Shock Doctrine at GW

It’s called “the shock doctrine.”

A nation, city, corporation, or university falls on hard times, and eventually the axes begin to drop. Budgets are slashed. Programs are cut. And while the pain is felt first and foremost among the most vulnerable, the damage is systemic. Even the winners are losers.

Unless we all take action to demand a new path forward, GW’s current administration will continue the shock doctrine at our university.  

The plan is to be launched this coming February.

GW’s leadership is planning to dramatically overhaul the university into a lean, mean degree-granting machine that measures educational quality by the amount of money departments generate. Provost Brian Blake is crafting a plan that demands “returns on investment” from each and every program. And how is he defining those “returns”? In dollars and cents. The more students you teach, the better. The less you’re paid, the better. Either that, or the axe. 

This Friday (yes, October 23rd!), Provost Blake will meet with the Faculty Senate to share some of the specifics of his new plan, albeit presumably with few details, given this administration’s willful misunderstanding of “shared governance.” 

Here’s the gist: Provost Blake, we are told, is executing the vision of the GW Board of Trustees, and especially of Chairperson Grace “Cut-the-Fat” Speights. He’s using cheap traffic signals to sort every program and department into lanes. If a program is a moneymaker–measured by how many students are taught with the least expensive labor–green light! If a program is flush in one aspect but stagnant in another, yellow light! If a program’s return on investment is low on the balance sheet, red light and goodbye! This depressing metric seems to be Blake’s only vision for how to measure program success and failure. (Maybe they played “Red Light, Green Light” at the Disney Management Institute?)  

Let’s be clear, Provost Blake regards this strategy much differently than the vast majority of us. Blake has described his stint at GW as a mere interlude. “I know what I’ve achieved in five years here,” he said of his time as provost of Drexel University, in a 2019 interview for his high school’s alumni magazine. “And for the next five years I’m going to be basically waiting for the right presidency.” Five years. That’s the horizon of Blake’s interest in GW. He is not concerned with the long-term health and well-being of GW but with padding his resume until the right presidency comes along. Unlike him, most of us intend to remain at GW throughout our careers and hope to see the university thrive, not in terms of ROI but in terms of scholarly excellence, well-educated students, and a socially responsible community. 

If Blake’s shock doctrine horrifies you as much as it does us, make your voice heard, immediately. Cut and paste the following text into an email to Provost Blake (mbblake@gwu.edu) and any other university administrators or faculty senators you know:

I am outraged by the notion of evaluating university programs by the amount of money they generate. GW is not a corporation. It is a university. GW University’s success must be measured by the scholarly excellence of its faculty, the achievements and civic responsibility of its students, and the equity of its campus community.

“Oh, no!” you’re saying to yourself. “I’m so tired/stressed/overworked. I can’t think about this now.” Remember: It’s no accident Blake plans to quietly announce this overhaul of our university structure at midterm. Speights, LeBlanc, and Blake are hoping you aren’t paying attention to anything beyond grading and all the other work you have to do. But none of us can afford apathy or distraction right now. Under Blake’s new system, we would all be losers. We must get engaged, get upset, and get loud! 

In solidarity,
The GWU Faculty Association

Published by GWUFA

GWUFA is a grass-roots, faculty-run organization and has no official relation to the university administration or the Faculty Senate.

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