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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. 

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

We Hear You

Tell us how it’s going. Please take 10 minutes to complete this poll

March 8th, International Women’s Day. It’s a reminder that holidays carry a double valence nowadays, as we mark the passage of time. So much tragedy over the past year. So many lives lost. So many livelihoods lost. As we celebrate the arrival of vaccine shots, we also mourn the incalculable damage of a pandemic that was neither natural nor inevitable, and that has hit the most vulnerable among us the most severely. The aftershocks will be wide and deep.
 
Locally, March 8th also marks nearly a year since GW went online. Nearly a year since we were locked out of our campus offices. Nearly a year since we scrambled to work entirely from home entirely at our own expense, with not a cent of financial support from our employer, not even a small stipend as a symbolic gesture. Nearly a year since pre-schools and elementary schools and middle schools and high schools shut down, leaving many of us to oversee Zoom School and to entertain bored, anxious children while simultaneously tending to our responsibilities at the (home)office.
 
Nearly a year…and not a peep, not once, from the GW administration about the crisis of care that has made it impossible for many of us to make progress towards a promotion, to make use of a sabbatical, to concentrate.
 
Two cheers for Women’s History Month?
 
Go ahead, call us “shrill” (apparently GWUFA has earned that appellation, among others), or maybe “entitled” (as we professors are labeled when we dare to recognize ourselves as workers). But we can’t stay silent: This latest sanctimonious email from our embattled, tone-deaf president is just too much. Such messages are irritating enough when they’re trying to sell stuff — when they’re spam masquerading as sentiment. When they come from a university president, though, they’re infuriating. President LeBlanc, Provost Blake, we’re tired of the empty words. You want to express your appreciation for us? How about starting by acknowledging the realities of our working conditions?
 
You won’t. Indeed, you can’t, lest you pull back the veil on a workplace that is not the least bit nurturing or family-friendly. We understand your predicament. So we’ll do it instead. Comrades, Colleagues–even those of you who are thoroughly sick of our emails!–please consider filling out this poll (also linked above). Help us start gathering the statistics on how many of us have been juggling duties as parents and caregivers even as we have been doing our jobs at GW, and on how many of us have been struggling to do our jobs at GW from homes that were not intended to double as full-time workplaces — in other words, the one set of “metrics” our corporate overlords are too scared to seek.

In solidarity,
GWUFA Steering Committee

President LeBlanc says he “appreciates” employees at GW. It’s going to take more than an email, Tom.

Yesterday, we wrote to underscore the damning results of the faculty survey:  only 27% of faculty “feels confident in the President as a leader.”

Today, on the heels of LeBlanc’s insulting “employee appreciation” email, we are writing to highlight the most recent example of why confidence in his leadership is so low.

Just in case you missed it in your inbox, yesterday Provost Brian Blake announced a search to hire a Vice Provost for Research. The search committee has already formed and supposedly the Provost’s office hosted numerous “exploratory listening sessions” in preparation for the launch. However, had faculty actually been consulted on the plans for this search, surely at least some of them would have expressed confusion or, more likely, outrage.  

Is there not still a university-wide hiring freeze in place?   

Assuming this search goes off without a hitch, won’t this be the fourth senior administrator that GW hires during said hiring freeze? Isn’t there still a ban on research travel and a tightening of research funds? What, then, will this Vice Provost for Research be doing, exactly?  Is there a job description?  Will this person be performing new duties that have not previously been carried out, or assuming responsibilities previously carried out by someone else?  If so, by whom?  And why does austerity seem to be in place for everyone but senior leadership? 

In addition to President LeBlanc and Provost Blake, everyone on the search committee that is helping to install yet another Vice Provost should be reminded of those who were made to bear the brunt of GW’s highly selective austerity measures: the nearly 350 staff fired over the course of summer and fall; and our fellow workers who, while still employed, are now doing the work that 350 people used to do.  

We know you didn’t really need another reason to vote “NO CONFIDENCE” in the leadership of GW — the survey results made that crystal clear already.  And yet on the same day we wrote to amplify those results, University leadership once again demonstrated its disdain for workers, shared governance, and its own COVID-19 restrictions. This should rattle all of us about the fate of GW under President LeBlanc. 

And it should prompt all of us to take action —  sooner than later. If you want to get involved in GWUFA’s organizing efforts, sign up here.  We’re with you. 

The Survey Results are in: No Confidence in the LeBlanc Administration

The results of the Faculty Survey of the President are in. Over the objections of the LeBlanc administration, and despite dubious last-minute procedural efforts at the November 18 Faculty Assembly, the Faculty Senate received official sanction to conduct a rigorous survey of faculty views of the LeBlanc administration. Highlights from the results have been published by the GW Hatchet, and all full-time faculty received a link to the complete results in an email of Feb 22.

These results represent the views of a majority of the full-time faculty.  The survey went out to 1781 faculty members and 1202, or 67%, submitted eligible responses. 

Only 27% of the surveyed faculty feels “confident in the President as a leader.” 52.3% of the faculty do not feel “confident” and the remaining faculty indicated they were “neutral” on the matter.

The survey suggests that the  lack of confidence in LeBlanc’s leadership is directly tied to faculty perceptions of the president’s disregard for the values and procedures of shared governance.  The majority of faculty (56%) disagreed with the statement “Faculty members are meaningfully involved in institutional planning.” Just 24% agreed with the statement (with the remaining 20% indicating neutrality).  The responses were similar to the statements “University leadership promotes leader-faculty-staff relationships through shared governance” and “The president makes a genuine effort to listen to faculty and staff concerns before making major decisions that impact the university” 

We await the release of the qualitative data with growing impatience. The Faculty Senate survey team has told us that they have already released this data to President LeBlanc, Provost Blake, and have offered it to the BoT, but that they will not release it to the faculty for at least three weeks, even though all personal identifiers have already been removed.  They have also indicated they may not release the data in its entirety to the faculty, though they have already provided it to the LeBlanc administration. The Faculty Association continues to pursue this issue.

Still, the quantitative results speak clearly enough, even without the qualitative data.

As we wrote in our messages to GWUFA members earlier,  “If President LeBlanc is telling the truth about faculty support for his administration, the survey will also show that.” 

The survey has made clear that the faculty do not have confidence in the LeBlanc administration. And why would they? From the Disney fiasco to the destructive layoffs, to the conspicuous contempt for basic norms of shared governance, the LeBlanc administration has damaged the core values of GW , and most of us recognize that.

The question is: what will the Board of Trustees do? Will they make good on their fiduciary responsibility to George Washington University or will they continue to dismiss our serious and, as the survey has shown, widely shared concerns? What will we, as faculty members, do if, as we fear, our Board of Trustees continues to stand by this disastrous administration?

And, most of all, how will we continue to flourish as a community of students, staff, and faculty? Most of us will still be at GW long after President LeBlanc and those who followed him to GW have moved on, in what they will no doubt regard as good career moves. They may see us as their stepping stones, but we know we are much much more than that.

In solidarity,

The GWU Faculty Association

Photo by cottonbro from Pexels