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Taking Charge

By: Thomas Kohout

Thomas J. LeBlanc, PhD, stepped to the lectern at center stage in the Charles E. Smith Center for his inauguration as the George Washington University’s (GW) 17th president on Nov. 13. The event marked just the sixth time in the last 90 years that GW has celebrated the installation of a new university leader.

Taking Charge

“The leadership to which we aspire has four key dimensions,” LeBlanc said in his inaugural address. “We must be grounded in active scholarship. We must be comprehensive. We must be global. And we must aim to achieve excellence and preeminence in everything we do.”

LeBlanc was introduced by former U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna Shalala, who was president of the University of Miami when LeBlanc served as executive vice president and provost. She lauded him for his strategic leadership skills. Nelson A. Carbonell Jr., BS ’85, chair of the GW Board of Trustees, followed the introduction with the presentation of the president’s medallion and his charge.

“I charge you to take your keen understanding of history, your great appreciation for the academic vocation, your knowledge of the world, your sense of humor, your love of learning, and your personal integrity and combine them all for the benefit of this honorable, now nearly 200-year-old university,” Carbonell said.

Leading up to the inauguration, LeBlanc spent his early months on the job touring campus and meeting with students, staff, alumni, and the leadership and faculty of each of the university’s schools and campuses. During those early visits, LeBlanc shared the aspirations he noted in his inaugural address about the university being a comprehensive, global research university that aims for excellence and preeminence.

During his Sept. 1 visit to the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences, LeBlanc explained, “Every one of those words is important to our mission.” The professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering by training added, “I chose each of those words, not because they make a nice slogan, but because I know how to measure progress on [them]. … I am big on data.”
Central to his mission of growing GW’s stature as a comprehensive research institution, LeBlanc told SMHS senior leadership, deans, and department chairs that to be a serious university moving forward means being strong in the biomedical and health sciences. “We cannot aspire to preeminence without a strong [School of Medicine and Health Sciences], he said.”

He outlined five areas on which he intends to focus in the early years of his presidency, from improving the undergraduate experience to evaluating the university’s resource-raising abilities and engagement with alumni. Advancing the research enterprise will serve as another critical focal point, as will enhancing the relationship between SMHS and its clinical partners, the GW Medical Faculty Associates and GW Hospital. And finally, LeBlanc said, redefining the GW institutional culture will round out those early objectives.

“We can do anything we choose,” LeBlanc said during his inaugural address, “but we can’t do everything we choose. So, let us choose boldly, but also choose wisely. To commit to scholarship. To be comprehensive. To be global. To aspire to preeminence. These are our goals.”