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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. 

Dear Students,

We are writing to you today with heavy hearts. We prefer to teach our classes in person but many of us have filed requests to teach online this semester, for a variety of reasons we detail below. This week we are launching a petition requesting that faculty be given the choice to determine which teaching methods (on campus, online, some form of hybrid) works best for their circumstances, and here we share the reasons why. We are disturbed by the lack of actionable information provided by the university administration and share the many concerns expressed by students. Nevertheless, we write to you to express our hope that we can join forces and work together to have a safe and productive Fall semester. 

Despite multiple questions regarding technology, accessibility, and cleaning supplies, we have been given no concrete logistical information to allow us to prepare our classes nor to determine whether in-person teaching will pose unacceptable risks to us and our families. We have been informed that classroom spaces will be set up to maintain 6-foot social distancing protocols, but we do not know what this entails, nor what technology will be available in our classrooms. For rooms where distancing is not possible, groups of students will be expected to cycle between in-person and online instruction, but this so-called “HyFlex” model does not work for all courses and no solutions have been proposed. Several smaller classes necessary for your degree requirements have been slated for cancellation, but we have not heard updates in over a month as to whether they will be allowed to run. 

We are deeply sympathetic to the concerns expressed by students about the rapid shift to online instruction in the Spring semester and are committed to doing a better job of crisis response this Fall. But we are compelled to let you know that we are now nearly halfway through the summer and have not been provided with the very basic information we need to prepare to teach well. We will continue to do our best to provide you with the education you deserve, but we need the administration to step up and allow us to plan in accordance with our pedagogical and personal needs. To be clear: we strongly encourage students to participate in the Fall semester and are committed to making our classes worth your time and valuable resources. And just as we hope that faculty will be able to decide what is best for them, we agree that students should have the same flexibility. We are particularly concerned about the options available to international students, who now must decide how to manage new visa restrictions. We hope you will join us this Fall so that we can all advocate together for better living, working, and learning conditions for both students and faculty.

We are also deeply concerned about the lack of information provided regarding COVID-prevention protocols on campus. Cleaning crews, drivers for the Vern shuttle, and workers in essential services such as food preparation will be on the front lines of any outbreak, and President LeBlanc’s reopening plan does not provide satisfactory details on protections for them. Many of us would prefer to teach online precisely because we want to protect these workers who make the university run. We therefore encourage you to maintain pressure on the university to support our most vulnerable populations. While this administration has not listened to many of the critiques presented to them, student opinion holds more power than either faculty or staff at GW and we hope your voices can bring about positive changes. 

We are also living with the daily threat of layoffs and contract non-renewals. Some of your favorite professors are still waiting for contract renewals, which should have been provided by now. Faculty are now being asked to prepare classes they don’t even know if they will be allowed to teach. Many of your dedicated adjunct professors have already been told that they will not have work in the Fall, and staff have been warned that layoffs could be coming any day now. These shifts in policy are all the more egregious because President LeBlanc has openly said that “layoffs are not a last resort” in crisis management, even after promoting values of “care” and “support” in his May 31 email in response to Black Lives Matter protests. The administration has told us that there are many factors to consider in planning for the Fall, but they have not proposed any alternatives to mass layoffs (such as additional pay cuts to more top-earning administrators, changes to administrators’ retirement contributions, or even just not hiring the two additional senior administrators—here and here–who were brought on board after a university-wide hiring freeze was announced). 

In short, we fear that the administration is using this crisis to accomplish its own long-term vision of changing the nature of GW (fewer students, less diversity) in a short-term, back-handed way. We encourage you to advocate for all faculty and staff positions on campus, as reductions in essential services such as technology support, cleaning, and food preparation will leave us all more vulnerable to future disruptions. Faculty have prepared a pledge vowing to fight layoffs in any way possible, and we encourage you to think about ways you can fight this threat as well.

We readily admit that the university is facing an unprecedented financial situation; it would be irresponsible of us to deny that. The Faculty Senate estimates our budget shortfall to be anywhere from $85-100 million next year. While we are unable to verify these figures due to lack of transparency from President LeBlanc’s team, CFO Mark Diaz has confirmed that GW has secured a line of credit on good terms that can go up to $300 million. We acknowledge that such borrowing will have an impact on GW’s future, but we question the leadership that is openly putting GW’s real estate investments above the livelihoods of the people who make this university what it is for you, our most important community. 

We look forward to seeing you again on August 31, and we are committed to continuing to fight for the entire GW community. We genuinely hope that by working together, we can convince our leadership to reevaluate its priorities and put all of our people back at the heart of this university, where we belong.

In solidarity,
The Steering Committee of the GWU Faculty Association

Petition for employee control over safety in the fall semester

We are thrilled that nearly 200 members of the GW faculty have signed the pledge, which commits us to solidarity in protecting GW by fighting the layoffs and furloughs of those people who support its mission of research and teaching. Now, we take a further step to declare our solidarity and to secure the future of our university.  The attached petition, part of similar efforts by faculty at universities across the country, clarifies faculty’s core demands for safety and employment for GW faculty and staff. 

Please sign the petition and forward it to your colleagues and encourage them to sign it too. You have the option of remaining anonymous, but we do need your information in the form to verify your signature.

PETITION

CLICK HERE TO SIGN

As GW faculty prepare for the fall semester, we continue to grapple with the fallout from a global pandemic that has upended millions of lives around the globe, killing more than 128,000 people in the U.S. as of this writing, with cases again rising nationally after statewide reopenings. At the same time, we also face uncertainty surrounding our employment and plans for instruction. Especially troubling is the limited amount of input faculty, staff, and graduate employees have been allowed on decisions related to our safety, job security, allocation of resources, and academic freedom to teach in the manner we deem most safe and effective at this time. 

The GW administration has made the decision to return to on-campus instruction in the Fall 2020, despite the strong case that has been made in leading public health journals and newsmedia like the New York Times that there is likely no “safe” reopening by the fall semester, and despite the well-documented spread of the virus by young adults. University-based public health researchers advise that if students return to campus for face-to-face instruction, the risk of significant on-campus COVID-19 transmission will be “unmanageably and unavoidably high.” Experts in Disability Studies have pointed out that making online teaching the default, rather than the exception, would protect equity, health, and safety, while reducing the uncertainties regarding hybrid and in-person teaching in the fall. A more limited approach to campus re-opening, these experts advise, would also free space for students who do not have safe off-campus housing to maintain social distance, and would still allow for a limited number of classes or modules that require on-campus work. 

Recognizing that Covid-19 is lethal, incurable and continues to spread throughout the U.S., leading universities and universities comparable to GW, such as Yale, the University of Southern California, and the University of Kansas, have come to the decision to make on-line instruction the default mode of course delivery. Yet, GW continues to maintain on-campus, in-person teaching as the standard for all faculty members in fall 2020. Likewise, no opportunity for electing to teach online has so far been provided to graduate student teaching assistants or graduate instructors. The financial decision to assure an on-campus experience for undergraduate students in order to secure dorm fees and other revenue-generating deliverables is tantamount to a decision to force faculty, staff and students to risk their health and safety. This is unacceptable.

We the undersigned GW faculty stand in solidarity with all GW workers and affirm that all people have the right to protect their own well-being. Therefore, GW University must commit to the following, and must formalize all policies in writing:

The university will affirm the autonomy of instructors in deciding whether to teach classes, attend meetings, and hold office hours remotely, in-person, or in a hybrid mode. 

Administrative staff members will also have the option of working remotely.  

No one will be obligated to disclose personal health information as a justification for the decision to teach or work remotely, nor will they face negative repercussions from the university or supervisors for such a decision. 

Instructors will be able to alter the mode of course delivery at any time during the semester if they deem it necessary for their own safety or the safety of their students. 

The university will implement and enforce a rigorous system of free, widespread COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, and isolation for faculty, staff, and students in accordance with the recommendations of epidemiologists and public health experts. 

GW will provide on-campus instructors, staff, and students with all necessary personal protective equipment, and the university will cover any and all costs related to the treatment of COVID-19 and any subsequent complications, including mental health support. 

Faculty, staff and students who are working and/or engaging in campus life remotely from outside the Washington, DC area will also have access to these GW-sponsored health benefits.

The university—in consultation with faculty, students, and staff—will outline clear procedures for addressing violations of social distancing, the wearing of masks, and other safety protocols. These measures will not involve campus or local police forces. 

Faculty will have the right to bar non-compliant students from their in-person classes should this prove necessary to protect themselves and their other students, and in doing so they will have the support of the Office of Faculty Affairs and the Offices of Student Rights and Responsibility and Academic Integrity.

In addition, we support any demands made by the GW Staff Association, the members of the SEIU locals working at GW, and any other staff unions or advocacy groups for additional safety, health, and security measures to continue their work at GW. 

We make these demands as faculty who firmly believe in the importance of the university as a physical site of face-to-face dialogue and debate, and we look forward to the moment when such measures are no longer necessary.

A GW Pledge to Act for the Common Good

On June 4th, the GWU Faculty Association received confirmation in an email from President LeBlanc that senior leadership believes layoffs at GW cannot be avoided. While layoffs have yet to be officially announced, such an announcement is seemingly imminent. Our friends in the senate tell us that there are administration task forces considering both faculty and staff layoffs. This is the reality before us, despite the fact that the administration’s own financial calculations show that layoffs or furloughs are unnecessary even in their own worst-case projections for the financial consequences of the pandemic. Faculty at GW must be prepared to respond rationally and responsibly to any declaration that GW employees will be fired from their jobs. 

We believe that responding rationally and responsibly includes refusing to participate in any work or decision-making that will be required to make our current colleagues former ones

Why is this the rational and responsible thing to do? 

As employees of GW, we are all invested in the health of our University. The pandemic’s dramatic impact on life in the United States has brought into sharp relief the danger of running institutions on threadbare budgets, insufficient staff, too little fear of rainy days, and not enough regard for longevity. Firing faculty and staff in response to temporary conditions that can be met with  temporary fixes misses this undeniable lesson. LeBlanc and Speights’s insistence on instituting layoffs can only be interpreted as an irrational and irresponsible neglect of the long-term health of GW. Those of us who fulfill the mission of the University day in and day out have an obligation to defend the University against decisions that threaten it.

The Faculty Association is calling on all members and non-members alike to sign this pledge. Your signature represents a public commitment to using whatever power and influence you have to obstruct and resist these layoffs. Because we still lack details about the layoffs, we believe faculty must start acting now, in concert with trusted colleagues and networks, with the ultimate aim of harnessing local initiatives into a broader, coordinated effort. We suggest the following ideas as starting points, but you know best what leverage is at your disposal: 

  • HARNESS THE POWER OF TENURE: Tenured faculty are the least likely to be laid off. Now is the time to use your tenure for the good of a university that has been, to this point, good to you. Collaborate with your tenured colleagues to oppose layoffs as a departmental initiative. Make public all efforts you are taking to stop GW from firing employees. Refuse to fulfill your obligations until contracts are renewed/established. These latter two initiatives apply especially to tenured faculty who currently hold administrative positions. 
  • CLOSE RANKS: Refuse any request to identify faculty or staff colleagues as targets for layoffs and, by the same token, refuse to identify especially essential colleagues (with the implication that those not so identified are ‘disposable’).
  • JAM THE SYSTEM: “Forget” to do any and all paperwork that can be conceivably connected to layoffs or furloughs. Refuse to “volunteer” colleagues for additional committee work or pedagogical training until contracts are renewed/established.
  • CHANGE THE NARRATIVE: Explain to everyone you know (colleagues, reporters, BOT members, donors, etc.) that the financial crisis at GW is a myth, and that these layoffs are the insidious project of a short-term, short-sighted administration that has no commitment to the wellbeing of GW. We have created a template for you to draw from, and we direct you to the Faculty Association’s research on the administration’s lies about GW’s financial status, as well as the cronyism of the LeBlanc administration

The idea is to use whatever your position is within the university to impede the unnecessary and destructive layoffs. Together, we can pursue the most reasonable and responsible path before us, one that ensures GW remains one of the premier research and teaching Universities in the country long after this moment has passed. 

The Pledge: I commit myself to using the power of my position at GW, to the greatest possible extent that I am able, to challenge, impede, and disrupt any and all of the layoffs of faculty and staff with which the university administration threatens the well being of GW and of my colleagues and coworkers.

LeBlanc has confirmed there will be layoffs. Now is the time for each of us to fight them in every way we can.

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

leblanc@gwu.edu Thu, Jun 4, 2020 at 2:49 PM
To: Andrew Zimmerman
Dear Andrew,

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!

Tom LeBlanc
President


Andrew Zimmerman Mon, Jun 8, 2020 at 9:35 AM
To: leblanc@gwu.edu
Dear Tom,

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,

Andrew

Andrew Zimmerman
President
George Washington University Faculty Association
https://gwufa.org/
———–
Professor of History, George Washington University
https://history.columbian.gwu.edu/andrew-zimmerman
https://gwu.academia.edu/AndrewZimmerman

Concerns: Reporting Back

Your feedback to the University may just drop down a black hole, but your feedback to GWUFA is right here.

Thank you for participating in the survey GWUFA sent out. We’ll talk about the results at the meeting on Monday (June 15, 3-5pm!), and we include the details here.

GWUFA Survey Results

As of 8 am on Saturday, June 13 we have had 121 participants. Number of respondents to each category in parentheses.

Employment Status:

  • Tenured faculty (71, 60%)
  • Full-time faculty (Contract, specialized, etc) (36, 30%)
  • Tenure-track faculty (8, 7%)
  • Part-time faculty (4, 3%)
  • Emeritus (1)

Primary Schools:

  • CCAS (85, 72%)
  • ESIA (8, 7%)
  • School of Business (6, 5%)
  • GSEHD (5, 4%)

Primary academic responsibilities identified:

  • Department chair/program director (54, 70%)
  • Departmental director of Graduate or Undergraduate Studies (28, 36%)
  • Faculty Senate (16, 20%)
  • Dean’s Council (14, 18%)

Teaching Preferences:

  • Online-only (54, 45%)
  • Hybrid (22, 18%)
  • In-person with strict social distancing, testing, and tracing (19, 16%)
  • In-person, as normal (7, 6%)
  • Several comments saying it depends on the public health situation in late August
  • Several comments that different classes may require different solutions (labs, etc)

Faculty plans to request accommodations:

  • No (50, 43%)
  • Yes (48, 41%)
  • Prefer not to answer (18, 16%)

Top concerns, by ranking:

  • Health of students and others in the GW community (88, 73%)
  • Lack of concrete information (84, 70%)
  • The effectiveness of social distancing/testing/cleaning policies (81, 68%)
  • My Health (71, 60%)
  • Health of family members or others living in my home (71, 60%)
  • Policy changes implemented by the administration (66, 55%)
  • The unpredictability of the semester (61, 50%)
  • Equity of access to education (53, 44%)
  • Transportation (50, 42%)
  • Uncertainties regarding employment status (48, 40%)
  • Caregiving responsibilities (34, 28%)
  • Access to course materials (13, 11%)
  • Other points brought up: Blackboard, layoffs, intellectual property of online courses, lack of trust in the admin, course cuts (due to enrollments), health of staff (particularly food workers, cleaners, etc), TAs

Narrative comments about administrative response:

  • Lack of transparency from the administration, from finances (endowment) to safety (including maintenance of our facilities and air circulation)
  • Admin using this crisis to advance their own agendas
  • How does health policy work for instructors and students (if faculty get sick, how do dorms work, etc)
  • Information overload—so many emails, so many demands
  • Need more on concerns about racism on campus
  • Need for renewed shared governance, GWUFA and the Faculty Senate working together

Additional narrative comments:

  • Lack of academic training among trustees
  • Threats to smaller programs
  • Concerns about contingent faculty contracts, cuts, etc
  • Constructive feedback to GWUFA Steering Committee on our own priorities (duly noted, thank you!)

On Race and Diversity at GW

In his May 31st message on the Black Lives Matter protests, President LeBlanc assured the university community that he looks forward to “working together—harnessing the power of the community that comprises this great institution—to address racism and injustice on our campus and in our society.” We charge LeBlanc and the GW Board of Trustees to put their  where their  is. The three issues listed below are some of the most pressing problems people of color at GW currently face.  The administration could demonstrate that its commitment to addressing racism is more than just words by acting on all three of them.

  1. The GW Black Student Union has issued an open letter to the GW Police Department repudiating The Hatchet’s call for armed police on the campus police force and demanding a series of reasonable policy changes to prevent police harassment and violence against Black GW students.
  2. The budget cuts the university is implementing include severe cuts to financial aid and to the number of Pell grants GW will undertake. These financial aid cuts will necessarily disproportionately impact students of color, resulting in more financial hardship for such students and a less racially and economically diverse student body at our university. 
  3. The pandemic disproportionately impacts Black communities and other communities of color throughout the United States, magnifying existing disparities in health, employment, and precarity that result from ongoing racial and economic oppression. This disproportionate impact means that GW students, faculty, and staff of color are more likely than their white peers to be exposed to COVID-19; more likely to be infected with the virus; more likely to have close relatives and friends who are exposed and infected; more likely to be needed as caregivers for infected relatives; less likely to have access to healthcare necessary to treat and recover from the virus; less likely to have access to the technology and services necessary to continue interaction with peers and colleagues or to maintain work productivity in the midst of the pandemic and the related stay-at-home orders. 

In short, students, faculty, and staff of color are laboring under extraordinary pressures in addition to the ongoing stressors of long-standing white supremacy.  


The GWU Faculty Association calls on the university administration to undertake concrete efforts to offset these pressures. The Faculty Association endorses the BSU’s demands of the GW Police Department. Faculty and staff of color have also experienced police harassment at GW and demand the GWPD change its approach to policing. GW must reorganize the GWPD as the BSU demands. 

Furthermore, the Faculty Association has documented in several recent missives the absence of a true financial crisis at GW. (Let us say that again:  analysis of the budget reveals that there is NO FINANCIAL CRISIS at GW.)  Just as it is unnecessary for the university to implement faculty and staff layoffs and furloughs to mitigate any supposed crisis, it is unconscionable that the university would use the current pandemic as cover for the reduction of financial aid that amounts to a disinvestment in racial and economic diversity in the student body. 


GW must not use the pandemic as an excuse to get richer and whiter. Our university must instead work to support and mitigate the true crisis of health and resources that is plaguing its Black students, faculty and staff. The university has pledged to disburse directly to students all of the ~$9 million in CARES funds it has received. These funds should allow the university to provide more financial aid to students, not less, and we believe GW should lead the way in shifting financial aid dollars to more need-based aid during this unprecedented moment. The administration must stop using a manufactured university financial crisis to frighten the GW community into compliance with unnecessary austerity measures. We will not sacrifice the wellbeing, security, and safety of our friends, colleagues and students to LeBlanc’s Disney-fied vision of our university.

In solidarity,

The GWUFA Steering Committee

Summer Membership Meeting June 15th, 2020!

Are you, like us, pissed off that the GW administration continues to announce transformational plans for the university without consulting in good faith the faculty or other members of the university community? 

Are you as irritated as we are by the administration’s continued farce of shared governance, with its manufactured committees composed of hand-picked faculty members with marching orders imposed from on high? 

Do you, like us, cringe every time you receive yet another long email from university administrators that is full of vague but ominous talk of crisis, million-dollar shortfalls, and extreme measures? 

Do you feel as disrespected as we do by a university administration that continually discounts our central contributions to the university’s mission of research and teaching? 

Does the pronouncement by Board of Trustees Chair Speights that the university’s nearly $2-billion endowment is untouchable have you as baffled as it does us? 

Are you as frustrated as we are that the university has decided by fiat that all fall classes will be held in-person, on campus, despite the health risks to faculty and our families, despite the absence of any green light from the CDC or the Washington, DC government, and under the continuously repeated threat of an undocumented $320-million shortfall? 

Yes? Good!

Help us fight back!

Join us [on WebEx] at 3pm on Monday the 15th of June for the 

Spring 2020 GWU Faculty Association Membership Meeting! 

Meeting Link:  https://gwu.webex.com/gwu/j.php?MTID=m3c40c221018faa7c696f35ea875d1db2
Meeting number:  160 106 2840
Meeting password:  XpMA3bMPj65



We’ll talk about the three issues troubling faculty this spring–

  1. the continued insecurity of contract faculty, 
  2. the demand for increased faculty raises in a future year; and 
  3. the absence of budget transparency as it relates to 
    • cronyism and the ongoing expansion of the highly paid university administration, 
    • the calculation of any pandemic shortfalls, 
    • the possibilities of layoffs, furloughs, cuts to benefits, and other extreme measures. 

And we will devise plans of action on these 3 fronts!
 

Invite your friends — to join the meeting and to join GWUFA.

The crisis at GW is not in its finances but its administration

Many of you may have already seen the “Financial Update” presented to the Finance and Investments Committee of the Board of Trustees on May 14, 2020. We are writing first and foremost because we think everyone should have access to this document, and you can find it attached to this message.

Ideally, the administration would have responded to our requests for budget transparency and shared this with the GW community. Instead, someone *leaked* the document to GWUFA on May 19th. We consulted with various people to make sense of its significance, and Professor Joe Cordes ultimately presented on it at the May 29th CCAS faculty meeting (a meeting called by deans who also had not seen the document). We share our analysis of what we know about GW’s current financial situation below. We also want to express our continued dismay and outrage at this administration’s lack of transparent communication about the current crisis and GW’s response.     

What does the document tell us? We asked Professor Cordes, whose long-time service on the Senate Budget Committee makes him the top campus expert on these matters. 

The news was surprising to us: As Professor Cordes explained, also to the CCAS Faculty Meeting on Friday, GW is in strong enough financial shape to allow it to weather the current financial crisis even if some temporary cuts may be required. GW has already secured an additional $300 million line of credit on good terms, based on current low interest rates. “Having such liquidity on hand,” Professor Cordes told us, “provides an important cushion against the financial turbulence that GWU and every other university faces.”

As we in GWUFA understand it, this means that GW could handle even the worst-case situation outlined in the attached “Financial Update,” in which GW is entirely online and incurs an estimated $320 million budget shortfall. It would, of course, require GW to repay whatever of the $300 million loan we borrowed, but this would be over a period of years. Thus, we conclude that, although the financial side of this pandemic is serious, it is also short-term and poses no serious threat to the long-term well-being of GW

We also find it significant and disturbing that the faculty have not been provided with a clear breakdown of the most extreme estimate of the $320 million budget shortfall predicted as the fallout from being online in the Fall. Where do these numbers come from? Can we trust them to be accurate enough to justify extreme “solutions”? This, to say nothing of the fact that the administration has, it seems, already rejected this option for the fall, but still uses the $320 as evidence of the financial crisis, strikes us as duplicitous.

Why is the administration creating an illusion of financial catastrophe? Why is Chair Speights speaking ominously of “pay or benefit reductions, early retirement options, furloughs or layoffs”?  Why has she forbidden discussion, even in these extraordinary times, of increasing the payout from GW’s $1.78 billion endowment, a response that would leave the principal untouched? Why is the administration insisting on long-term structural changes to GW in order to meet a financial crisis that is temporary and already well under control?

We think it is the same reason we only learn about these things through leaked documents: the LeBlanc administration and the Board of Trustees are seeking once again to circumvent basic shared governance in order to shape GW according to their own whims. In the past these included the wasteful Disney “Culture Initiative” and a reckless plan to cut undergraduate enrollments by 20%. Together, the Senate and GWUFA pushed back on these plans. Now the administration is trying a new route: a cooked-up financial crisis that will allow it to continue an agenda that is deeply threatening to the core research and teaching mission of our university.

Some have suggested that during this crisis GW faculty should cooperate with this administration. But what would cooperation mean with an administration that exacerbates an environment of insecurity and crisis in order to ram through changes without any meaningful consultation with faculty?


So, what can you do? Start by challenging, at every chance you get, the misinformation from the administration that financial exigencies require us to make permanent cuts to our university. Suggest that if any permanent cuts are to be made, they should be to the ever-expanding and overcompensated upper administration.

Faculty can also express their views about the university administration’s response to COVID-19 online, here: https://facultyaffairs.gwu.edu/submit-feedback.

Now, more than ever, is a time for those of us who carry out GW’s core mission of teaching and research–faculty, staff, and students–to stand together and refuse to be intimidated by an administration that has treated us, and our university, with the greatest disrespect. Now is the time to start building the university we want inside the university we have. One idea that we think very worthwhile was presented by GWUFA Vice President Ivy Ken in a recent opinion piece in the Hatchet. Imagine if GW used its considerable resources to pursue such plans, rather than squandering them on overpaid upper administrators while threatening us with layoffs and furloughs.

We deserve better than this.

In solidarity,

The GWU Faculty Association

On the BLACK LIVES MATTER Protests

The GWU Faculty Association endorses the statement issued by the Office for Diversity, Equity and Community Engagement regarding the ongoing police violence and structural assaults on black people. We support the Black Lives Matter protests in Washington, DC and around the nation. We commend the GW Student Association for sharing with the campus community a list of resources we might use to support and ally with students of color at GWU and beyond. 
 

As the ODECE states: 

We condemn racism and anti-Blackness, and the violence that has killed so many Black people. We acknowledge that racism and white supremacy are part of the foundation of this country, and we hope that each day our team in ODECE moves us closer to a more equitable and just future where a letter like this is not needed. We understand that many of our GW community members deal with, feel, and live with racism on a daily basis. For many Black people and communities of color, racism and state sanctioned violence are not new. . . While many people continue to ask for a return to the ‘normal,’ we know that for Black people and those from historically marginalized communities, that means a continuation of oppression, injustice, hate, and violence. We have to create something better. We have to raise higher.

 

The GWU Faculty Association joins this effort “to create something better” on our campus and in our world. The GWU community deserves a campus on which all students, staff and faculty are safe and respected. We deserve a voice in the evolution and governance of our university, its policies, and its priorities. We deserve an excellent and equitable university. Let’s build the university we need and deserve.
 

In solidarity,

The GWU Faculty Association