In a letter to the Board of Visitors yesterday, George Mason University President Alan Merten confirmed what many of us knew would be happening, i.e. he would be stepping down in 2012 and the University needs to find a new leader.
President Merten (known ubiquitously as “Alan”) has steered GMU since 1996. To say that the University has changed in that time would be a colossal under-statement. In every way, it has become more significant, more professional and more respected in the Washington, D.C. area and around the world.
GMU’s on-campus population has doubled since 1996. The GPA for incoming freshmen has climbed to 3.6. The graduate programs have cracked the top tier of national rankings and attract thousands of foreign students. The men’s basketball team made the FINAL FOUR in 2006 and consistently competes in the NCAA tournament. There is an award-winning Performing Arts center and program.
President Obama has made enough speaking trips to the Fairfax campus to warrant purchasing an on-campus parking pass.
It has become the fulcrum for our community in central Fairfax.
I has not always been easy or without some broken egg shells. The Fairfax campus has been completely remade by new construction over the past five years. Some of that construction (new academic buildings) was warranted. Some of it (on-campus faculty housing) was not. During the recession, there has been a legitimate critique that the university leadership did not curtail its expansion plans or share in the financial sacrifices born by other employees.
Although I often disagreed with President Merten on details, I give him absolute credit for two important things:
1. Ambition for the university and
2. Vision on how to get there.
Alan was all about building Mason up. He was its best cheerleader. Everybody in Fairfax and Richmond knew who he was — and they learned about what Mason needed (and, believe me, we got to hear about it!)
There will be a search process for a new President. As part of that process, I think the community should be far more involved, as well as representatives of the state taxpayer (who are being asked to contribute to this vision). The Board of Visitors has allowed Alan to run things unfettered for 15 years and that has created the great University we have today. But the next era could be significantly different.
Either way, Alan Merten will leave very big shoes to fill.