George Washington’s Public-Relations Challenge: Its Ex-President

George Washington’s Public-Relations Challenge: Its Ex-President 1

Dennis Brack/Newscom

Stephen J. Trachtenberg’s comments about sexual assault provoked a furor last week, and many people called on the university to respond. The episode highlights a challenge for institutions whose former leaders maintain outsized public roles.

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Dennis Brack/Newscom

Stephen J. Trachtenberg’s comments about sexual assault provoked a furor last week, and many people called on the university to respond. The episode highlights a challenge for institutions whose former leaders maintain outsized public roles.

If Stephen J. Trachtenberg were just an ordinary professor at George Washington University, remarks he made last week that women "have to be trained not to drink in excess" to better resist sexual assault probably would have caused a furor—and, perhaps, some amount of embarrassment for the institution.

But Mr. Trachtenberg isn’t just any professor. He was president of the university for nearly 20 years and became president emeritus after stepping down, in 2007. He