The College Greets President Gregory Washington

by Anne Reynolds

On Tuesday, October 6, the college welcomed – virtually – Mason President Gregory Washington.

Mason’s eighth president opened the hour-long Zoom meeting by introducing himself, including his academic background and his interests. He shared an update on his plans for the university and the college’s role in them, with a statement of support for the humanities: “We need humanities now probably more than we’ve ever needed them in recent history. The issues that we are dealing with as a country are not technical.”

Washington was frank about some of the serious issues facing the university and the community as it looks towards a post-COVID future. Space and compensation concerns, the difficult economic realities facing recent college graduates, and the continued budget constraints under which the university will be operating were all topics raised.

He also recognized the positive contribution of the college to solving these difficulties. He praised the college’s high level of research and noted as well that “we need research universities more than ever. This is our time.” Commenting on the successful launch of the President’s Task Force on Anti-Racism and Inclusive Excellence, he stressed the importance of the humanities and social sciences in facing the serious issues in our society. “An unequal society cannot address a pandemic. It just cannot.”

Washington outlined an even broader plan to fuse the humanities and social sciences with technical fields. “My hope is that we can forge, with Mason in the lead, a new discussion nationally. A discussion of what we call, ‘New Renaissance Education,’” he said. It envisions “a framework by which our engineers and our technology-focused students get more humanities and social sciences to help them.”

“If you go back to Renaissance times, the learned people knew something about everything. They were T-shaped in their understanding,” he continued, and emphasized the importance of a well-rounded education where students are exposed to languages, literature, new perspectives, and also technology.

More than 150 participants took part in the conversation. Washington was unable to address all of the specific questions submitted, but because many had been collected prior to the meeting and those sent during the meeting were recorded, faculty and staff members were assured that they would receive his attention.

“You all are critical to the direction that we want to take the institution,” he concluded. “And I’m going to need your partnership.”