DC Alumni Provide Input on GW’s Next President

Chairman of the Board Nelson Carbonell

Strategist. Innovator. Uniter.

Nelson Carbonell, SEAS BS '85, Chairman of the Board of Trustees
Nelson Carbonell, SEAS BS ’85, Chairman of the Board of Trustees

These are some of the characteristics that George Washington University alumni want to see in the next president of the university, according to a town hall discussion on September 13 in Washington, DC.

After President Knapp announced his intention to step down at the end of this academic year, the GW Board of Trustees convened a Presidential Search Committee to identify candidates for GW’s 17th president. This committee, comprising 19 members representing a broad array of university stakeholders, is tasked with creating a statement of desired qualifications for the next president, conducting a national search, and nominating candidates for the Board’s consideration. National executive search firm Isaacson, Miller is assisting in the search.

This first step – creating a statement of desired qualifications – began with a series of 11 town hall meetings engaging members of the broad GW community including students, faculty, staff, alumni, and community members. Chairman of the Board Nelson Carbonell, SEAS BS ’85, Madeleine Jacobs, CCAS BS ’68, DsC (Hon) ’03, and President of the GW Alumni Association Jeremy Gosbee, CCAS ’98, GWSB MBA ’02, all represented the search committee in the alumni discussion.

Chairman Carbonell noted that there have only been three presidential searches since World War II, so this process is not something that is routine, and it is being conducted with the utmost care and input. He outlined the three priorities that guided the last search – which brought in President Steven Knapp – and then turned it over to the audience to identify the qualities, skills, and attributes that the next president should embody.

As the alumni spoke, common themes emerged – good listener (especially to students); well-connected in the community (both to bring in research grants and attract more DC-based students); cultural competence; proven budget experience; and a commitment to leveraging and building alumni engagement.

Many alumni also voiced a need for an inclusive president who values and embraces diversity. Chairman Carbonell echoed this sentiment, saying, “Diversity is not just something people talk about – it’s something people live. When [students are] here, do they feel like they belong – do they feel supported, can they be successful?”

Some alumni commented that the university must work to continue to build a unified sense of community – one that eschews education as a transaction and embraces strong relationships among students, faculty, staff, and administration.

The second alumni town hall took place in New York City at the Princeton Club on October 13. In that session, Jacobs reviewed the Presidential Profile and solicited feedback from the audience on the type of questions they’d want to ask the candidates.

Some of the questions included:

  • In a complex organizational structure, how do you plan to enforce accountability – for administrators, staff, faculty, and deans?
  • Where does GW go from here? What’s the vision for the next ten years?
  • What are GW’s vulnerabilities and weaknesses?
  • How can we improve our rankings?
  • What plans do you have for our bicentennial in 2021?
  • How do we continue to increase the value of a GW degree to ensure that our students are well-equipped for success after graduation?
  • What is the university’s role in social consciousness?

Ongoing feedback and candidate recommendations are encouraged through the online form on the presidential search website. By winter, the committee anticipates interviewing candidates, and by spring it will make its recommendations to the Board of Trustees, who will ultimately choose the next president. —Lauren Savoy

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