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.
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.
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.
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.
The GWU Faculty Association