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President's Message | Archive


August 30, 2006

TO: Campus Community
FROM: Neil Kerwin, Interim President
SUBJECT: Fall Semester 2006

Welcome back. As we begin this new academic year there is much to report since the last time I wrote, and a number of important initiatives deserve the attention of the university community.

Faculty, Student, and Staff Developments

Faculty —We welcome 88 new members to the full-time faculty, including tenure and tenure track, temporary, visiting, and in-residence appointments. They are a large, diverse and accomplished group. These new faculty members bring impressive credentials and accomplishments to the university. Many have already won prestigious awards and fellowships for both their teaching and research—among these are the Project on Regions of Innovation and Entrepreneurship postdoctoral fellowship from Stanford University; the Guggenheim doctoral fellowship; MacArthur Foundation fellowships; Robert Woods Johnson Visiting Scholar and the Fulbright Hays Award. We welcome our new colleagues to the AU community and expect great things in their teaching, scholarship, professional activities and service.

Faculty members who have been with us a bit longer continue to accumulate honors and distinctions. For example, Dr. Vladimir Kvint of the Kogod School of Business is one of only three foreign economists (the others being Nobel laureates Joseph Stiglitz and Lawrence Klein) elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences. Professor Akbar Ahmed is one of 15 finalists for the Purpose Prize, an initiative to invest in Americans over the age of 60 who are l eaders in social innovation. Dr. Ahmed, the Ibn Khaldun Chair in Islamic Studies, was nominated with Judea Pearl for their "Daniel Pearl Dialogues for Muslim-Jewish Understanding."

Dr. Jonathan Loesberg of the Department of Literature in the College of Arts and Sciences is chair of the Faculty Senate and Dr. Gary Weaver of the International Communication program in the School of International Service is vice chair . I welcome them as the new Faculty Senate leadership, thank Tony Ahrens for his dedication as chair this past year, and look forward to working with the Senate in the coming year.

Students — Throughout last year we reported on the remarkable success of our students in a variety of highly competitive and prestigious national competitions. We have additional news —all of our eight finalists have become Fulbright Scholars. Kyle Taylor, one of our two finalists in the Rhodes Scholars competition, received a Rotary Scholarship for study in England. He was one of three students out of 120 candidates to earn this award. On the heels of learning that American University once again placed first in the nation in the number of Presidential Management Fellows, we recently learned that a School of Public Affairs alumnus, Jeff Stern (MPA 1999) was named a White House Fellow for 2006-2007. This is a signal honor for Mr. Stern and AU, given the history, selectivity and notable alumni of the prestigious White House Fellows program.

This past week marked the start of another year of intercollegiate sports competition for our student-athletes and coaches. We expect another year of strong performances from our teams to accompany the noteworthy academic achievements of our student-athletes, such as the spring semester combined 3.3 GPA for AU's 243 student-athletes, which is the highest combined GPA in AU athletics history.

Staff —In August, we learned that the Campus Life Civility Project's training film, "Civility in the Classroom," won a "Platinum, Best of Show" award in the Issue Awareness category from the Aurora Awards Film and Video competition. The Development Office won a gold medal for "Visual Design in Print" for the materials created for the 2005 President's Circle Dinner and opening of the Katzen Arts Center; the award was part of the Council for Advancement and Support of Education's Circle of Excellence Program. AU also earned a special designation as one of the "Top 20 Best of the Best" among the 100 best LGBT campuses featured in The Advocate Guide for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender) Students. The guide identifies campus communities with "welcoming, respectful, and civic-minded climates for LGBT students." This is a tribute to the staff and student leaders who currently work or previously have worked at AU's Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Ally Resource Center, as well as a tribute to our campus-wide efforts to create a welcoming campus environment for all.

We welcome new Staff Council leadership this fall, which includes Kelvin Wilson, chair; Irene Moyer, co-chair; and Lee Schwentker as secretary. Thanks to Robin Beads for her work this past year as chair in what proved to be a very busy year.

University project teams soon will begin a new year of work. I have received recommendations for the creation of new project teamsand will be communicating with the campus about these in the near future.

I notified the community last week that Dr. Joni Comstock will be leaving AU to become senior vice-president for championships at the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA). Dr. Comstock has done important work to ensure that our academic and athletic goals remain in sync; our programs have made great progress during her tenure. We wish her the best in her important new role.

Institutional Benchmarks

American University was cited recently by the Princeton Review for having the most politically active students of any campus in the United States. While I won't comment on the rigor with which such rankings are developed, that our students are distinctive in their level of political awareness and commitment to bring change where they believe it is needed is hardly a surprise. This has been an aspect of the AU student body since the early days of the UCLA freshman survey. When this "ranking" was first announced, someone close to this dimension of our students' lives commented that this level of political involvement also has been characterized by a high degree of civility in how our students and campus conduct discussions of some of the most divisive and emotional issues of our time. We can take pride in the seriousness and degree of mutual respect I have observed over the years in our political discourse on emotional topics. In addition to the Princeton Review, this year's US News survey ranked AU number 86 in its listing of top national universities, which was essentially unchanged from last year. And we have just received the results from the most recent National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and will report on those findings as soon as they are analyzed.

Board of Trustees

The actions of the Board of Trustees during the past year were reported extensively on the governance Web site and in various media. The May and June meetings of the board saw sweeping changes in governance that will continue to be implemented during the coming year. The meeting in September reflects the board's commitment to a return to four meetings per year and will include, in addition to normal business, orientation sessions and a retreat that will focus on trusteeship issues and on the campaign for AnewAU. The board will post its meeting agenda prior to the meeting and report on what transpired afterward. The selections of faculty and student trustees are in process and representatives of the various campus constituencies will continue to participate in the meetings. This will be a full year for the board, with a range of issues to address. I urge all members of the university community to utilize the more frequent and substantial opportunities to interact with the board members and to offer your views on the board's important work.


This year we welcome the Class of 2010, which is the largest freshman class in years, with more than 1,390 freshmen enrolled. Based on measures of academic quality, it is a virtual match of last year's freshman class, which was our strongest ever. New transfer students are also on track to meet or slightly exceed our planned number of 375, and the number of mentorship students will likely exceed our original target by roughly 25%. The Washington Semester Program, which oversees the academic component of the mentorship program, will miss its target for the traditional credit component by some 25% or approximately 100 students; however, its international, noncredit component is essentially on budget. Abroad at AU, which brings international students to us for shorter-term academic experiences, has more than doubled its numbers over last year and enrolled 58 students.

The unusually large freshman class creates challenges, particularly for academic affairs and campus life. We were able to make additional faculty appointments in the academic areas likely to experience disproportionate effects due to the larger freshman class, and the deans are confident that the quality of our instruction will remain high and not be compromised. In campus life, our residence halls can accommodate the temporary expansion required, as we currently have a larger number of students in triple rooms than we have had in recent years. Dining services are also affected but steps are being taken to ensure they can meet the increased demand.

The fall semester graduate enrollments vary. The Washington College of Law continues to enroll large numbers of highly qualified students for its JD and LLM programs and will again exceed expectations. Graduate programs in the other schools and colleges vary, but the overall number will be slightly below last fall. Given that we missed our budget estimates last fall, this year's numbers will not offset the budget shortfall unless we have an unusually strong spring recruitment cycle for the master's programs. However, quality indicators for our graduate programs appear to be holding more or less steady. Graduate program enrollments will be an important topic in our upcoming budget development work.

The summer 2006 enrollment was considerably less than planned. Overall, we will be roughly 10% below the targets set for credit hours, with weakness in all categories of enrollment but one. Our distance education offerings once again did well and will exceed budget; however, this is a small component of the summer program. The upcoming budget development process will develop recommendations for the next two fiscal years, discussed at greater length below, and will have to focus considerable attention on summer enrollment trends.

Current Year Budget and Planning for the Next Two Years

Based on current information, we will balance revenues and expenditures in the current fiscal year. Although barely into the second quarter of the current fiscal year (with plenty of time for unanticipated events to alter the current trends), I see no serious cause for concern.

This is the second year of our current two-year budget, and planning must begin immediately to prepare budget proposals to be presented to the Board of Trustees this fall and in early spring. Preparing the two-year budget is an extraordinarily important process for the university. The two-year budget provides the resources needed to advance the institution's mission, the specific goals vital to the ongoing development of our academic programs, and the myriad activities that support them. Given our focus this past year on institutional governance and calls for broader participation and transparency in important institutional decisions, I will reinstitute a university budget committee to help develop the next two-year budget. The committee will be discussed in a separate communication I will send to the AU community.

Bond Issue

Two weeks ago, we finalized our Series 2006 Bond Issue with the sale of $100 million in tax-exempt auction-rate bonds. These funds will provide bridge financing for the new SIS building, the complete renovation of the Nebraska Hall residence hall, and the refinancing of our Series 1996 Bonds. That process included a thorough review of the university's enrollment demand profile and financial strength by the two major bond rating agencies — Moody's and Standard & Poor's. I am pleased to report that Moody's Investors Service reaffirmed our "A2" rating, Standard & Poor's reaffirmed our "A" rating, and both reports were positive about the university's continued progress and current financial position. This bond financing is an important initiative for the university and one that will allow us to continue to improve our facilities and support our academic priorities. The response of the bond rating agencies and the purchasing markets are both gratifying, reassuring, and another important affirmation of our current financial strength and integrity.

Campaign for AnewAU

Our campaign for AnewAU now stands at approximately $122 million toward the $200 million goal. Our goal is to raise an additional $20 million by the end of the fiscal year, to secure support for every element in the campaign, and to maintain our alumni giving rate at 18%. Of particular importance —because of the magnitude of the efforts and their importance to AU's future—are the projects to create new homes for our Schools of International Service and Communication.

Army Corps

 The work by the Army Corps of Engineers continues on campus into the fall, with soil cleanup and removal activity underway near the Kreeger Building, between Kreeger and the Hamilton buildings, and on adjacent properties along Rockwood Parkway. As a result, trucks and equipment will be in the area with personnel on site to direct traffic. Into September, this work will require the closing of the Hamilton parking lot for about two weeks, starting September 5. All sites will be backfilled immediately after excavation, then seeded and mulched. University officials will update the campus community as the project continues. All communications regarding the Army Corps project, including an August 29 memo from Assistant Vice President of Facilities Jorge Abud, are posted on the AU Web site dedicated to the Army Corps operation.

World Events

As we prepare to mark the fifth anniversary observance of the events of 9/11 and reflect on how that changed American society, we also can feel the international tensions stemming from events in the Middle East and elsewhere in the world. Discussions and debate on these issues and concerns are an essential part of what we are as a university. My expectation is that these will proceed in an environment characterized by mutual respect and tolerance so that every perspective of a conflict or issue can be fully and rigorously explored. That, too, is an elemental part of who we are as a university.


Best wishes for a successful year and I will write again as developments warrant.

September 5, 2006 12:16 PM


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