Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet


The GW Hatchet

Serving the GW Community since 1904

The GW Hatchet

Staff editorial: GW’s leadership can learn from past presidents and current tensions

Officials now have the opportunity to revolutionize what leadership means at the University.

From dividing students, staff and faculty to representing the best GW has to offer, officials’ reputations range from the good to the bad to the ugly. The rotating cast of characters at the helm of GW sets the tenor and tone of the University and determines how students experience their time here.

Officials’ words and presence carry immense weight on campus. As leaders, what they say and how they say it — or what they leave unsaid — can ripple across our community and linger well after they depart. Look no further than former University President Thomas LeBlanc, who united the University against him because of his long-term vision for GW, disregard for faculty input in the shared governance process and use of a racially insensitive analogy.

It’s hard to find many supporters of LeBlanc on campus today, but his tumultuous tenure still has lessons for officials, including his permanent successor, Ellen Granberg: If you’re going to lead GW, talk to the people — especially students — you’re leading. As Granberg settles into her presidency, we hope she bolsters her presence and defines her reputation among the University community.

Granted, some officials don’t need to be in the spotlight. Interim University President Mark Wrighton’s term came at a pivotal moment for the University, which wasn’t without its fair share of controversies. Yet for many students, it seems Wrighton stayed above the fray as a quiet caretaker — he’s perhaps best known for walking his dog, Spike, down F Street.

The spotlight has already found Granberg, though. While campus tensions are certainly high right now, Granberg hasn’t been able to seize the moment and define her leadership in a way that sticks. Under what we can only imagine to be constant scrutiny and demands to say something, Granberg has rolled out several statements that have earned both students’ praise and scorn.

However, a few hundred words are no replacement for a presence on campus — a presence Granberg has, outside of attending community events, yet to establish. Officials moved her inauguration and other related events online over safety concerns, demonstrating just how much current events have overtaken what could have been Granberg’s “honeymoon period.”

All of this is to say that through no fault of her own, the University community and students in particular haven’t had a chance to get to know Granberg. Questions remain regarding her vision for GW and simply who she is as a person.

For all the power that they wield, the University’s best officials, like beloved former Dean of Students Cissy Petty, are simply human beings whom students can and should get to know — and vice versa. Or as Petty herself said in a November 2021 interview with The Hatchet: “It doesn’t matter what position you have, it’s just about making a connection.”

Of course, Granberg and other top-level administrators won’t have the time to meet with the University’s nearly 26,000 students. That’s not in their job description, nor is trading F Street House for a room in District House. But it is worth asking whether a personal approach, one which Petty exemplified, might help Granberg and other officials steer GW through the present.

Whether on a bench in University Yard, after a game in the Charles E. Smith Center or in line for lunch at Shenkman Hall, these informal encounters could demonstrate officials’ willingness to listen. Officials shouldn’t expect that a statement or email will satisfy every student — or that they’ll even read them in the first place. A face-to-face, person-to-person conversation with students is an opportunity for officials to lead from the front.

From Granberg on down, officials now have the opportunity to revolutionize what leadership means at the University — to build relationships and gain trust with students who are looking for a personal touch, not just another statement.

The editorial board consists of Hatchet staff members and operates separately from the newsroom. This week’s staff editorial was written by Editorials Assistant Paige Baratta and Opinions Editor Ethan Benn based on discussions with Contributing Culture Editor Jenna Baer, Contributing Social Media Director Anaya Bhatt, Contributing Opinions Editor Riley Goodfellow and Social Media Director Ethan Valliath.

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