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American Today

On Campus

Town Hall Meeting Covers Many University Issues

By Mike Unger

From left: Board of Trustees chair Gary Abramson and President Neil Kerwin. (Photo: Jeff Watts)

From left: Board of Trustees chair Gary Abramson and President Neil Kerwin. (Photo: Jeff Watts)

Board of Trustees chair Gary Abramson hosted a Nov. 19 town hall meeting during which he and President Neil Kerwin answered questions on a variety of issues from members of the AU community.

Among them:

Q: How is the admissions office reacting to the recession’s effect on students?

Kerwin: We have experienced some increased traffic in our office of financial aid that we attribute to the economy. The effort is to deal with our students on an individual basis. At least as of now, we have a historic retention rate of freshmen to sophomores. The early applications numbers are strong for fall 2010, but there’s a lot of time between now and then. We’re all very concerned about how the next year turns out.

Q: How should we think about the issue of presidential salary?

Abramson: President Kerwin’s salary is approved by the board and goes through a rigorous review. We hire a consultant to compare us to our peers. The president’s salary is just about in the middle of [Washington universities]. We feel we’re paying a very reasonable salary.

Kerwin: In the four years I’ve been president I have been determined to keep the cost of the presidency down. On balance, am I comfortable with the salary? Yes. Do I think I earn it? Yes, I do.

I’ll leave it to other people to determine whether I’m worth it, but I can’t fault the process.
Q: How do you feel the university [and the strategic plan] is progressing overall?

Kerwin: I’d say the blessing we have for this plan is that we have the resources to implement it. I’m as proud of the way the plan was developed as by what it says. Academically, the [university] continues to improve.

It was my impression that the institution was far better than the [perception] was. The new Web site, and the branding campaign about to be launched, will do an enormous amount to tell this university’s story.

At the same time, we are constrained by our space more than anything else. We’re bursting at the seams. What this [university] literally looks like 15 to 20 years from now will be determined by decisions we make in the next eight to 12 months.

Q: What are some of the best recent accomplishments?

Kerwin: The freshmen class is historic not just in size, but in terms of quality. The graduate class is 12 percent higher than we expected. The law school is booming. The news we’ve gotten on ratings has been very positive.

We are one of two private universities in the U.S. to have its bond rating improve. We have a Rhodes finalist for the first time in years. We have a Franklin Fellow. We had an [outstanding] fall in intercollegiate athletics.

This is not a difficult story for a president to tell. There’s good news on just about every front, and this is exactly the wrong time to get [complacent].

Q: What’s the university doing to address the housing situation for students?

Kerwin: The short-term relief is modest, longer term there will be more dramatic relief.

The conversion of Roper Hall from offices to housing is ongoing, and another neighboring building soon will undergo the same transformation. The university is doing a good job moving those who request out of a triple-room into a double.