granberg said she will work to end the Medical Faculty Associates’ debt crisis, boost alumni engagement and bolster GW’s academic medical enterprise, issues former GW presidents have grappled with but struggled to overcome.

“So many people I have talked to outside of the institution tell me how beloved GW is in this city, because of all the opportunities that we’ve created and the people who have come through our doors and gone on to amazing careers in this town,” Granberg said.

The start of Granberg’s presidency kicks off GW’s third century and marks the beginning of more permanent leadership at the University after the close of former University President Mark Wrighton’s interim presidency and an eight-month presidential search. During Wrighton’s 18-month term, officials introduced the Revolutionaries moniker, revamped its dining system and announced the Board of Trustees’ decision to arm the GW Police Department.

Granberg said as president, she hopes to set the tone for shared governance — the participation of faculty, students and staff in decision making — and that she will provide oversight to ensure that the appropriate constituents are involved in “critical” issues at GW. She said community members have expressed concern about the effective use of the University budget and difficulty figuring out which officials to contact to accomplish goals in meetings with the Faculty Senate, Staff Council and the Student Association.

Granberg said she’s had small groups formulate ideas for strategic planning that are dispersed to the wider community for feedback at her previous institutions and will conduct a similar planning process for GW. The University has lacked a strategic plan, an institutional guide for carrying out the University’s mission, since 2020 following officials calling former University President Thomas LeBlanc’s plan “obsolete” due to the COVID-19 pandemic after critics of the plan said it lacked community input.

Faculty said in January they were “optimistic” about Granberg’s presidency because her background as the former provost of Rochester Institute of Technology makes her qualified to create a strategic plan that promotes shared governance. Granberg also served as a sociology professor, department chair, associate provost for faculty affairs and senior associate provost at Clemson University prior to working at RIT, according to a University release.

“You want to gather all that feedback, you want to give opportunities for people to react to things, but then in the end, part of my job is to make the very best choices I can on behalf of the institution,” she said.

Granberg said she’s prioritizing the MFA, a group of physicians and faculty from the School of Medicine & Health Sciences and GW Hospital, making progress on repaying their $200 million debt to the University. She said the MFA hired a new chief operating officer and chief financial officer who will renegotiate MFA contracts with more “favorable” terms for the University.

Officials said in October 2022 that the MFA would break even from their $200 million debt by the end of fiscal year 2023 but Wrighton walked back the projection in January, predicting that the group would break even by the end of FY 2024 instead. CFO Bruno Fernandes said at a Faculty Senate meeting Friday that he did not think the MFA would reach Wrighton’s goal.

MFA CFO Robin Nichols joined the organization last month after working as a financial executive for Warbird Consulting Partners, LLC for a decade.

“It’s inch-by-inch kind of operational work, but cumulatively it’ll make a difference over time,” Granberg said.

She said she aims to expand the size or amount of the 14 endowed professorships funded by the sale of GW Hospital within the next 18 to 24 months. She added that GW has the potential to house a nationally renowned center for cancer care after SMHS recruited a leader for cancer operations.

Lekhaj Daggubati, a former neurosurgical oncology fellow at the University of Miami, joined the GW Cancer Center last month as the Director of Surgical Neuro-Oncology.

“As the medical enterprise grows, then you get into a lot of amazing opportunities for faculty all over the University to collaborate, and I did a lot of this kind of work as a faculty member so I understand what it’s like,” Granberg said.

Faculty and staff said Granberg has expressed a desire to listen to staff, faculty, students, alumni and community members’ input on the direction of the University during her first few months at GW.

Bridget Schwartz — the president of the Staff Council, a staff governing body that formed this year — said Granberg attended the first council meeting in July and will revisit the body in December to discuss her priorities for the University.

She said GW is a “siloed” university because departments and schools usually do not collaborate and hopes Granberg will unite community members.

“I envision the Staff Council working alongside President Granberg as an integral representative voice of GW staff to help break down barriers and create positive change in our community,” Schwartz said in an email.

Jonathan Eakle, a member of the Faculty Senate Executive Committee and an associate professor of curriculum and pedagogy, said FSEC has met with Granberg to discuss her plans for “wide and broad” community participation in strategic planning. He said Granberg’s strategic plan will focus on moving the University forward because GW is facing different challenges than it did during the COVID-19 pandemic.

He said Granberg’s GW Together initiative has inspired him to gather similar information on GW’s greatest strengths and challenges for the Graduate School of Education and Human Development’s strategic planning.

“We do need to begin to think differently about how education serves our communities and how to move forward,” Eakle said.

William Dietz, the director of research and policy of the Global Food Institute, said Granberg has attended a World on a Plate class with José Andrés, a world-renowned chef and partner of the institute, which was encouraging for the group’s research due to recognition from administration. He said former University President Steven Knapp supported his research with the Redstone Global Center for Prevention and Wellness, but other former University presidents like LeBlanc were not as engaged in faculty research.

“If you’re just out there without anybody paying attention or giving you any feedback, you don’t quite know whether your contribution to the University is valued or not,” Dietz said.

Grace Chinowsky contributed reporting.

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About the Contributor
Ianne Salvosa, News Editor
Ianne Salvosa is a junior majoring in journalism and international affairs from Lake Saint Louis, Missouri. She is The Hatchet's 2023-2024 news editor for the Administration and Finance beat. She previously served as an assistant news editor for the Administration and Finance beat and a contributing news editor for the Academics and Administration beats for Vol. 119.
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