by Jacqueline Thomsen | Senior News Editor
GW’s chief academic officer plans to shift the veterans and military affairs office under the Division of Student Affairs, he said last week.
After the top military and veterans official left the University earlier this month, student veterans said they were concerned that the spot wouldn’t be filled – a confirmed decision that will leave them without a high-level official to personally advocate for them.
Interim Provost Forrest Maltzman said while student veterans will no longer have an official dedicated solely to them in the provost’s office, veteran resources remain a priority at GW.
He said supporting student veterans is a key part of GW’s strategic plan and that top officials regularly push for measures to help out the student population.
“I think of my job as being somebody who's held responsible for implementing the strategic plan, and that is in the strategic plan, front and center,” he said. “So I don’t get the sense that this will fall off the radar at all.”
He added that moving the office into the student affairs division will better align its work in areas like career and mental health services – offices that specifically cater to student veterans and are already reporting to Dean of Student Affairs Peter Konwerski.
Mel Williams, the associate provost for military and veteran affairs, announced that he will leave GW earlier this month. He was the first and only person to fill that role, at a time when GW concentrated its efforts on supporting GW veterans.
There are more than 1,700 military and veteran students currently enrolled at GW, according to the GW Veterans website.
Yannick Baptiste, the president of GW Veterans, said in an email that he didn’t know any specifics behind the move, but that officials have promised to keep veterans a priority.
“Overall, this may be a positive change for VALOR, but I am unaware of the reasoning that is driving the change,” he said.
GW has regularly received high rankings for veteran services, winning awards for its VALOR program, which provides financial and other support for student veterans and snagging top rankings in lists of top universities for veterans.
But the University has begun to fall in those rankings – in 2011, GW was No. 16 but now sits at No. 31 on a “Best for Vets” list from Military Times.
George Altman, a senior reporter for Military Times who compiles the annual list, said “time will tell” how the office structure change impacts student veterans.
“If the school’s already done a good enough job making the existing decision makers aware of the importance of veteran issues, you don’t need an advocate to push for things – it’s like pushing against an open door,” he said.
The loss of Williams, a retired vice admiral, could impact GW’s veteran and military rankings. Altman said he asks institutions if they have a top-tier official with direct military ties in his annual survey.
“If that person is a reserve in the service or is a veteran, they tend to have a better understanding of the unique type of interests for veterans,” he said.