George Washington University’s board announced Friday that it has chosen a computer scientist and veteran academic leader to be the school’s 17th president.
Thomas J. LeBlanc, 61, executive vice president and provost of the University of Miami, will take the helm at GW on Aug. 1. He succeeds Steven Knapp, who will wrap up 10 years as president of GW at the end of July.
“Dr. LeBlanc embodies the qualities the university community articulated through more than 30 town halls and meetings with faculty, students, staff, and alumni, as well as leaders and members from the local community,” GW Board of Trustees Chair Nelson Carbonell said in a statement Friday. “We have worked hard to find a proven leader who can bring GW to new heights and I believe we have found the ideal person to lead the university into its third century.”
With 26,000 students, including about 11,000 undergraduates, GW is the largest university in the nation’s capital. Its main campus in Northwest Washington sits a few blocks west of the White House, and it has used its location and urban setting as major recruitment tools.
The private university, known for its programs in social sciences, public policy and international affairs, has sought in recent years to grow its profile in science and engineering. It opened a $275 million science and engineering hall in 2015 on the Foggy Bottom campus, a 500,000-square-foot building meant to assert the university’s research ambitions.
Under Knapp, GW also acquired the Corcoran College of Art and Design, merging it into its Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and took ownership of the Beaux-Arts building on 17th Street that had housed the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
Knapp oversaw a significant switch in admissions policy in 2015, when GW dropped its requirement for freshman applicants to submit SAT or ACT test scores. Officials say the test-optional policy helped GW diversify, expand and strengthen its pipeline of incoming students.
“It is a tremendous honor to be selected to lead the George Washington University,” LeBlanc said in a statement. “I look forward to building on the work of President Knapp, the Board of Trustees and the university’s outstanding students, faculty and staff who have contributed to creating not only a world-class research university but also a vibrant and distinctive educational experience in the heart of our nation’s capital.”
With satellite campuses in Northern Virginia and in the Foxhall neighborhood of D.C., GW aims to be a comprehensive research university. It has schools of law, business, education, medicine and public health, among others, and it routinely ranks among the top 60 in the annual list of national universities published by U.S. News and World Report. This year, it is 56th, tied with the University of Georgia, the University of Texas at Austin and Southern Methodist University.
The University of Miami, another large private institution, ranks 44th on the U.S. News list, tied with private Lehigh University and the public universities of Wisconsin at Madison, Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, California at San Diego and California at Davis.
LeBlanc was named Miami’s provost in 2005 and has served since then as its chief academic and budget officer. Previously he was dean of the college faculty in arts, sciences and engineering at the University of Rochester. He holds a bachelor’s degree from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and master’s and doctoral degrees from Wisconsin at Madison — all in computer science. He has published papers on operating systems, parallel programming and software engineering.
Miami, known for robust academics and athletics programs, has about 17,000 students in South Florida. Of them, 11,000 are undergrads, roughly equal to the total at GW.
On Friday afternoon the university’s board of trustees voted unanimously for LeBlanc’s appointment. Soon afterward he made his first public appearance as president-designate, introduced to the campus community in an auditorium at Marvin Center at 4 p.m., though the campus is relatively quiet this week because most students are out of town for winter break, which runs through Jan. 16. He joked about the chilly Washington weather, noting that his resume includes 22 years at the University of Rochester in upstate New York.
“So I know cold,” he said. “This isn’t cold.”
LeBlanc, who wore a buff-and-blue striped GW tie for the occasion, pledged to “spend a lot of time listening” as he prepares to take over. “This is a special opportunity here,” he said, calling it an “incredibly distinctive and distinguished” university.