During the disastrous period of the University’s president, Thomas LeBlanc, student activism adopted a posture of opposition and contempt towards LeBlanc and his missteps. Now that the dust has settled and his successor is in place, it’s a good time to make an uncomfortable point – much of the talk around LeBlanc, the admins, and GW as a whole was immature and over the top. Not only did this reflect poorly on those who participated, but unless this changes, it risks jeopardizing future efforts to get administrators to accede to student demands.
Most of LeBlanc’s criticisms were within bounds, and most were deserved. No one should be required to observe strict decorum when speaking about a president who made racially insensitive comments or tried to hire someone who protected Michigan State University for the Larry Nasser investigation. But in the time between these specific, high-profile errors, it seems much of the way the GW community talked about the admins — particularly LeBlanc — was divorced from any specific criticism about politics or personality. Criticism took on a life of its own, and people dipped for dipping sake.
It’s just a generally unhealthy and immature way to behave. A handful of memes about a goofy college administrator is all well and good, but there was a bizarre fixation on LeBlanc that crossed the line of how mature adults should talk about another human. It’s weird that students are walking around with stickers on their laptops with the face of their college president with the caption “this man ate my son”. It’s weird and disgusting to distribute a satirical article speculating about a director’s sex life.
Most current GW students don’t remember a pre-LeBlanc era, and the consensus on campus when most of us arrived was already that LeBlanc was a disaster worthy of contempt. This was, of course, true in almost every way. In substance and style, LeBlanc has done a poor job in countless ways. But the barbs, dunks, and scathing reviews eventually diverged from any real substantive criticism. The students came to GW, walked into an environment where people were constantly dousing the chief administrator without quite knowing why, and joined them. The moment LeBlanc made a nasty comment or bad decision, the chorus of scorn grew louder, but it had never been calm to begin with. Dunking on LeBlanc and on GW as a whole eventually became a way to scratch the itch of ganging up on people in many cases.
This is simply wrong on the face of it – but if the same thing happens with a new university president, it could jeopardize the real efforts of collaboration and betterment of the university. Student activists – there are many at GW, and I would consider myself one of them – have a special responsibility to be constructive and fair in their criticism. Considering that acting university president Mark Wrighton appears to be presiding over an effort to mend fences within the GW community, students interested in fixing what’s broken at GW should be especially careful not to let the knee jerk dunk come forward again. It could waste the first chance in a long time to make positive change without having to beg, plead or protest for them like they did under LeBlanc.
The students didn’t deliver the first punch in the deteriorating discourse on campus between the student body and the LeBlanc-era administration. His own parade of bad decisions ensured this, as did his constant antagonism towards students and professors. It is the job of a college president to take the slingshots and arrows of the community if he does his job poorly. But it is the job of the student body – not just as students but as human beings – to act like mature adults.
The relationship between students and administrators is at an all-time low at GW. It is the responsibility of Wrighton and all new administrators to step up their game. It is also the responsibility of the students to find literally any other way to spend their time beyond the bureaucrats’ obsessive memory. of the University. Doing so is not only immature, but it trivializes the real missteps officials have made — and it makes it harder to succeed in good faith collaborative efforts that could benefit everyone.
Andrew Sugrue, a scolding buzzkill and majoring in political communication and political science, is the opinion editor.