Dr. Gregory Washington, the dean of the University of California’s Henry Samueli School of Engineering, will be the eighth person to serve as president of George Mason University, the institution’s board of visitors announced on Feb. 24.
Washington’s selection concludes a closely scrutinized, eight-month-long search for a long-term successor to Dr. Ángel Cabrera, who led Virginia’s largest public university for eight years before stepping down in June to become president of the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Former Virginia Education Secretary Dr. Anne Holton has served as interim president since Aug. 1.
Washington was formally introduced to the university at a Board of Visitors meeting on Feb. 27 and will officially take over as Mason’s president on July 1.
“What attracted me to Mason was its reputation for having real impact, providing access and for its commitment to inclusive excellence,” Washington said. “Those values are in direct alignment with how I operate as an academic leader. I look forward to helping continue to accelerate the trajectory of the institution.”
A graduate of North Carolina State University, where he received his bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, Washington is a mechanical engineering researcher who specializes in dynamic systems with an emphasis on the modeling and control of smart material structures and systems, according to Mason.
He spent 16 years at Ohio State University as a professor and interim dean for the College of Engineering before becoming the dean of engineering at the University of California at Irvine in August 2011.
During his UC-Irvine tenure, Washington introduced new graduate and undergraduate programs with the Paul Merage School of Business and the School of Humanities, and he has overseen the development of the new Horiba Institute for Mobility and Connectivity, which launched on Aug. 29, 2018 and focuses on transportation and energy research.
Washington’s hiring reflects George Mason’s emphasis on the diversity of its student body and suggests the university plans to continue initiatives to improve access to higher education that started under Cabrera, such as the ADVANCE partnership with Northern Virginia Community College that streamlines the transfer process between the two institutions.
A first-generation college graduate and Mason’s first African American president, Washington expanded enrollment in UC-Irvine’s engineering school by 1,100 undergraduate students and more than 200 graduate students in seven years.
He also launched a freshman experiential learning initiative that has enabled more than 60 percent of the university’s undergraduate engineering students to conduct research.
GMU Board of Visitors Rector Tom Davis says the board wanted to a new president who is both strategic and inspiring, someone who shared the university’s “values of access and affordability, teaching and scholarship, research of consequence, and the importance of community engagement.”
“We found that and more in Dr. Washington, who stood out in a competitive pool of leaders with a clearly defined vision for Mason that would set the standard for higher education,” Davis said.
To determine Mason’s next president, the Board of Visitors held listening sessions at the Fairfax, Arlington, and science and technology campuses before assembling a 19-person presidential search committee last July that was co-chaired by Vice Rector Jimmy Hazel and faculty senate chair Dr. Shannon Davis.
Other appointees included eight Board of Visitors members, faculty and student representatives, and two members of the GMU Foundation’s board of trustees.
Mason also hired the leadership consulting firm Greenwood/Asher & Associates to assist with the search, a move that raised concerns about the transparency of the process.
At a forum organized by Mason’s chapter of the American Association of University Professors on Dec. 12, faculty and students urged the Board of Visitors to make the search process open to the general university community with opportunities for faculty to meet with the final candidates.
Shannon Davis, who serves as director of graduate studies in sociology at Mason’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences, says the Board of Visitors sought faculty input throughout the selection process.
“The board ultimately agreed to allow Faculty Senators to meet with the finalists and provide input ahead of the selection,” Davis said. “We had real impact on this search, and I believe others will look to us as a model for how to balance the demands for discretion with the importance of shared governance.”
GMU-AAUP president Bethany Letiecq, an associate professor of human development and family science at Mason, says about half of the faculty senate, along with one student and one staff representative, met with four finalists for the presidency on Feb. 22, but they were required to sign non-disclosure agreements first.
A similar process was utilized when the Board of Visitors hired Cabrera in 2012, retired Mason psychology professor James Sanford said at the AAUP’s “Dear Candidate” forum on Dec. 12.
According to the Minnesota Daily, the student newspaper for the University of Minnesota, Washington was a finalist for that university’s provost position and discussed his plans and answered questions at a public forum on Oct. 2.
Letiecq is disappointed that the Board of Visitors did not have its final presidential candidates participate in public presentations like the one Washington gave to the University of Minnesota.
“The lack of transparency and the lack of adherence to our faculty handbook remain of great concern to us,” Letiecq said in a statement. “While the GMU-AAUP looks forward to learning about and getting to know Dr. Washington, we are more committed than ever to the principles of transparency and shared governance at Mason and for the public good.”