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President's Message | Archive


February 6, 2006

TO: Campus Community
FROM: Cornelius Kerwin, Interim President
SUBJECT: Campus Update

With spring semester 2006 underway, the time is right for an update of campus news and a review of major developments that deserve our attention.

University Finances

In my December letter, I said that the revenues and expenditures were positioned to end the year in financial balance with no adjustments required in the current fiscal year budget. This assessment was based on summer and fall revenues and our expenditures to that point. Nothing has developed to alter that general assessment of our finances for this fiscal year. The enrollment picture for the spring is mixed. Undergraduate enrollments for both returning and new students are essentially on budget; graduate programs and Washington Semester are enrolling considerably fewer credit hours than budgeted; and the Washington College of Law, transfer students, and our institutes are stronger than expected. Other revenue categories, such as housing, auxiliary services, investment income, annual giving and sponsored programs overhead, show some variability. We anticipate additional revenues from these categories during the remainder of the year. While we have had some unexpected expenses, at the same time, expenditures in certain budgeted categories have been more conservative than expected. Our tuition reserve account for the fiscal year will be used in toto. If we proceed for the remaining quarter of the fiscal year with characteristic prudence, we will close the year with no unusual intervention.

Other financial management issues are worth noting. In a previous memo, I reported that for more than a year Protiviti has been working on a project to assist the university in bringing internal control systems and procedures to a level consistent with the provisions of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act. I will meet soon with senior personnel from Protiviti and receive a full report on their work to date. The Board of Trustees will also receive a report at its February meeting. I will include a detailed report on this project in my next campus update and Don Myers, vice president of finance and treasurer, will do the same when he meets with the Faculty Senate in March. Progress also has been made on selecting a new external auditor for the university. Working with an advisory committee that includes Professor Phil Jacoby in our Kogod School of Business, Vice President Myers is reviewing responses to our request for proposals and they will make their recommendation to the Board of Trustees at the February meeting. Both of these efforts are important in our continuing work to ensure the complete integrity of our financial operations.

Board Processes

There has been progress by the Board of Trustees in their ongoing work on institutional governance. The Special Committee on Governance, co-chaired by trustees Pamela Deese and Jeff Sine, has met regularly and is working on a substantial agenda. They have secured the assistance of Martin Michaelson, a partner in the law firm of Hogan and Hartson and the former general counsel of Harvard University. Mr. Michaelson has extensive experience in advising prominent universities and colleges on a wide range of issues, including governance and trustee operations. The Special Committee will post regular progress reports on the university's "governance Web site" and plans frequent consultations with campus constituencies. I encourage all members of the university community to work through your representative bodies and make your views known.

At the same time, the Trusteeship Committee has clarified the nomination and selection procedures to prepare for the process of bringing the board back to full strength. These procedures have been posted on the governance Web site, along with the criteria for board membership. Anyone interested in nominating individuals for board membership should review these materials.

Governance, broadly defined, will be a prominent agenda topic for a number of future board meetings. Gary Abramson, the board chair, will post the board meeting agenda in advance and will report to the AU community after each meeting – a practice begun after the November 2005 meeting. The board has decided to substantially expand the number of committees that include faculty and students in their deliberations . This participation is currently on a non-voting basis, but it is significant and consistent with the board's stated commitment to strengthen ties to the university community. The board has called for broad participation in this process, and I am confident the university community will respond.

Academic Affairs

During this period of increased internal and external scrutiny of AU's governance and financial affairs, it is worth noting that such reviews are not solely confined to those areas. We have long maintained our commitment to rigorous internal and external reviews of our academic programs, including specialized accreditation of our graduate programs. In December, a team from the American Psychological Association conducted an on-site review of the Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences. We await formal action from the APA on our accreditation, but we can take considerable pride in the draft report of the site visit team. The team praised the accomplishment and commitment of the faculty, the structure and content of the programs, the quality of the students, and the types and effects of the faculty/student interactions. In every recent external review that American University and its programs have undergone – whether the Middle States Commission or the accreditations for our programs in the Washington College of Law, School of Public Affairs, Kogod School of Business, School of Communication, or the School of Education in the College of Arts and Sciences – the high quality of our academic work has been affirmed.

The annual Ann Ferren teaching conference was held on January 13, a few days before the start of classes. The theme of this year's conference, "Gearing Up for the New Millenial Classroom," struck a chord, as faculty participation was at record levels and reports from the various panels and workshops have been very positive. The conference opened with a video, produced by the Center for Teaching Excellence, devoted to former Scholar-Teachers of the Year reflecting on the challenges they have confronted in their work with students. Their frank and insightful comments about teaching, with its special joys and occasional terrors, is a resource that should be widely shared because it conveys (as does the conference itself), the unshakable commitment of the AU faculty to teaching and learning at the very highest levels.


Last year, AU's retention rate (freshmen to sophomores) was 89.1%. Our first semester retention rate this year (fall to spring) is slightly higher than last year, which indicates that we are on track to match or improve our rate going forward. In addition, for the 40th consecutive year AU participated in the annual survey of college freshmen, conducted by the Higher Education Research Institute. More than 57% of our fall 2005 freshmen said that AU was their first choice school. These are encouraging trends that suggest the increased satisfaction with an AU education among our most important constituents – our students.

As we recruit our next freshman class, the initial indications for fall 2006 are positive. As of January 30, our undergraduate applications stand at more than 14,900 (another record high), and are more than 11% ahead of this time last year. In addition, the standard quality indicators for this class are essentially unchanged from last year's very strong applicant group. In the months to come, we will assess the yield rate and the quality profile of the students who ultimately enroll, but for now, I am encouraged by American University 's ongoing ability to attract applications from highly qualified students and retain them when they matriculate. In my next report to campus, I will review other enrollment categories.

Worth noting as an affirmation of our historic commitment to service and an international perspective, the Peace Corps recently released their annual "rankings." Among medium-sized schools, AU has the 12 th largest number of graduates in current Peace Corps service (34), and ranks fourth in the number of Peace Corps volunteers as a percentage of the total undergraduate population—ahead of Yale, Cornell, and Harvard universities. Among alumni with advanced degrees, AU is ranked number 6 with 14 alumni currently serving. Since its inception, 663 AU alumni have served in the Peace Corps.

Finally, AU's 90 Presidential Management Fellowship semi-finalists are waiting to hear how many will become finalists. Open to graduate students, this prestigious competition attracts outstanding young women and men interested in leadership and management roles in the federal government. Last year, we had 80 semi-finalists and led the nation when 41 of them became finalists.

Campaign and Fundraising

As of January 31, we have raised $116.4 million toward the Campaign for AnewAU goal of $200 million. To date, we are ahead over 30% in cash (gifts and pledge payments) and up 3.4% in number of overall donors , when compared to this time last year. Among alumni, our donor numbers are essentially even. Responses to our annual fund solicitations indicate that we are well-positioned to meet the challenges of the 20% alumni giving rate that we achieved for the first time ever last year. Now more than ever, we seek the support of AU alumni and friends to ensure that we achieve our campaign goals for AnewAU.

During this annual fund cycle, we also received some concerns about the issues related to the former president. In January, I visited with a number of prominent donors and participated in alumni events in three major cities. These meetings were both gratifying and encouraging and the alumni events were well attended. In my remarks and conversations, I discussed the issues related to the former president and the current work of the board. The concerns of these alumni and friends for the university are sincere and the general message is one of strong support for the core work of the institution. I urged those who expressed interest in governance to participate by any of the various means available. Our focus going forward will be to complete the Campaign for AnewAU, with opportunities now before us for naming and other major gift opportunities for the new homes planned for the School of International Service and the School of Communication.


We continue to improve our campus through new building projects and facilities enhancements to support our essential teaching and learning endeavors. In view of this, I am pleased to announce that on January 30, we received approval by the D.C. Zoning Commission to proceed with our plans to build the new School of International Service building. The approval for this much awaited project enables us to make final plans for financing the project and aligning our timetables for construction. Across the quad, the School of Communication has hired the project architect to produce renderings for the renovation of McKinley for use as the new home for the SoC. Formally launching these two projects brings a new excitement to campus, and, coupled with the Mary Graydon addition to begin this summer and the Kogod School of Business connection to begin next year means that all of our academic programs will finally be housed in facilities either recently built or substantially modernized.

Army Corps Operations

The work of the Army Corps of Engineers on Lot 18 continues to move toward conclusion. They have finished their "high probability" work and over the next four weeks will be demobilizing their equipment (vapor containment structure and generators) from the site. Concurrent with this, the Corps will begin its "low probability" investigation of other Lot 18 areas, including the Public Safety building site, over the next two weeks. The Army Corps is optimistic that it will finish in March 2006. Until they are finished, please remember that the area is an active investigation site and everyone should be alert for heavy equipment and trucks. We look forward to the day, in the next few months, when the Army Corps is finished with the AU main campus and they move their work to Glenbrook Road.


The coming months will bring unprecedented discussions on institutional governance, changes in board membership, ongoing external interest in our affairs and the full range of work needed to maintain and advance the work of a major university. This deserves our full attention and very best efforts. Meanwhile, our commitment to teaching and learning continues unabated. I am confident that our campus community of faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends, are more than up for the tasks that await us in 2006.

February 6, 2006 4:06 PM


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