I am writing at the start of new academic semester to welcome faculty, students, and staff back to campus and to bring the entire university community up to date on a number of important developments and issues.
University’s General Condition—Finances and Enrollments
As the 2012 spring semester begins, our overall condition is healthy. Based on actual revenue and expenditures for summer and fall and what is projected for spring, we expect to end FY 2012 with our budget in balance. Looking ahead to FY 2013 and the second year of our two-year budget, there are some areas of uncertainty, largely in a few categories of revenue; but we do not anticipate these will require us to change revenue or expenditure budgets for the next fiscal year.
The overall current spring enrollments are strong, in aggregate, and should enable the university to meet budget projections. As anticipated, some areas were variable and need attention; but they are mitigated by enrollments in other areas that exceeded targets. For example, while spring undergraduate enrollment is below target numbers, part-time enrollments are substantially above and make the budget impact manageable; and new freshman enrollment and transfers are on or slightly above target. Study abroad exceeds projections, WCL enrollments are on target, and graduate enrollments are meeting targets that are slightly lower than previous years. As predicted, however, Washington Semester and the Graduate Gateway programs continue to struggle. Nevertheless, the overall enrollments are strong and, along with current expenditure trends, should allow AU to meet its budget projections for the fiscal year.
For the fall 2012 freshman class, the only major category of enrollment with meaningful data at this point, our early decision pool was very strong with an increase of 44.5 percent over last fall. This, combined with the number of regular admission applications, put us in a solid position to meet our targets for the next freshman class.
On December 1, AU participated in its 11th D.C. Zoning Commission hearing on the campus plan (since June 6, 2011) and completed an important phase of the process. The final two hearings (November 21 and December 1) focused on the further processing application for the Washington College of Law’s proposed move to the Tenley campus. Prior to the hearings, AU reached an amicable agreement with the chief neighborhood group in closest proximity (the Tenley Campus Neighbors Association), which led to project support by ANC 3E and ANC 3F. We appreciate the community-minded commitment and support of these parties, who worked diligently with AU to reach an understanding regarding the project and the community assurances we would provide. We now await the decision of the D.C. Zoning Commission (January 23) on the campus plan components that affect the main and east campus areas. We expect the law school/Tenley Campus decision to come at a separate hearing projected for sometime in February or March.
The campus plan process has been a lengthy one—spanning some two and one-half years and more than 60 community meetings both large and small. Our planning team molded our strategic priorities into facilities concepts, and following extensive community engagement, they turned concepts into design plans to accomplish our academic objectives and fulfill our space needs for the coming decades. We appreciate the considerable effort of the AU team and all staff, students, alumni, and faculty who helped. We also acknowledge the support of adjacent neighbors and organizations that worked with us to improve the plan and endorsed it. We will update the campus later this month after the Zoning Commission decision. As we have done throughout, all meeting materials, power points, documents, and filings are posted on our website devoted to the plan.
We are now in the third year of our strategic plan "American University in the Next Decade: Leadership for a Changing World" and operating under the second set of two-year objectives for each goal that serves as progress benchmarks. We remain committed to rigorous measurement of our progress and full transparency with the university community. As is our practice, I will provide periodic updates on the plan to the University Council and a full report to the campus community on where we stand on the current objectives in September. There have been a number of notable recent accomplishments related to these objectives and some are detailed below. There also are areas of particular focus that we are watching closely.
Building the strongest faculty possible; increasing graduate enrollments; improving our conversion rates for admitted freshmen; maintaining our commitment to diversity in the student body, faculty, and staff; having the facilities needed to advance our academic goals; and ensuring that AU’s reputation keeps pace with our performance—all require special attention during the current two-year cycle and beyond.
Adjunct Faculty and Union Vote
The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) has called for an election to determine whether all adjunct faculty will be represented by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 500 for collective bargaining purposes. The election will be held January 19 through February 16. The election outcome of a simple majority of votes cast will determine representation for all adjunct faculty by SEIU—so it is very important that all adjunct faculty exercise their right to vote. Ballots were mailed and received on January 19; please vote and return your ballot promptly. American University welcomes a free and open exchange of views on union representation, and a website has been constructed for this purpose. We welcome an ongoing dialogue on this important issue and urge all eligible adjunct faculty to vote.
On November 10, I issued a draft statement outlining our policies regarding social responsibility in our business practices and asked for community review and comment. After receiving those comments and input from the University Council, I revised the draft and the final statement is attached.
The new statement builds on a number of previous policies and related statements adopted through the years and which have guided our business practices and vendor interactions. This has included, for example, AU’s Wage Policy, the International Labor Organization’s Child Labor Standards, protocols from the Fair Labor Association and Workers Rights Consortium, President’s Climate Commitment, the South Africa Investment Policy and Amendment, the Burma Investment Policy, and the Discrimination and Sexual Harassment Policy. Collectively, these policies demonstrate AU’s historic commitment to principled business practices, and we will post all such on an AU website for quick access and review.
As noted in the new statement, I will name a working group to assist AU in implementing our historic principles and ensuring that we abide by the spirit of the new document. Details on the working group membership and responsibilities will be forthcoming by the end of February.
Since 2005, American University has had a mutually beneficial relationship with the American University of Nigeria (AUN) in Yola, which we helped establish with considerable support from the institution’s chief benefactor and founder, Atiku Abubakar. As AUN developed, our relationship evolved. At the outset, we established a five-year management consultancy that lasted through 2009. More recently we had an annual, renewable, and limited partnership that focused mainly on AU providing academic expertise and executive search support. AUN continues to mature as an institution, has graduated three classes of undergraduates, and is now well positioned to function more independently. Therefore, AU and AUN leaders mutually agreed to end our consultancy when the contract expired at the end of 2011. As a consequence, the AUN office on campus has been closed and the staff members redeployed. We take great pride in our work with AUN and thank our colleagues in Africa, members of the AUN Board of Trustees, and AUN’s founder for their energy and optimism as we envisioned, built, and began a Western-style university in rural Nigeria. We wish AUN much success in the years to come and look forward to future opportunities for academic and student exchange.
Preparations continue for the start of an exciting and unprecedented period of campus facilities expansion. Designs are being finalized and plans are underway to minimize the disruption these important projects will have on our normal activities. In late spring, construction will begin on the McKinley Building renovation for the School of Communication. Pending the outcome of the January 23 Zoning Commission hearing on the campus plan (if approved), it is possible that we also will begin work on the Nebraska Hall addition and North Hall—the new residence hall planned behind the President’s Office Building. Details and updates will be forthcoming on all campus plan projects following the Zoning Commission deliberations.
To enhance the campus environment for commuter students, the former Davenport Lounge in the East Quad Building has been renovated as a lounge for commuter students. The new Commuter Lounge has a companion facility in the University Library—the Commuter Corner, on the lower level, next to the Mud Box. Both facilities offer space for study and socializing and are equipped with day lockers.
As part of the ongoing enhancements of our food service venues, an expansion of Einstein Brothers Bagels was completed over the winter break. Greens (a salad venue) has returned to the MarketPlace by customer request. We continue to seek an appropriate replacement for the now-closed McDonald’s. With the input of campus constituencies, we have narrowed the choices and will make an announcement when the business arrangements are completed.
The Army Corps of Engineers effort to complete their soil remediation operation is entering its final stages; the work planned for 2012 will focus on the university-owned property at 4825 Glenbrook Road and will include removing the house, soil remediation, and cleaning up the site to residential standards. AU is working with the Corps, community members, EPA and the D.C. Department of the Environment to complete the work plans and begin, possibly sometime this summer. The work is projected to last for 12 to 18 months. When the plans are set, we will keep the campus fully informed of the timeline, work to be done, and helpful health and safety information. An AU website is dedicated to the Army Corps project, as well as the Army’s own website dedicated to the Spring Valley project. Over the past 19 years of this project, the safety of AU students, staff, faculty, and the surrounding community have been paramount—and it will continue to be through this "final phase.”
Development, Alumni, and Winter Graduates Events
Calendar year 2011 ended with strong performance in fundraising. To date, we have raised $13.7 million this fiscal year—a 5 percent increase from the prior year, with close to 7,100 alumni donors—a full 300 more than last year. We are pleased to be at pace to meet an ambitious target for the year. Major gifts fundraising also has shown an increased rate, including critical discussions for major capital projects, such as the School of Communication and law school building projects. The holiday open house at the President’s House attracted an array of local alumni, and Ann and I very much enjoyed hosting this holiday celebration at the house. This semester, I will travel to Denver, the Twin Cities, Seattle, and Panama to visit with alumni and families. Additionally, I will host a local event for alumni and families on April 25 and hope to see many alumni there.
We also were pleased to honor 350 graduates and their families at two winter receptions on December 2. Because of the event’s increasing popularity (with almost 1,200 attending) we held one reception for undergraduates in the Mary Graydon Center and a separate one for graduate students in the Katzen Arts Center. Congratulations to our summer and winter graduates (and newest alumni), and we hope you will return to campus for May 2012 commencement.
Rating Agency Update
We recently met with both Moody’s Investors Service and Standard & Poor’s as part of their ratings process related to our capital financing plans. Standard and Poor’s assigned their highest category short-term rating to AU (A-1), allowing us to move forward with a new commercial paper program using self-liquidity. Additionally, Moody’s affirmed our A-2 long-term rating and upgraded our outlook from stable to positive. These ratings confirm our healthy financial position and help validate our capital construction financial plans.
Last fall, Provost Bass announced the formation of search committees for the School of Communication and School of Public Affairs deanships following the decisions of deans Larry Kirkman and William LeoGrande to return to the faculty. National searches are in progress. Due to the quality of applicants, the SOC search committee introduced a two-stage process to narrow the candidate pool, and by the end of January the committee hopes to have three semifinalists. The SPA search committee expects to begin initial interviews by the end of January.
The Web Steering Committee is working on a mobile presence for american.edu—and will receive recommendations from a working group later this month. This follows a review of best practices at other institutions, implications for technology infrastructure, and significant user input from student, faculty, and staff. The committee has targeted late spring for deployment of web content for mobile devices after receiving recommendations, developing applications, and appropriate testing.
The committee also is working with content publishers across campus to prepare for an upgrade to our web content management system. Content publishers will work with their home units on timing and a smooth transition to the upgrade as it commences during spring semester. The committee also is pleased to announce that WAMU 88.5, AU’s licensed public radio station and one of the top news and public affairs broadcasters in the Washington market, now has a presence on the university’s home page, www.american.edu. A convenient link is available to listen live to your favorite programming and personalities, such as Kojo Nnamdi, Diane Rehm, National Public Radio, and other radio content favorites.
Marketing and Communications
AU earned four awards from the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education (CASE) District II, in its annual competition. The brand campaign won three gold awards for the top achievement in advertising, integrated marketing campaign, and website; AU also won a silver award for news writing, based on five feature stories placed in national media last year.
Fall semester concluded with field hockey and men’s soccer winning the Patriot League regular season championships and volleyball advancing to its 10th NCAA Championship in 11 years. Head field hockey coach Steve Jennings was inducted into the NFHCA Hall of Fame and earned his eighth Patriot League Coach of the Year honor.
Wrestling is currently ranked ninth in the country and has four wrestlers in the top 20 nationally in their weight classes. The women’s basketball team is undefeated in Patriot League play and is currently ranked first in the conference standings, while men’s basketball is second in the Patriot League. Athletics has partnered with Bender Library on a history of AU basketball that will be displayed through the spring.
I invite your comments on what I’ve outlined above and any ideas you’d like us to consider. I will write again prior to the end of the term. Until then, I wish you the best for the year.
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)