Petition text reproduced with permission below:
As students of the George Washington University, we stand with staff and support their desires to be heard, respected, included, and most importantly, to advocate for themselves collectively and without retaliation now and in the future with GW leadership. We believe that all members of the GW community are equal stakeholders, and we are disappointed by the disregard the administration has shown for staff both during COVID-19 and under normal circumstances. The staff at GW works tirelessly — usually for wages below industry average and also below the average cost of living for the Washington, DC area — to carry out the mission of the University. They work behind the scenes, often without recognition, to provide support and services to students and faculty with the express purpose of enhancing the student experience and academic delivery. Our tuition dollars not only pay for the salaries of our faculty but for the staff, who contribute to the “Only at GW” experience so frequently touted by leadership. We are outraged that these very people upon whose shoulders the operations of the University stand have been disenfranchised. GW has been enriched by their service, and in what is likely one of the University’s darkest hours, we believe that we have a responsibility to these employees and the greater Washington, DC community. After all, we rise by lifting others.
Since staff currently do not have a collective representative voice with the higher administration at GW, we are writing to use our position as paying students to support the members of our community who directly contribute to the University’s mission through the establishment of a staff association with representation in GW’s shared governance. Further, we are writing to use our voice to ask President Le Blanc, CFO Mark Diaz, and the Board of Trustees to consider the following requests, aimed to protect all members of our community and to help GW weather the financial shortfalls presented by COVID-19. We acknowledge the deeply complex and difficult decisions the University must make, but we also believe that there are far better solutions GW can take to address such matters that do not involve eliminating staff members’ livelihoods and health insurance coverage during a global pandemic.
First and foremost, we are calling for an immediate halt to layoffs and RIF. COVID-19, despite being a serious public health emergency causing a negative economic impact, is a temporary disruption for institutions of higher learning such as GW that allege to have long temporal perspectives. As such, institutions like GW should not be using permanent termination decisions as a solution to this temporary financial shortfall. While we recognize that some furloughs may be unavoidable and prudent, we recommend that the University exercise this option with caution and provide adequate benefits for those impacted by such decisions. The administration must consider the disproportionate impact that such structural and temporary personnel changes have on those in GW’s employ who are people of color, women, over 65, disabled, and on the local DC community. A consideration of the whole person and the role of GW in the broader community with which we exist must be made. While on paper it may make sense to cut payroll for facilities employees as well as events and venues by firing staff in those departments en masse, such decisions are only further contributing to a national economic crisis that will threaten the livelihood of parents, students, alumni, and staff for years to come. We believe GW has an obligation to the District of Columbia as its second-largest employer and real estate holder — this is part of the social contract GW agrees to as a beneficiary of tax breaks, funding, and ancillary benefits received by residing in the District of Columbia. Such obligations should supersede a single year gap in revenue.
Additionally, we are calling for more clear and transparent communication from the University regarding decisions being made that affect students, faculty, and staff. We are tired of communication that lacks substance. We are tired of false promises and shortened and/or unclear timelines that cause undue stress and anxiety. While we are adapting and striving to remain flexible, we believe the University has failed to be forthright and honest in how decisions are made. Further, we believe GW has not informed the student body intentionally in an attempt to mire our own decision making. We are now scrambling to react to GW’s announcements as we are faced with our own difficult financial decisions due to last minute changes in transportation, housing, FWS assignments, and financial aid, and we have no other choice than to stay the course, pause our enrollment, or leave the University we call home entirely. We surmise that GW leadership is aware that withdrawal and a gap year during a global pandemic is an unappealing option and that our window of application to alternative universities and funding has closed. Your decisions and lack of clear communication and planning have eroded our confidence in your leadership and run counter to the values of safety, care, and efficiency you claim to uphold as leaders of the University.
Finally, it must come as no surprise to GW leadership that it has been inferred by many that these staffing cuts are a back-door method for President Le Blanc to enact his 20/30 strategic plan, which was resoundingly rejected by the GW community when introduced in 2019. There was, and is, little to no support of the plan’s calling for a reduction of enrollments by 20%. Further, the GW community also vocally and vehemently opposed the push by President Le Blanc to increase STEM enrollments to 30%. Such a change would destroy the historic and enduring strengths upon which GW’s reputation is built, including its political science, international affairs, and public policy and affairs programs. We are writing to demand that the administration’s promise to pause such strategic initiatives is honored and that the operational changes that have been undertaken do not seek to serve this rejected initiative further.
Overall, we believe it is the responsibility of the Board of Trustees and the administration to exercise all available options that will not have a prolonged negative impact on GW before electing to furlough or layoff employees, increase tuition, or dramatically change the landscape of the university. It is your duty to thoughtfully innovate while preserving what matters most to GW: our shared community and commitment to bettering the global world in which we reside. We believe that GW staff has a right to voice their concerns openly and freely and should be provided access to the shared governance and freedom of expression from which students and faculty benefit.