A Jan. 16 article should have noted that George Washington University President Stephen J. Trachtenberg, chairman-elect of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, will not become chairman until 2004. The current chairman is Hugh Panero, president and chief executive of XM Satellite Radio Inc
George Washington University President Stephen J. Trachtenberg has named a second-in-command to help oversee the District's largest college while he spends what could be his final five years in the job trying to establish a greater civic leadership role for the school.
Trachtenberg, 65, one of the longest-serving and most influential college presidents in the region, recently signed a five-year contract extension. Elected last month as chairman of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, he said he will also spend more time away from campus over the next few years raising money to boost GWU's endowment.
In his absence, John F. Williams, the medical school dean and vice president for health affairs, will handle day-to-day operations on campus as part of the newly created role of provost.
Discussion about Williams's possible ascension to provost a few months ago caused an uproar within the faculty, in part because of speculation that GWU's Board of Trustees intended the dean to become a kind of president-in-waiting to prepare for Trachtenberg's eventual retirement.
While such succession plans are common in the corporate world, the notion troubled leading faculty members, who worried that they could be cut out of the process of selecting the next president. But Williams and Trachtenberg said this week that the new provost would not have an inside track on the top job.
Meanwhile, Trachtenberg added, "I'm not in a rush to go anywhere."
Few other higher education chiefs cast a shadow in the Washington region like Trachtenberg. Only one other sitting president in the area has served longer -- Gallaudet University's I. King Jordan, whose tenure began a few months before Trachtenberg's in 1988.
Trachtenberg is credited with overhauling GWU's reputation as a commuter school most notable for its graduate programs, adding amenities to the urban campus to promote student life and trading on the school's proximity to the nation's political and media centers. Lately, GWU has topped numerous "hot" lists for undergraduates, attracting more and better applicants every year.
It now has more than 20,000 students, and the most dramatic growth has been at the undergraduate level, where the number of full-time students has grown from 5,808 in fall 1995 to 8,883 last fall.
Blunt and outspoken, with a bristling sense of humor, Trachtenberg has occasionally clashed with students and faculty, some of whom are skeptical of his entrepreneurial approach to higher education. And his expansionist tendencies -- GWU has built several new buildings and purchased other properties, including the campus of now-defunct Mount Vernon College -- have led to many town-gown clashes with Foggy Bottom neighbors.
The university remains in a legal battle with city zoning officials over whether GWU must house a certain percentage of undergraduates in campus dormitories. A court victory for the college, overturning some elements of the city's campus plan, is being appealed by the District.
Trachtenberg said his decision to become more involved in civic affairs stems in part from concerns about the university's rocky relationship with the city. Like other area presidents, he argues that the District does not accord its colleges as much respect as do other cities.
"I'm conscious of the debt the university has to the city," he said. "I want to use the next five years to be even more aggressive in my advocacy of the university and this city and find more ways [for the two] to serve each other better."
Trachtenberg said that during his contract discussions, board members encouraged him to become more involved in community activities and use the credibility of his 15 years in office to speak out on more local issues.
"We think [the university is] a great economic influence for the positive for Washington, D.C.," that is not always recognized as such, said Charles T. Manatt, a veteran Washington lawyer and former U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic, who serves as chairman of GWU's trustees.
Trachtenberg has also agreed to spend more time raising money. GWU will soon wrap up a seven-year capital campaign, which has already exceeded its $500 million goal. Yet at $713 million, the school's overall endowment remains modest compared with those of other large private research universities.
Williams, 54, an anesthesiology professor, will continue to serve as dean and vice president while holding the new job of provost. Williams -- who like Trachtenberg is a native of Brooklyn, N.Y. -- has been at the medical school since receiving his doctorate there in 1979. He also has a master's of public health degree from Yale University.
Faculty members said they were initially resistant to the idea of Williams becoming provost because of an early plan to have two other academic divisions -- the schools of law and public health -- report to him rather than to the vice president of academic affairs. Instead, Trachtenberg structured the job so that Williams will oversee several administrative offices but will not expand his academic powers.
Faculty leaders said they are content with the new plan. "The president has not guaranteed us this will not raise its head again," said William B. Griffith, a philosophy professor and member of the GWU Faculty Senate. "But there's some measure of consensus that what he's doing is not trampling on faculty rights."
Williams noted that the provost's office is not new at GWU. Trachtenberg eliminated it when he arrived, Williams said, "because he wanted to learn the university and be more hands-on. Now that he's matured in his presidency, he doesn't need to be hands-on every day."
Williams, who had been courted by several other institutions, laughed off speculation that he might one day succeed Trachtenberg. "Academia has a tendency to eat its young," he said. "I might be the interim for a while, but there would clearly be a national search, and one never knows in a situation like that."
Trachtenberg said Williams's likelihood of ascending to the top job "depends on what happens over the next five years."
But when asked whether that meant he plans to retire after another five years, Trachtenberg demurred. "I don't know," he said. "Talk to me in three."