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Faculty senators discuss changes to executive committee in wake of GWPD arming

Rachel Kurdlansky | Staff Photographer
Biological Sciences Department Chair Guillermo Orti presents a report at Friday’s Faculty Senate meeting.

Faculty senators debated a report that proposed an overhaul to the body’s executive committee, a response to officials’ secret briefing of committee members last year on plans to arm GW Police Department officers.

The report outlined four recommendations to make the executive committee more representative of GW’s faculty breakdown — including electing a president of the Faculty Senate and altering who serves on the committee — efforts that some senators believe will improve shared governance within the senate’s highest body. But some senators pushed back against the report’s recommendations, arguing the committee’s restructuring will decrease the body’s efficiency if it is required to loop in all necessary stakeholders after every official debrief.

“This incident was just an unfortunate mistake,” Guillermo Orti, who penned the report, said after the meeting. “It triggered the conversation so to speak, and that’s important thing. When something happened, you suddenly start reflecting about why did this happen, and could we do things better.”

The report said the executive committee “exceeded its authority” when the committee did not consult those best informed on the issues like members of the Physical Facilities committee when former interim University President Mark Wrighton consulted the body last February on the Board’s plans to arm GW Police Department officers before informing the senate and GW community in April.

The report states Wrighton asked the executive committee to keep the contents of the Board’s arming report a secret from the senate even though the plan was not considered an emergency, and allegedly denied shared governance to the senate by not allowing faculty a chance to provide input to trustees. The executive committee has the power to act on behalf of the senate in cases of emergency, per the report.

Orti, the co-chair of the Professional Ethics and Academic Freedom Committee, said the breach of shared governance caused the committee to compile the report to share with the senate.

The senate also passed a resolution in October calling on GWPD to halt the arming process until officials disclosed community feedback on the online form soliciting input on the decision, any changes to liability insurance and GWPD operational costs caused by the arming of officers. GWPD Chief James Tate said the resolution “wasn’t a factor” in pausing implementation, which officials slowed in the fall due to on-campus protests.

Orti said while the senate is a “good representation” of faculty who teach undergraduates, the executive committee is primarily made up of graduate professors who are not fully informed on matters affecting undergraduates, like GW’s protest policies and the decision to arm GWPD. The report also states that Columbian College of Arts & Sciences faculty in humanities and social sciences departments are underrepresented in the executive committee.

The executive committee includes one senator from each of the University’s nine schools.

“The intent in some of the recommendations that we put together was to start paying attention on how we put together the FSEC representatives for each school and make sure that there is a fair representation of this expertise in the committee when we go speak to the Board,” Orti said.

Philip Wirtz, a professor of decision sciences and psychological and brain sciences, served on the executive committee for “probably” more than 10 years and said he saw the difficult decisions the committee has to make. He said he agrees the committee made a mistake when they did not consult other senate committees on the Board’s plans to arm GWPD, but he “experienced firsthand” situations where the committee could not share information on sensitive matters.

Wirtz said some of the report’s language is “exceedingly strong,” including the statement that FSEC should be required to relay all information to relevant committees.

“There are situations where the executive committee really does need to be informed and really cannot pass that along,” Wirtz said. “I would not include the arming of police on campus as an example of that. That, in my opinion, was a mistake.”

Through the rest of the meeting, faculty senators passed a resolution regarding representation in future presidential searches, heard reports from University officials and received updates from the body’s standing committees.

The senate passed resolution 24-6 adding guidelines to the structure of the Faculty Consultative Committee — a group of faculty members from each of GW’s nine schools with senate representation who advise trustees on presidential searches — to allow the senate to add up to four additional members to increase representation on the committee based on discipline, rank, race and gender. The resolution also asked the Board to add all or some of the committee members to future iterations of the Presidential Search Committee, which is composed of trustees, faculty members, staff members and presidents of the Student Government Association and Alumni Association, and give the consultative committee an “active role” in the process.

“We hope that we don’t need a presidential search for the next 20 years or so, but it’s also still pretty good to have something in the books and be done with this,” said Orti, who introduced the resolution.

In 2016, the senate voted to add up to seven additional members to the committee and up to eight in 2021 to diversify the committee in demographic and academic traits. The senate added members to the 2017 committee after faculty complained that the committee was primarily composed of white men in the ​​science, math, law and medical fields.

Also in the Faculty Senate meeting, University President Ellen Granberg said she concluded her GW Together listening tour last month after visiting Los Angeles, California; San Francisco, California; and Seattle, Washington. Granberg said she was “impressed” by the GW community in each of the cities.

“This entire GW together tour has been very, very helpful for me to get to know our alumni, our families and our donors better and has produced a number of insights and really helpful conversations,” Granberg said.

Granberg said officials began consolidating the budget for fiscal year 2025. She said the University plans to create a budget that invests in faculty and staff while targeting a “reasonable surplus.”

Provost Chris Bracey said his office received and is reviewing the final report from the Diversity Program Review Team — a group of students, faculty and administrators who assess and provide recommendations on improving diversity at the University. The office was set to receive the recommended diversity action plan between summer and fall 2023, according to the timeline on the Office of the Provost’s website, meaning the team is over half a year late to submit the report.

Bracey also said the University will distribute a summary “in the very near future” detailing information officials collected from conversations with faculty, staff and students in late February and early March to develop a long-term strategic plan. He said the University will also open a form allowing community members to submit their thoughts on the report, which will help officials distill the information into a “set of themes” to be announced in the “near future” that will inform the University’s long-term strategic framework, which it has been without since the pandemic.

The senate received standing committee reports from the Fiscal Planning and Budget Committee, Physical Facilities and Campus Safety Committee and a report on responses to a portal for academic freedom concerns that opened in February, which states the portal received six anonymous responses stating faculty are “not confident enough” to teach about the war in Gaza because they fear the University would not support them if students were to complain to officials.

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About the Contributor
Hannah Marr, News Editor
Hannah Marr, a sophomore double majoring in journalism and mass communication and history from New York, New York, leads the Administration and Finance beat as one of The Hatchet's 2024-25 news editors. She was previously the assistant news editor for the Student Government beat.
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