This email was sent to the faculty of George Mason University on Sunday, February 23, 2020
Saturday, February 22, 2020, faculty senators, a staff senate representative, and a student government representative met with four finalists for the next President of George Mason University, by invitation of the Rector of the Board of Visitors. Each meeting was one hour and provided the attendees an opportunity to engage with the candidates. The questions to the candidates were pointed, and to the credit of each of the candidates, they more often than not provided as precise an answer as possible. When they could not because of lack of information, they readily said as much.
Candidates answered questions about transparency and shared governance, the role of contingent faculty in the university, approaches/thoughts on faculty recruiting and retention and diversifying the faculty, their thoughts on the arts, experience in administration, and experience with fundraising, among others.
After each session, participants provided written comments; there was also an open discussion of strengths and challenges for each candidate. The written feedback was collected by the President’s Office staff who transcribed all comments verbatim for Board review. Rector Davis and Vice Rector Hazel were present for the discussions. At the conclusion of the discussions the Rector said that observing the interaction with the faculty was very useful because of the different perspectives that the discussions invoked. He reiterated his statement that faculty feedback would be a top consideration for the Board, as the person selected must be someone the faculty would support.
After the engagement sessions, I presented the summary comments to the Board in person and answered additional questions about the discussions.
Here is a summary of the discussions:
- We met a diverse set of very strong candidates.
- All candidates come from deep academic backgrounds. Each has held a leadership position in academia for at least a decade, positioning them well for leading an institution such as Mason.
- They were all candid in their observations, sharing their experiences and philosophies.
- They all have demonstrable experience in acquiring resources, both public and private, to fund growth of their institutions.
- Their knowledge of Mason indicated that their candidacy is a result of thoughtful consideration and belief that Mason is headed towards continuing growth and prominence. It is their genuine desire to lead this institution in its next phase. To this point, some of the candidates mentioned statistics about Mason that many in the room were unaware of.
- The candidates also strongly believe in shared governance and transparency. When asked directly, each candidly discussed how they have approached both in their own experiences.
- Priorities expressed by the candidates for Mason included (not in order): a) acquiring resources -- both public and private; b) faculty salaries and retention; and c) thoughtful and methodical approaches to increase diversity in faculty recruited to the university. On the last point, the candidates shared the strategies they have used that yielded successful recruiting resulting in more diversity among the faculty at their institutions, as well as improved faculty retention.
- Teaching was a priority for all, and a few have continued to teach while holding senior leadership roles at universities. When that has not been possible, they have sought out other ways to be present in the classroom.
Thank you again for your continued engagement with the process of the search for Mason’s next President.
Shannon N. Davis, Ph.D.
Professor and Director of Graduate Studies, Sociology
Program Faculty, Women and Gender Studies & Human Development and Family Science
Chair, Faculty Senate (2019-20)