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President's Message | Reports & Announcements


February 29, 2016

 TO: AU Community
 FROM: Neil Kerwin, President
 SUBJECT: Immediate Actions to Build a More Diverse and Inclusive University

In December, following a period of listening to students, faculty, staff, and alumni from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, I made a commitment to develop a plan of action, ready for campus deliberation and input by the end of February.

In addition to the direct feedback we received, other sources reinforce the need for action. The AU Campus Climate Survey and the National Survey of Student Engagement show that gaps persist in support and satisfaction of students of color compared with students overall. Also, we examined best practices at a number of universities and consulted with leaders in Washington and around the nation to inform next steps for AU.

Immediate Action in Five Areas
Lasting improvements in both the diversity and inclusiveness of our community will require long-term commitments, beginning now. I ask the community to consider the value and feasibility of the following actions to be undertaken promptly:

  1. Establish a presidential council that will provide oversight and guidance on these plans, measure and monitor institutional progress in relation to goals, recommend new objectives, and plan necessary resources, with the council chair serving on the University Budget Committee.
  2. Work with the Faculty Senate to implement the proposed general education program that, by Fall 2017, will introduce diversity and inclusion in a mandatory course for all first year and transfer students, and address the subject matter in at least one other required course selected from the AU curriculum. A pilot in 2016–17 will inform the content for these courses. In the interim, we will enhance the content of the diversity and inclusion session in the 2016 Eagle Summit and orientation programs for new students.
  3. Revise and elevate awareness of discrimination policies, channels for complaint, and avenues for support, to assist members of the community who experience bias, threats, or impediments to learning.
  4. Reallocate five tenure or tenure track positions, to recruit diverse candidates proactively to AU’s faculty in 2016. This will accelerate the faculty diversity we have achieved among new hires in recent years through our existing processes.
  5. In consultation with the Faculty Senate and the Center for Teaching, Research and Learning, develop programs to cultivate inclusive classrooms, including an entry program for newly appointed tenure track faculty in their first year at AU and dialogue sessions for current faculty in each department of our schools and colleges.

These initiatives are designed to accelerate progress and stimulate planning for new objectives to address the goal to “Reflect and Value Diversity” in our ten-year strategic plan, and to identify the resources necessary to achieve them in our next budget planning cycle, which begins this summer.

These proposed actions focus initially on issues of race and ethnicity. We recognize that diversity and inclusion extend to differences based on religion, nationality, gender, disability, and sexual orientation, not to mention political perspective. The actions we choose to implement are likely to have broader benefit and application to other dimensions of inclusion.

Tell Us What You Think
I encourage you to indicate where the actions can be improved and recommend courses of action that will better advance the work of inclusion. Every member of the AU community has the opportunity to evaluate and critique what is being proposed.

I invite your comments and feedback at Input received by March 30, 2016 will be reviewed and considered for our final plan of action that will commence immediately.

In Conclusion
Nearly 125 years ago, American University was founded by the United Methodist Church and chartered by Congress as a national university to “build the public service.” Our founders endowed us with core values of equality, diversity, justice, human rights, and public service that have shaped our mission and influenced our actions to this day.

At this time in our history, when communities across the nation are confronting the legacy of slavery and the evidence of continuing racism in all its forms, there is perhaps no institution better suited than The American University to reflect the nation’s population, strive for its highest ideals, and lead a path toward greater diversity and real inclusion. Let’s get to work.

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