As I write to provide the community with my traditional mid-summer update, I must first acknowledge how profoundly we have been affected by violent events across our nation—most recently in Orlando, Baton Rouge (twice), Minnesota, Dallas—and around the world. When confronted with racism, violence, and injustice, we must hold to the values that have shaped American University—among them, respect for humanity and the dignity of all. We must strive to promote kindness toward each other and resist the temptation for intolerance and bias.
At American University, as we continue our plans for progress on diversity and inclusion, we can expect the national conversation to be reflected in our community. Several items in this update relate directly to how we expect to prepare for the fall.
Diversity and Inclusion
Following my last communication to the AU community, our plan to advance diversity and inclusion has progressed on a number of fronts. Planning is underway for faculty searches with the expressed goal of appointing outstanding new colleagues who will increase diversity. The Office of the Provost reports that developmental work is nearly complete on pilot courses that will educate our students on crucial aspects of diversity and inclusion. The Center for Teaching, Research and Learning (CTRL) and the Office of Campus Life are offering a rich variety of programs devoted to these same topics. CTRL is focused on creating and maintaining a classroom environment where faculty and students can explore these issues in depth and effectively. Our Office of Human Resources has initiated new management training programs and mentoring opportunities to support and enhance the talents of our diverse and vibrant workforce.
In the Office of Campus Life, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion (CDI) presented the session, "Challenging Yourself: Inclusive Practices," at six of this summer's Eagle Summit sessions for new/incoming students. In these sessions, students learn how to identify biases; discuss where biases come from; and review ways to incorporate inclusive practices into their daily lives. This fall, CDI will continue its dialogue series and engage students in extended conversations that touch on different aspects of diversity and inclusion.
Our current policies regarding discrimination and discriminatory harassment are due for a re-examination. Based on a preliminary review, it is likely that revisions will be needed to ensure they include both appropriate coverage and clarity of language. This will command the attention of our new President's Council on Diversity and Inclusion which begins work in the fall and will include consultation with the broader university community.
With regard to the council, I am pleased to report that Professor Caleen Sinnette Jennings of the Department of Performing Arts in the College of Arts and Sciences has agreed serve as its chair. Professor Jennings has a long and distinguished record of teaching, professional accomplishments and service. She is a former Scholar-Teacher of the Year, former chair of the Department of Performing Arts and, among other many other notable accomplishments, the creator of "Hands Up" a powerful and poetic film exploring the police shootings of African American teenagers and examining racial progress in America. Her commitment to diversity and inclusion and her leadership will be a great asset as the council undertakes its work.
We will announce the full membership of the council and its agenda as well as a more extensive report on progress to date on the other elements of the plan in subsequent communications I will send to the university community this fall.
We are on track to enroll a freshman class very close in size to the goal of 1,700. The incoming class is comparable to last year’s in terms of traditional qualitative indicators and, as has been reported by Provost Bass previously, our rate of admissions was at an historic low of 26 percent and the percentage of admitted students who have paid deposits and are expected to enroll currently at 36 percent, is also at an historic high. Our enrollment management team, led by Dr. Sharon Alston, deserves credit for these impressive results. Transfer applications and deposits are not expected to reach original targets nor are targets for enrollment categories in the School of Extended and Professional Studies. However, offsetting these likely shortfalls is very strong retention of the two large cohorts of undergraduates entering their sophomore and junior years. So, overall, we expect our undergraduate programs to perform at or very near the goals we set for this cycle.
Graduate enrollment is a mixed picture. Online master’s degree programs demonstrate considerable strength while our traditional programs vary in performance relative to the targets we set. The Washington College of Law reports mixed results, but it will meet revised enrollment targets for the fall with an improvement in both LSAT scores and grade point averages.
Given the importance of our graduate programs, on May 31, I authorized the implementation of a graduate enrollment management (GEM) plan for FY 2017. Coordinated through the Office of Graduate Studies, this plan is designed to enhance institutional infrastructure that supports graduate enrollment including data analytics; staff retention; full use of advanced features of Ellucian Recruit; prospect management and conversion; and the timely assessment and mitigation of unit-level challenges. The GEM plan will apply to AU graduate admissions operations, except those in the Washington College of Law.
Current Fiscal Year Budget
The current fiscal year budget will be challenging given the currently available information on patterns of enrollment and other revenue sources. At present, we project a shortfall in revenue of roughly one percent of budgeted expenditures. Based on past experience, however, I do not expect this gap between expenditures and revenue to be insurmountable. While the situation merits close monitoring, our history of responsible expenditure management and remaining opportunities for revenue enhancement lead me to conclude we will not have a significant problem in closing the year in balance. No further adjustments in the operating budget are required or anticipated at this time.
Emergency preparedness is a top priority. We continuously review our procedures and ability to respond should circumstances occur that threaten the AU community. We will continue to work closely with local and federal law enforcement agencies and officials on both prevention and response. We all share a common responsibility for personal and community safety.
New Strategic Plan Objectives and New Two-Year Budget
Early this fall we will begin the process of setting objectives for years 9 and 10 of our strategic plan. We will report on progress to date on the current set of objectives and, among other consultations, solicit ideas and recommendations from the community. When draft objectives for the next two years are developed, they will form the basis for the budget formulation guidelines that are reviewed and acted on by the Board of Trustees at their November meeting. In parallel, the University Budget Committee will be reconvened early in the fall semester to begin work on the formulation of the next two-year budget. They will work throughout the fall and present a proposed budget for my review and action by the board at their March 2017 meeting.
As is our long standing practice, the University Budget Committee will be co-chaired by Provost Bass and Vice President Kudravetz and will include members from the university's constituencies. I will provide additional information on the committee and the budget process in my next communication to the university community.
The East Campus construction continues to face scheduling challenges, mainly due to weather. The current projection suggests two residence hall buildings to be completed in late fall followed by the other buildings in January. We will provide updates if changes occur. Renovations continue in the Spring Valley Building (4801 Massachusetts Avenue, NW), with the first occupants moving in late July followed by other offices as renovated space becomes available.
Because of the East Campus construction challenges, we will implement our contingency plans for fall semester 2016 housing and delay the opening of the site's three residence halls. For the short term, this will require a high number of triples in first-year student communities as the semester begins. We project that first-year residence halls will open at approximately 116 percent occupancy in August; the de-tripling process will begin shortly after East Campus halls open in late fall.
Students assigned to Congressional and Federal Halls on East Campus have been temporarily assigned to live together on floors in main campus halls, until the new facilities open. These returning second year students were made aware of this possibility during room selection last spring, when housing staff met with them individually. They continue to receive personalized information on contingency plans from a staff member dedicated to working with them.
The third residence hall on East Campus (Constitution Hall) is expected to open in January 2017. Students were not permitted to select this hall for fall 2016, so it is not part of the contingency plan. Housing staff will offer a new room selection process for second-year students to secure a space in Constitution Hall for spring 2017.
To accommodate the high demand for housing, the university increased the number of leases at the Berkshire Apartments to 120 units for fall 2016, and 80 units for spring 2017. Additionally, 100 students in the School of Professional and Extended Studies programs will live in a leased apartment building near the Woodley Park Metro station for fall 2016.
We will depend on everyone's patience and spirited cooperation to get us through our fall semester housing challenges until spring—when a dramatically improved housing environment awaits.
Reinventing the Student Experience (RiSE)
In early 2015, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded AU a $150,000 grant to develop a new model of student support fully responsive to the needs of 21st century students and based on best practices in a variety of sectors, both private and nonprofit. Since that time, faculty, staff, and students from across AU have been engaged in the RiSE project, an assessment and redesign process of unparalleled scope and ambition.
We have held three faculty-staff retreats with nearly 200 participants, in addition to town halls and focus groups. Some 70 students have participated in RiSE-related focus groups and journal projects, and another 60 took part in a RiSE innovation lab last fall. We have surveyed best practices at more than 20 peer institutions and hosted campus visits of "experience officers" from two leading organizations—the Cleveland Clinic and Wegmans Food Markets. This past spring, 19 campus leaders (including Board of Trustees chair Jack Cassell) boarded a bus for Ohio to learn more about how the Cleveland Clinic has transformed itself to provide a consistently exceptional patient experience.
The RiSE leadership is deep in the process of mapping out an exciting new relationship-centered, technologically-enabled model of student support, to be outlined in a report to the Mellon Foundation. Like the new AU core curriculum on which I reported previously, RiSE is a major step forward in AU's capacity to innovate and to model a culture of continuous improvement. Thanks to all who have participated in this important effort.
IT News Update
AU is committed to providing an excellent infrastructure to support wireless and network access to the Internet and information resources. We have made great progress to upgrade the delivery of wireless services to mobile devices and the upgrade of hundreds of cell sites in all buildings and open areas through our partnership with Verizon. We are also upgrading our WiFi and network distribution within buildings that support wireless sites in preparation for the fall semester, including an improved and easy to use guest access requiring no authentication.
Accessibility is an important issue for our community—including our web presence—and it is critical that those with disabilities can share information via WiFi and the internet. We have improved our main site and created templates, tools, and training for those who support our website; we also are working to help make the many school and departmental websites accessible to everyone.
The value of university information assets—along with the culture of openness that universities support—offers opportunities for hackers and thieves to attack the AU community. Adversaries' schemes are increasingly sophisticated and we must address the challenge. OIT will continue to improve our security programs—and the biggest challenge for our community is the risk of phishing and harvesting of university credentials and information. As a result, OIT is offering security training programs and active learning by issuing our own simulated phishes to the community to identify those who click on links in messages that appear to be from a credible source such as your bank or AU.
In late June, we informed the AU community that the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights notified us of a Title IX complaint alleging "that the university failed to properly and equitably respond to [an] April 2015 report of sexual assault by another student." This signals the start of a process during which OCR will analyze relevant evidence from the complainant, AU, and other sources to determine the merits of the complaint. OCR will have our full cooperation in this matter and our continuing commitment to carrying out our Title IX related work, in keeping with the highest standards. We have seen the harm suffered by victims of sexual misconduct in our campus community, and I want to assure those who step forward that they will have our support and timely, fair, and equitable treatment throughout their recovery and complaint process.
The Department of Athletics and Recreation has unveiled a new strategic plan, The American Way: Soaring to New Heights, after more than a year of discussion and review. This gives AU Athletics a comprehensive path for the next five years and aligns with the university strategic plan by integrating AU athletics into the institution and grounding its mission and vision solidly with the core values of integrity, respect, accountability, and excellence. Each strategic goal is tied to at least one of the core values, and delineates specific initiatives the department will use to achieve each goal. Goals include academic achievement and student athlete development, athletic achievement, fiscal management, compliance, external operations, and recreation and fitness.
Start of Semester
Students will soon report back to campus for Welcome Week activities and Opening Convocation (11 a.m. Friday, August 26 in Bender Arena) featuring remarks from Scholar-Teacher of the Year, neuroscientist and associate professor of biology Mark Laubach. The first day of classes is Monday, August 29.
As I noted at the start of this communication, this coming academic year will require a renewed sensitivity for the challenges facing our nation as we reflect on the recent racial incidents that are deeply affecting American society. When we return to campus, it will be a time for our community to do what we have done very well so often in the past—to come together often and in varied settings to revisit and renew our commitment to core institutional values. For those on campus this week, there will be a “Service of Reflection and Prayer for Our Nation and World” at 12 noon, Friday, July 22, in the Tavern (new location), Mary Graydon Center, first floor, led by interim University Chaplain, Reverend Mark Schaefer.
President Obama put it well in his reported comments in response to the reprehensible attack on police officers in Baton Rouge: “…it is so important that everyone—regardless of race or political party or profession, regardless of what organizations you are part of, everyone right now focus on words and actions that can unite this country rather than divide it further.”
Doing this, while in the pursuit of our important educational mission, will strengthen American University and enhance its many contributions to our city, nation, and world.
AU's strategic plan, Leadership for a Changing World, outlines goals and objectives for the next decade at American University. Visit american.edu/strategicplan for more information. (myAU.american.edu login required for some documents)