Tech Officials Voice Concern

George Mason University's search for a new president has caused anxiety among Virginia's high-tech companies

P> When George Johnson announced his plans to retire this June as president of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., the high-tech community of Virginia feared it could lose a key supporter. For the past 18 years, Johnson has used George Mason University's staff and facilities to help Northern Virginia emerge as one of the nation's leading high-tech regions. So on Jan. 6, a small group of concerned business people and George Mason alumni met at the Arlington campus of the university for a public hearing to voice their concerns about the selection process.

"We need a world-class university for this region that is quickly becoming a high-tech center," said Ed Bersoff, president and founder of BTG Inc. in Vienna, Va. Bersoff was one of the speakers at the hearing representing the business community. He credits the university with the development of his staff at BTG.

Katherine Clark, president and CEO of Landmark Systems in Vienna, Va., said she has invested a quarter of a million dollars in employee education at the university. Many employees at Landmark Systems, including Clark, have graduated from the executive MBA program at GMU.

The high-tech community has had a long and steady relationship with the university. In the last 18 years, GMU has grown to be known as one of the best engineering and business schools in the country and carries a well-respected staff of professors. Through business-education partnerships between GMU students and several small and large businesses students have been able to prepare themselves for the work force.

"In any hot, high-tech hot spot, institutions of higher education represent a mainstay of technology development and innovation," said Bob Templin, president of Virginia's Center for Innovative Technology in Herndon, Va. Templin advised the technology council not to be involved in the internal process of the recruitment, but to simply offer advice.

The search committee is made of 16 board of visitor members, four faculty members and four students. The team is headed by Dr. Anita Taylor, a professor of communication and women's studies at GMU.

The university has a strong relationship with the Century Club in Vienna, Va., a non-profit organization with more than 100 members; it was created to foster a link between the business community and George Mason University. The club has spent more than $700,000 and 500 hours to create mentor programs, career development seminars and internships.

Dan Bannister, president of DynCorp, Reston, Va., also was at the hearing to state his case. "In 17 years, we have seen GMU as an important asset to the business community," said Bannister. "One cannot exist without the other."

So will their voices be heard? "[The business community] will not be the ones voting," said Stan Harrison, rector of the Board of Visitors. The committee has hired an outside executive search firm to handle the hundreds of applications that have come in so far.

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