At his first planning conference with the Board of Visitors, George Mason University President Gregory Washington outlined his ambitious framework for the university, including a mission to “reposition, restore and reinvent” Mason to achieve success in the post-COVID era.
“We are not going to look like we are the same institution two, three, four, five years from now….and it would be a mistake for us to think that we’re going to do that and to not correspondingly make the hard choices and the hard changes,” Washington said Thursday at the virtual conference, televised on GMU-TV. See the video here.
Washington said the institutions that will succeed in this new environment will be those that focus on reskilling, upskilling and retraining; provide clear pathways and flexible access to higher education; and focus on the grand challenges of their community and the planet.
“People are going to need to be reeducated and retrained in unprecedented ways,” Washington said. “We are the best-positioned institution in this state to do this, without question. But I contend we’re one of the best institutions in the country to move it forward as well.”
Washington unveiled or elaborated on several key initiatives, including executing the Safe Return to Campus plan, implementing a fiscal management plan to support the university through this COVID period, and forming a President’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence, which he announced last month.
Washington also announced that Mark Ginsberg, appointed as interim provost and executive vice president in March, will serve a two-year appointment in that position to provide continuity in leadership while the university conducts a search for its next provost.
Among other goals that Washington set forth at the annual planning conference:
- Establish an Innovation-Mason Commission of “the most-forward thinking faculty, staff and administrators” to make recommendations to chart the direction of the university
- Complete a national search for a vice president of research, innovation and economic impact to replace Deb Crawford, who is now the vice chancellor of research at the University of Tennessee-Knoxville.
- Restructure the position of the vice president of compliance, diversity, and ethics, and then establish and complete a national search
- Restructure, redistribute, and reposition the responsibility of the vice president of academic innovation and new ventures
- Establish an initiative aimed at retaining key faculty
- Examine and decide on the possibility of forming a standalone graduate school
- Become a national leader in forming public-private partnerships to take advantage of university assets
“We are at a time in history where we need institutions like Mason more than ever,” Washington said. “And I truly believe that not only I am here, but we are all here at this moment in time to continue the university's positioning to be at the pantheon of the nation’s great universities.”
Dietra Trent, interim vice president of compliance, diversity and ethics and special advisor to the president, gave a presentation about the President’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence, a group charged with rooting out and preventing bias in university practices.
Trent said the university-wide task force is still being formed but announced that Wendi Manuel-Scott, professor within the School of Integrative Studies and the Department of History and Art History, and Shernita Parker, assistant vice president for Human Resources Strategy and Talent Management, will serve as co-chairs, and Honors College Dean Zofia Burr will serve as the deans' representative to the task force, in addition to advising Trent.
Mason is the largest and most diverse public university in the state and one of only 24 designated Truth, Racial Healing, and Transformation Campus Centers in the country—and the only one in Virginia. Historically underrepresented groups make up 53% of Mason’s undergraduate student body, with little to no disparity in graduation rates based on ethnicity or economic status.
“Our vision is that George Mason will become a national exemplar of antiracism and inclusive excellence,” Trent said. “Excellence requires diversity, it requires equity, it requires inclusion, and it requires performance. It all goes hand-in-hand.”