Stephen Joel Trachtenberg: Our Namesake


President Emeritus Stephen J. Trachtenberg

Stephen Joel Trachtenberg

President Emeritus, The George Washington University

"I believe in the Trachtenberg School's mission. Public service is empowering. Learning about the process of governing our nation makes the country and democracy stronger."


The man for whom the Trachtenberg School is named earned an MPA, served in government, worked in the nonprofit sector, and been influential in public policy. That man is Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, now University President Emeritus and, for nearly two decades (1988-2007), a president who dramatically transformed the George Washington University.

In government, he served in three varied positions:

  • in the executive branch (as Special Assistant to, using the current title, the Secretary of Education);
  • in the legislative branch (as a Legislative Aid to a key member of the U.S. House leadership);
  • and in an independent regulatory commission (as an attorney at the Atomic Energy Commission).

In the nonprofit sector, his record of leadership at other private universities lead to his becoming the 15th president of the George Washington University. With Trachtenberg’s leadership, GW

  • created five new schools, including the School of Public Policy and Public Policy, later named the Trachtenberg School;
  • made major additions and upgrades, revitalizing the face of this urban campus;
  • established Northern Virginia and Mount Vernon campuses;
  • initiated the University Honors Program;
  • improved GW's NCAA Division One athletic program;
  • strengthened relations with DC’s civic leadership;
  • and took many more steps to advance the university.

Regarding public policy, Trachtenberg has contributed significantly to conversations about higher education policy as well as higher education leadership. His views on higher education have been widely published in speeches and articles that have appeared in a variety of publications, such as AcademeChronicle of Higher Education, the Washington Post, and The New York Times.

His books include 

  • Reflections on Higher Education
  • Thinking Out Loud: A Decade of Thoughts on Higher Education
  • Speaking His Mind: Five Years of Commentary on Higher Education
  • Big Man on Campus

He has also co-edited The Art of Hiring in America's Colleges & Universities, Presidencies Derailed, and, in the spring of 2018, Leading Colleges and Universities.

His service garnered many awards, including the Open Forum Distinguished Public Service Award from the U.S. Secretary of State and a Medal of Merit from the U.S. Department of the Treasury. At last count, he has been awarded more than 20 honorary doctoral degrees.

Trachtenberg serves on many academic, civic, corporate and international boards, and he is a member of Phi Beta Kappa and the Council on Foreign Relations as well as a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Public Administration. He earned his BA from Columbia University, his MPA from Harvard and his JD from Yale.

Steve Trachtenberg’s lifelong contributions in all sectors of public service make his name a superbly fitting one for the School devoted to public administration, public policy, and the nonprofit sector.