We have received some very alarming information from President LeBlanc. On Thursday, in a response to our email of May 18, LeBlanc wrote to us that “we won’t be able to continue to avoid layoffs any longer.” We reproduce President LeBlanc’s email and our own response below.
As you know, and as we wrote to President LeBlanc, GW’s own internal numbers reveal that we can weather the financial consequences of the pandemic without layoffs, and even without challenging BoT Chair Speight’s heartless and outrageous statement that she would rather layoff or furlough the faculty and staff who carry out the mission of GW than increase the payout from GW’s massive $1.78 billion endowment. There seems to be some confusion as to whether the endowment exists to enhance the ability of the university to secure and deliver high quality education for our students or whether the university exists to maximize the financial returns to the endowment. LeBlanc’s announcement of layoffs practically amounts to mathematical proof of the misplaced priorities of this administration, as if we still needed that.
We have informed President LeBlanc that we are ready to stand with him if he chooses to help the BoT exercise its fiduciary responsibility in a manner that helps, rather than hurts, our university. We have few illusions, however, that he will make an about-face and treat GW like the university it is, rather than continuing to abuse us as a source of bloated salaries for himself and for the outrageous number of highly paid Florida cronies he has brought to GW during his brief tenure at our university.
If you are curious about these salaries, we encourage you to peruse the attached portion of GW’s 2018 990 form, a form that non-profits like GW must file every year. We eagerly await the full 2018 990, which will be available here when it is released. LeBlanc himself took home more than $1.4 million dollars from GW that year, and yet he is not ashamed to talk to us about the need for layoffs and furloughs. His 20% salary cut (for how long? A month? A year?) is a slap in our faces, and the 1-5% salary cuts to which his cronies have vaguely alluded are what we would expect from the crew of a pirate ship, not members of a university administration.
Now, more than any time in the six years of our existence, we need each GWUFA member to commit to take personal action. Each of us has a different level of power within the university: some of us have become deans, many of us are chairs and program directors, and we are at every rank of full-time regular faculty. Most layoffs will require some kind of faculty participation to carry out, and we ask each of you to challenge your comfort level to refuse and resist these layoffs.
We will no doubt hear from well-meaning deans and even chairs that it is better to cooperate with their versions of layoffs than to get whatever version would be imposed on us by a hostile higher up. We urge each member to reject this misleading, and finally opportunistic and unethical calculation. Each of us must resist and obstruct every layoff we can, whether of faculty or staff, through whatever means we have available. These might include:
–Communicating to your department colleagues one-on-one about the false specter of financial necessity that this administration has conjured up to justify cuts that it has been trying to impose on our institution from the beginning.
–Proposing measures in your department or academic unit that empower your deans and chairs to refuse to carry out layoffs.
–Refuse to take up any slack, in teaching, administration, or any other duty, created by any layoffs or furloughs they do manage to impose on us.
–Share with us, the press, or other outside professional groups any threats you or colleagues are receiving and how they impact your ability to live up to GW’s educational mission
In our experience tenured faculty are often more timid in confronting the university administration than untenured faculty are. Now is not the time for calculations of influence or working on the inside of a system that is getting ready to expel some number of us. If you are tenured, now is the time to use those protections, not just for your own academic career, but also to fight for all of our colleagues and for the basic values of the university.
If you choose to take on this obligation, you will no doubt be treated as a gadfly by colleagues who wish to keep their heads down and weather this administration, perhaps imagining that the worst will befall someone other than themselves. But we do not consider complying with the reckless vandals who presume to run our university a viable option. We are dealing with bullies, and our compliance with this round of bullying will only facilitate the speedier accomplishment whatever further indignities they are no doubt already contemplating.
Let GWUFA know what you are doing to resist all layoffs and furloughs, of faculty and staff. We want to act as a hub to exchange ideas and a source of moral support for what may be lonely struggles.
As we wrote to President LeBlanc, we believe that each of us entered an almost sacred agreement when we received our PhDs. That obligation is not just to pursue careers in universities, but to preserve the core values of any university, which include academic freedom, shared governance, and respect for the dignity of the professoriate. Very rarely do we have such a clear opportunity to test our commitment to this obligation. No matter how hard the struggle is, and no matter what its consequences are, we know each GWUFA member will be able to look back in pride at how we responded to a crisis that preceded this pandemic, the crisis of the LeBlanc/Speights administration and the predecessor administrations that paved the way for what we hope is only a temporary nadir at our university.
This is not a struggle that the GWUFA steering committee can carry on by itself. We need each of you to do what you can. Improvise, strategize, and never give up the fight for our colleagues and for the dignity of our profession, no matter how lost our cause might, for a moment, seem. We are a great faculty and we are part of a strong profession, and we can handle this.
Now is the time for each of us to fight and to endure the discomforts and insecurities of dissidence. Our aim is not just to save GW from the worst administration it has seen in recent decades, but to turn GW into a university that is more excellent and equitable than it has ever been, for students, staff, and all faculty, part- and full-time.
In struggle and solidarity,
The Steering Committee of the GWU Faculty Association
email@example.com Thu, Jun 4, 2020 at 2:49 PM
To: Andrew Zimmerman
Please forgive the tardiness of this reply to your message. I had an unexpected hospital stay right about the time you sent your email and I am only now recovering and getting to the backlog of email.
I appreciate how much the faculty have stepped up in this enormously difficult time. Unfortunately, we won’t see a return to normal anytime soon. The provost is working with the deans and faculty senate on our fall plans, which include the likelihood of hybrid (both online and face-to-face) instruction for most courses. Under the Reopen DC plan, we won’t reach the final, phase 4, of the plan until there is a vaccine, and few people expect a vaccine within the next academic year. So the problems we are dealing with now are here for the foreseeable future, including social distancing, no large gatherings, testing, and tracing.
Consistent with your view, we have worked hard to avoid layoffs or furloughs through this fiscal year. However, with the projected loss of revenues for the coming academic year, we won’t be able to continue to avoid layoffs any longer. The Board has made clear (in a message that went to the community at about the same time as your email to me) the guidelines we must use in planning going forward, and additional spending down of the endowment is not an option. We have taken a number of steps already (including salary freezes, hiring freezes), but they are not enough. There is simply too large a gap between our expected revenues and our expenses.
These are very difficult days for our country and all of higher education. I hope we can all pull together to offer the best possible educational experience to our students, maintain our core mission of teaching and research, and position GW for greater things in the future once this pandemic has passed.
Stay safe and stay healthy!
Andrew Zimmerman Mon, Jun 8, 2020 at 9:35 AM
Thank you for your message. I and the other members of the GW Faculty Association steering committee hope that you are well after your hospital stay.
Since we sent you our last message, we have had a chance to look over the “Financial Update” presented to the Finance and Investments Committee of the Board of Trustees on May 14, 2020 and to discuss its implications with Professor Joe Cordes. It has become clear, as we detailed in our most recent message to our members, that GW is in a good position, thanks to the $300 million line of credit that it has secured, to weather this financial storm without layoffs.
We have been forced to conclude that the board is insisting on cuts that it had wanted to make from the beginning, with its 20/30 plan, and only using financial exigency as a cover. We do not believe the faculty will accept the damaging cuts that you and chair Speights have threatened us with. GWUFA certainly will not. As I hope our message makes clear, we, like many members of the faculty at GW, are hurt and angered by your response to the pandemic .
I hope that this moment of crisis has made as clear to you as it has to much of the country that the bodies that have presumed to govern our institutions, from the hospital administrations that cut beds and reduced stockpiles of personal protective equipment, to the police departments that chose, at best, public relations over real change, are an obstacle to our recovery from this pandemic and remain as incapable as before of dealing with whatever crises the future holds for us. We can only conclude the same of the top-down, corporate-style of management at many universities, including at GW.
I appeal to you as president of the university. I ask you not to impose the will of the board of trustees upon the faculty but rather to represent the interests of the faculty and the university we make up to the board of trustees. Unlike the members of the board, you are, like us, a professor and a scholar, and I would like to think that the members of the board would appreciate hearing the perspective of a professor and a scholar on what makes a university like GW strong. It is not, I hope you will agree, a cold willingness to layoff and furlough colleagues under misleading assessments of our financial straits.
The statement of the chair of the BoT that she would rather layoff or furlough the faculty and staff who carry out the mission of this university than touch the endowment is, frankly, insulting and enraging. The “Financial Update” of May 14, 2020 makes clear that GW can weather this storm even without increasing the payout from its endowment, but the statement of principle by Chair Speights suggests priorities that can only be described as antithetical to the institution to whose well being the BoT has, on paper at least, committed itself. (You may already have seen this piece in Sunday’s New York Times, which we hope will resonate with you.)
Tom, I hope I can also appeal to you as a fellow academic and as a fellow professor at GW: We need your leadership, we need you to stand up to the Board of Trustees and prevent layoffs and furloughs of faculty and staff. This is no time to put down and brush off your colleagues. The GW Faculty Association and, I am confident, the current Executive Committee of the Senate, will stand with you if you choose to take on the challenge of helping the BoT to exercise its fiduciary responsibility in a manner that helps, rather than hurts, our university.
I and many of my colleagues devote our time to the Faculty Association because we believe we entered an almost sacred agreement when we received our PhDs. That obligation is not just to pursue careers in universities, but to preserve the core values of any university, which include academic freedom, shared governance, and respect for the dignity of the professoriate. The faculty are ready to stand with you if you choose to lead us in pursuing this, our common obligation. We hope you will choose to stand with us.
With collegial respect and professional solidarity,
George Washington University Faculty Association
Professor of History, George Washington University