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There is no financial crisis at GW (pass it on)

Since our last meeting and communication about the Faculty Association’s pledge, we’ve received requests for talking points about GW’s financial situation. We share these points below.

For those of you who have signed, we hope these points help you keep your commitment to stop layoffs. For those of you who haven’t, we hope they illustrate why it is so important to push back against the administration’s false narrative about a financial crisis. 

In fact, the administration is abandoning its narrative of financial crisis, and it is now touting layoffs for their own sake. LeBlanc clearly stated at the last Faculty Senate meeting (6/18) that he does not consider layoffs a last resort, and the administration is now predicting a shortfall much closer to the best case scenario –$100 million. In short, the administration is coming around to our position–the financial situation can be easily weathered without layoffs–while at the same time showing their true colors–the crisis was always a cover to make long-term structural changes. 

The Faculty Association’s pledge asks faculty to organize together because we believe that this is the only pathway to achieving meaningful power within the University. Steering Committee member Sara Matthiesen outlined GWUFA’s approach in a recent Chronicle of Higher Ed article. As she writes, it is not enough for faculty to present reasoned arguments to the administration–our analysis must be accompanied by collective action if we want to build faculty power. We share it here in hopes that it will further assist you in upholding the pledge.

We also encourage you to up the ante on the organizing you’ve been doing thus far. What specific ideas do you have for making sure there are no layoffs? How are you upholding your pledge? How many colleagues have you had conversations with? How many have you convinced that this is their fight, too? Please email us and let us know!

When we organize for collective power, we win. 

In Solidarity,
GWUFA

Talking Points: 
Finances at GW and the Destructive Wastefulness of Layoffs
(Unless otherwise linked, all of these points draw on data we presented in our message of June 3.)

While there are short term financial challenges facing the university, there is NOT a financial crisis that warrants layoffs or furloughs at GW. President LeBlanc and the Board of Trustees have misrepresented their own financial projections to justify cuts to faculty and staff that are, in fact, unnecessary. 

The administration has shown that their description of GW’s financial health cannot be trusted for the following reasons. They are selling off our future at GW for #funnymoney: 

$85 million? $100 million? Where’s the $15 million?

The University’s calculations for its losses in the best case scenario total $85 million, but the LeBlanc Administration has consistently referenced a $100 million shortfall, rounding up $15 million as if it is all just #funnymoney.

What about the cost savings already incurred?

The University’s calculations exclude cost savings that specific units have already been required to make, such as a 10% reduction by CCAS Dean Paul Wahlbeck, or the $20 million already saved by the immediate freeze on merit increases for AY 2020-21. The LeBlanc administration is not engaged in rational financial planning. It is using #funnymoney to justify cuts to faculty and staff.

Waste and cronies

LeBlanc has consistently demonstrated poor, and even bad-faith, stewardship of GW, wasting GW funds on well-paid positions and lavish consultancies for his Miami colleagues and favored corporations. Now he claims that it is financially necessary to lay off the faculty and staff who carry out GW’s core mission, even while GW continues to dole out millions to these upper administration cronies. Just today GW announced the hiring of yet another upper administrator who will neither teach courses nor conduct research, but will no doubt earn several times the salaries of those of us who do.

Is this the 20/30 plan in disguise?

LeBlanc refused to provide any rational financial or other justification for his 20/30 plan, despite formal requests from the Senate and an unanimous faculty vote to pause implementation at the March 2 special faculty assembly. The plan would have cost GW millions in lost revenue and it aroused concerted faculty opposition in the senate and across the university. Faculty did not fall for the tired anecdotes and warn truisms LeBlanc offered as ‘explanations’ of his decision.  Now he wants to use #funnymoney to justify the unjustifiable.  

Better ideas:
  • There are innumerable ways for GW to meet foreseeable revenue reductions without the draconian layoffs, furloughs and other programmatic cuts with which the LeBlanc administration is threatening the present and future wellbeing of GW:
  1. GW already has more than sufficient financial resources to cover even its own worst-case projections for pandemic-related shortfalls.  These include $500 million in cash reserves, an additional $300 million line of credit at present-day low interest rates, a $1.8 billion endowment, and massive commercial real estate holdings apart from its academic facilities.
  2. The Faculty Senate has, moreover, proposed its own series of cuts and revenue-generating opportunities that do not attack the core mission of GW, and avoid dipping into any of these resources.
  3. The Board of Trustees is obliged to protect in good faith the long-term health of the university.  Investing in its faculty is the best strategy for achieving that objective. Threats of cuts, job insecurity, and other demoralizing and destabilizing tactics have just the opposite effect. So far, the Board of Trustees has worked hand-in-hand withthe LeBlanc administration’s wasteful expenditures on Florida cronies and others and now, as it threatens the university with destructive and unnecessary layoffs of faculty and staff.  We will not be fooled by their bad-faith, #funnymoney accounting. 

What if … GW hadn’t fired so many people last year?

GW’s student body and faculty association repeatedly questioned the university’s decision to fire hundreds of workers last year. Many of those laid off were building maintenance workers.

Would the university be drowning in mold right now if it had used some of the $45 million of relief money from the federal government to provide employees with stable employment? Would our classrooms be failing basic tests for safe ventilation while covid breakthrough cases climb?

You decide.

Join the GWUFA Steering Committee

Dear friends, 

We hope your summer has been as restful as possible. 

At GWUFA we have been keeping our eye on a variety of issues, and we look forward to working with you this year as we fight for meaningful shared governance at GW.  

In the meantime, we need you

We are officially launching our elections for the 2021-2022 GWUFA Steering Committee, and we are soliciting nominations for candidates for our upcoming elections. All full-time faculty at GW (tenure-line, contract, and specialized) are eligible for membership in GWUFA and to serve on the steering committee. We are committed to representing the full range of experiences at GW and strongly encourage everyone to consider running for our leadership positions. 

To nominate candidates (or self-nominate!), please provide names and email addresses on this Google Form by Friday, Sept. 3.  We will reach out to each nominee to answer questions, provide information about what the position entails, and secure permission to place their name on the ballot. We look forward to another great year! 

In solidarity, 

GWUFA

Join Us

(and please forward to your new faculty colleagues!!)

The Faction Is All of Us

Dear Colleagues,

Our missive to you today is prompted by a recent email to the faculty from the chair of the GW Board of Trustees. It was a surprisingly combative message, much more authoritarian than collegial. Rather than suggesting ways to unite our community after a difficult year, Grace Speights scolded faculty for what she understands to be an improper approach to shared governance. We wish to respond on a few counts.

First                            

Speights calls the large contingent of us who voiced disapproval of GW’s administration this year “a faction of self-appointed faculty spokespersons.” Here’s how Google defines the word faction: “a small organized dissenting group within a larger one, especially in politics.” That in no way correlates to the 89% of GW faculty—across all schools—who expressed dissatisfaction with GW’s leadership in the rigorous and comprehensive survey conducted by the Faculty Senate. Apparently Speights has calculated that by declaring war on a “faction” of the faculty—perhaps she means GWUFA?—she can distract attention from the overwhelming numbers of faculty upset by the failures of Tom LeBlanc’s presidency, a mess that she herself oversaw. But her math is off. As the Senate’s survey shows, GWUFA’s critiques reflect widespread faculty sentiment. And the Association counts a third of all full-time faculty as its members, with a rotating and elected steering committee; we work collaboratively for shared governance over our institution.

Second                        

Let’s be clear about who sits at the helm of GW’s Board of Trustees—a “faction” if ever there was one! Grace Speights is an employment lawyer who has achieved prodigious success at what has been deemed “one of the most powerful anti-union law firms in recent U.S. history.”  She has devoted her own anti-worker practice specifically to defending corporations against complaints of racism and sexism in their workplaces. Speights, for example, served as the lead counsel for General Motors in a lawsuit brought by Black workers at GM who protested after they were told that bathrooms were for “whites only,” and after one of them found a noose hanging on the shop floor. If that’s a case that Speights is willing to take, then it’s no surprise that she’s also hostile to challenges from GW’s workers on far less incendiary matters. Speights does not deem it her mission as the head of the Board to meet with faculty, or staff, or students at GW, or to understand the living, working, and learning conditions at our university. She distances herself from those of us who commit our labor and care to the school, and threatens us when we remind her that universities are run by shared governance. The Senate’s survey reported that three-fourths of faculty feel that GW administrators do not engage with or respect the faculty. Instead of working to correct that significant problem, Speights has doubled down, issuing a reprimand to all of us. 

Third                              

We need to underline those three words in the title: “The Faction Is All of Us.” Speights appears to be gearing up for what she considers a necessary counter-insurgency campaign. The Board is aiming to revise the Faculty Code to prevent faculty from appointing ourselves as spokespeople for…ourselves? What exactly is the objective here? To punish faculty who object to the Board’s refusal to engage in meaningful dialogue? To be able to fire faculty if we talk to the press without permission from administrators, or if we send emails to each other that critique the Board? What does she think GW is, Mar-a-Lago North? Make no mistake, folks. An attack on an invented “faction” of us is an attack on all of us. We ask faculty to connect with colleagues, deans, chairs, students, and others to uphold our collective capacity to participate substantively in the future direction of GW.

GW is not a fiefdom of the GW Board of Trustees. Please join us in showing that it is a university governed by all of us.  And stay tuned.

In solidarity,
The GWU Faculty Association

Hallelujah!

The GW Faculty Association is gratified that the Board of Trustees and GW administration have come to agree with us and the vast majority of the GW faculty that Thomas J. LeBlanc is not the right president for our university. We look forward to working with the Board of Trustees, the Faculty Senate and the faculty, staff and students of the GW community in selecting a new president with a commitment to shared governance and to making GW the excellent and equitable university it should be.

“It never occurred to me…”

remark made by Thomas LeBlanc at April 23 CCAS Faculty Meeting,
with regard to faculty expectations of shared governance

The results of the Faculty Senate survey cannot be any clearer.

  • 89% of faculty condemned LeBlanc’s integrity/ethics
  • 85% expressed negative views of LeBlanc’s competence/execution
  • 85% expressed a lack of trust in his leadership
  • 84% expressed negative views of the transparency of LeBlanc’s administration 

LeBlanc’s contempt for our needs and perspectives has generated a destructive climate for GW faculty, staff, and students during this already difficult period.

It never occurred to him to ask how we’re doing.

GWUFA asked, and you told us that LeBlanc’s corporatist attitude has been devastating to our mental health:   

  • 83% of faculty report that their mental health is worse than average this year
  • 80% say it’s more difficult to take care of their own mental health this year
  • 94% report that student mental health is worse this year (and no one says it’s better, the remaining respondents say it’s about the same)
  • 69% identified personal expectations for workload among their top stressors for this year. 

It never occurred to him to ask about our working conditions.

GWUFA asked, and you told us that you continued to work in insecure environments:

  • 57% of faculty cared for children ages K-12 and/or children home from college while teaching online
  • 31% cared for spouses, parents, or relatives needing extra support during the pandemic
  • 30% have themselves fallen ill (with covid or other illnesses) this year
  • 51% worked in shared spaces (including bedrooms, kitchens, couches)
  • 8% worked in closets or cars

Faculty are nearing a breaking point. We have no information on what the Fall semester will look like, nor how we will be compensated for the countless hours we spent—often in bedrooms, converted closets, or even in our cars—to keep the university afloat this year. 



These results underscore what we have known all along:  We care more deeply about the daily needs of our students and colleagues than our administration does. We are committed to student well-being, and we have prioritized our work even as we have cared for the health of our families and friends. 

If it never occurred to him that…

  • faculty morale matters
  • student needs matter
  • and the university should run like the mission-driven, non-profit institution it is, not like a profit-hungry corporation

then

President LeBlanc is unsuited to continue as president of The George Washington University. 

The Board of Trustees is currently conducting a review of President LeBlanc’s first term. 

But this review is illegitimate. Former GW Board president Nelson Carbonell, who hired LeBlanc, serves on the board of AGB, the supposedly independent, third-party firm charged with conducting the review. 

Only a Board that openly dismisses the norms, ethics, and values of shared governance would maintain such a president.

We demand, in the name of shared governance and with the well-being of GW at heart, that:

  • LEBLANC’S CONTRACT NOT BE RENEWED
  • his chosen enablers be replaced
  • THE BOARD LEADERSHIP THAT BROUGHT US THIS PRESIDENT AND THEN STOOD BY HIS MULTIPLE, EGREGIOUS ACTS change course to uphold the fundamental principle of shared governance

GWUFA has kept an eye on this administration in 2020-21, and we close the academic year with this reminder that WE—students, faculty, and staff—ARE the university.  We can and must hold our administrators to high standards and make this the university we want it to be.

In solidarity and the joy of collaborative struggle,
The GWU Faculty Association

Caregiving and Mental Health Report

Earlier this week we shared a flyer of highlights from our Caregiving and Mental Health Questionnaires. Now we are pleased to share a detailed report on mental health at GW. In it you will find aggregate data, a summary of themes from the narrative comments, as well as a listing of all comments that were explicitly approved for inclusion. We thank all of our respondents for their honesty and sensitivity in discussing what has been a very difficult year for everyone.

Survey Says…

As President LeBlanc’s contract comes up for review with the Board of Trustees, please make your lack of faith in him and his leadership known directly.

You may write to the Board at boardchair@email.gwu.edu to very simply say:  “The time has come.  I do not support the renewal of President LeBlanc’s contract.”

The survey conducted by the Faculty Senate has confirmed that LeBlanc has little to be proud of over his time at GW.

  • Survey Says:  Roughly three-fourths of us do not agree that LeBlanc has cultivated a culture of trust here, or that he engages with us or shows respect for us.  

When we receive “Employee Appreciation Day” or “International Women’s Day” platitudes from LeBlanc, you can feel the collective eye roll.  But as insulting  as those messages are, it is the ongoing secretive plan that the President and Provost have tried to sell us as a “Post-COVID Academic Innovation Task Force” that should worry us the most.  

Provost Blake initially called this an “Academic Master Plan,” which would assess the quality of academic units using a “return on investment” model that prioritizes (get this) high student enrollment and low faculty compensation. In the wake of an outpouring of faculty disapproval, Blake and LeBlanc pledged to redesign this “Master Plan.”  They assured faculty they would make this redesign in accordance with the values of shared governance. 

  • Survey Says:  A paltry 18% of faculty think LeBlanc understands shared governance.   

University administrators developed a friendlier name for the “Master Plan,” which is now called the “Post-COVID Academic Innovation Task Force.”  Doesn’t that make it sound inclusive and well-rounded?

  • Survey Says:  Only 22% of faculty think LeBlanc is inclusive and works openly with people who bring a diversity of perspectives.

The “Task Force” is strangely skewed.  Only one member represents the arts and humanities.  It includes only one student — a med student.  The vast majority of faculty who teach in CCAS–the school most directly responsible for undergraduate education at GW–are represented by only three members.  Instead, the Task Force is packed with administrators in the capacities of deans, directors, and chairs.  As constituted, this Task Force does not represent the GW faculty. 

  • Survey Says:  Two-thirds of faculty do not agree that President LeBlanc makes a genuine effort to listen to faculty and staff before making major decisions.  

GW administrators are failing to plan for the future with us.  Instead, they are using this skewed Task Force to implement an agenda they engineered long before the pandemic.  The fate of our programs and the education of our students–the power to construct “actionable recommendations that help GW take its next innovative step into the future”–is almost entirely in the hands of those who have neither the ability nor the inclination to speak for us.

  • Survey Says:  Only one-quarter of faculty believe that leadership communicates honestly with us.  

Further, it is clear that “budget management” strategies such as caps on salaries, numbers of new tenure-line hires, and other not-very-innovative measures will flow from the assessment of programs through this Task Force.  Yet we still don’t know what metrics are being used to make these decisions.  What kind of information is being sought, for what purpose, and how? How will that information be evaluated, and by whom?  What counts as data–as evidence–in these assessments?  Who decides, or, better, who has already decided?  

  • Survey Says:  Only 18% of faculty think LeBlanc is transparent in his actions and decisions.  

So here we are, being cajoled into imagining that we have a say in the future of this university, despite our clear lack of confidence in our leaders and the sham Task Force they’re trying to sell as “shared governance.”  Our leaders are attempting to generate our consent for the gutting of our own programs.

Beyond these numerical survey results, the Faculty Senate is preparing to release 120 pages of comments that faculty offered.  We know we can trust that the Senate will release the full set of anonymized comments–as they did for the President, the Provost, and the Board of Trustees–and not just a summary.

We also know that these comments will be damning for President LeBlanc.  We know that he doesn’t care what we think.  But this is our university, not his. 

  • Survey Says:  The majority of faculty do not think LeBlanc has the capacity to learn from criticism and failure.  

As LeBlanc’s contract comes up for review with the Board of Trustees, please make your lack of faith in him and his leadership known directly.  You may write to the Board at boardchair@email.gwu.edu to very simply say:  “The time has come.  I do not support the renewal of President LeBlanc’s contract.”

In solidarity,
The GWU Faculty Association

Your Mental Health

Dear Comrades,

Thank you again for your responses to our March 8 Questionnaire on the costs of remote work. As we have detailed elsewhere, the results are devastating: 70% of respondents are responsible for additional caregiving at home and just over half (51%) report that a loved one has fallen ill. Our work conditions over the past year remain challenging: 58% of respondents report spending more time with students, 47% report more service obligations, and 55% express frustration with the current status of research. 

The narrative comments are perhaps even more devastating. Our colleagues report significant fatigue and frustration with the lack of support from the upper administration, a deficit that only highlights how many of us are in fact overcompensating during this pandemic to maintain a strong commitment to our students. Here in GWUFA we frequently repeat that “our working conditions are our students’ learning conditions,” but the survey shows how faculty are refusing to allow our abysmal working conditions to harm our students, and how we are going to great lengths to place our students’ needs above our own. And as we all know, “recognition” of this reality from the upper administration has taken the form of pay cuts and layoffs at worst, emails filled with empty platitudes at best.  

We write to you today to ask for your participation in a brief follow-up questionnaire, this time on faculty mental health. As we are all acutely aware, faculty across the nation are suffering from record levels of burnout, and a majority are considering either a career change or early retirement
President LeBlanc appears to have no inkling what many of us are experiencing day to day, so let’s tell him and the Board of Trustees just how thin they have stretched us this year. 

GWUFA is preparing a report that will include results from both of our surveys and that will be distributed to our members along with a direct appeal to the upper administration. We are always careful to protect identities in our reports, and given the sensitivity of the data we are gathering, we are reducing even further the demographic data collected in this survey in order to protect participants. We will not share any narrative comments from your responses without your explicit permission.  

Thank you again for all you do, and in solidarity,

GWUFA Steering Committee

Responses to our most recent missive are streaming in.


121 as of Wednesday evening—certainly more than a trickle, but not quite a deluge. So please consider nudging a few of your friends or colleagues to take the survey! As one respondent vouches for it, This survey asking for feedback is long overdue…it feels like when finally the Biden Administration acknowledged and memorialized all the COVID deaths long after the ‘former guy’ denied them. GW should have been asking regularly, and sharing feedback, and responding.
 
What we’re seeing in the responses thus far is sobering and upsetting. The vast majority express stress and worry about students. Many of my students seem profoundly lonely, one person writes. Or as another echoes, Students are really struggling and there is more empathy expected at a time when everyone is running low on empathy, patience, and good will. Many faculty also describe themselves as stretched thin at home. 70% report that they have been responsible for some form of caregiving labor with immediate family or relatives.
 
And what are faculty receiving from GW in recognition of our extraordinary efforts over this past year? Not much, according to the bulk of these responses. No one at the F Street House seems interested in engaging beyond saccharine emails (whereas several people make a point of noting how, in contrast, their department chairs have been supportive in meaningful ways). Moreover, that which does come down from the top is often the precise opposite of helpful, responses say. Even the small things are handled parsimoniously, or outright blithely neglected. 80% report that they have spent money of their own for items they normally would’ve grabbed on campus. 59% have seen their household bills go up as a result of losing their campus office. Again, we ask, where is Provost Blake’s statement about why no reimbursement has been forthcoming? Or the message from President LeBlanc explaining that money is so tight that everyone’s feeling it, and so we’re sorry that we can’t do more, and we promise to prioritize how to make all of you whole as soon as we’re out of crisis mode. Crickets.
 
What the responses offer by way of general impressions, and in terms of thoughts on how to move forward, is mixed. A handful of concluding comments linger on the Kafkaesque indignities of working in a bureaucracy battered by austerity—the feeling, for instance, of struggling with computer woes as computer support-staff get “right-sized.” Other concluding comments, meanwhile, look inward, offering poignant reflections on the emotional challenges of the situation (a reminder that this survey barely glances at the huge topic of mental health). And then there are the suggestions and demands for action, and it’s striking how they vary. They range from calls for LeBlanc to be fired to less drastic pleas for sound and transparent management, to people saying, in so many words, I wish I could see a way forward, but instead all I expect is more stonewalling from the Administration, and that nothing will ever change. Which view is dominant among the masses of us? It’s hard to know, especially when we’re miles and miles apart, nowhere near the proverbial watercooler. So let’s try to hear more from each other, to generate more responses to this survey. Please send it around! Urge people to look at it!  And enjoy this well-deserved spring break.

In solidarity and compassion,
GWUFA Steering Committee