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President's Message | Reports & Announcements


March 31, 2011

 TO: Campus Community
 FROM: Neil Kerwin, President
 SUBJECT: Mid-Semester Update


We’re approaching the end of the spring semester and a number of items are worthy of consideration.

The tragedy in Japan is difficult to grasp and commands the attention of the entire world. We have and will continue to reach out in various ways to assist those affected by the earthquake and tsunami. To remind our community of the magnitude of this disaster and of ways to be informed and to help, we have created a Web site ( that consolidates the most recent status updates on members of our community directly affected by the disaster, along with information on AU events and programs designed to focus on the impact and offer assistance.

Condition of the University
The general condition of the university remains sound. A number of significant academic developments and other aspects of our recent performance are highlighted below. Revenues and expenses at this point are such that we are assured of ending the fiscal year in very strong fashion.

Board of Trustees Meeting
The Board of Trustees met on February 24 and 25 to review and act on an agenda of historic significance for AU. The trustees reviewed the strategic objectives for the next two years, unanimously approved budgets for fiscal years 2012 and 2013 that are based on our strategic plan goals and objectives, unanimously approved the campus plan concepts, and authorized the administration to proceed with further work on a capital financing strategy to support the construction and renovations related to the campus plan. They also approved a resolution of appreciation for Linda Bolden-Pitcher, former university registrar, and a resolution naming Louis Goodman dean emeritus of the School of International Service when his time as dean ends later this year. The board also heard reports from each of its committees.

A report from the Board of Trustees chair on the February meeting can be found on the trustees’ Web site (

Campus Plan
We formally submitted our 10-year campus (facilities) plan to the District of Columbia Zoning Commission on March 18 and have posted it online and made copies available to city officials. The plan reflects nearly two years of effort to develop a strategy to ensure that our physical facilities are adequate to meet the goals of our larger strategic plan.

Please review the executive summary ( and become familiar with the campus plan projects and why they are important for AU’s future. The plan has been the subject of much campus and community discussion and we expect more during the coming months as it is reviewed by the D.C. Zoning Commission at public hearings in June and July. We have engaged in extensive and good faith discussions with a variety of community groups and have made dramatic changes to ensure our plans are appropriate, our impacts manageable, and our designs esthetically pleasing.

Nevertheless, we expect significant opposition to the plan, grounded in a concern expressed by some neighbors that living close to our students will have negative effects on their quality of life. We believe, supported by ample evidence, that our students are an enormous asset to our community and city. Any fair reading of AU’s facilities record demonstrates that we produce high-quality projects that greatly enhance the surrounding community—as our most recent examples (Katzen Arts Center, School of International Service, Kogod School of Business addition and landscaping) all prove. We respect our neighbors and will continue to work with them to ensure that the plan produces the results we have promised.

Some in our AU community may ask how the campus plan affects them—so we will provide additional information to make these positive effects more explicit. For the latest information, click on the Campus Plan Web site ( You also have a voice in this process and your written input will be counted when the Zoning Commission deliberates on the merits of AU’s case (

Strategic Plan and Objectives for the Next Two Years
In a previous communication (, myAU login required), I reported on the objectives we’ve set for the next two years that will continue our progress toward realization of the goals we’ve set in the university’s strategic plan, Leadership for a Changing World: American University in the Next Decade. As was the case with the plan itself and the first round of objectives, these new objectives result from extensive discussions across the community. While not all were adopted, every recommendation and suggestion was given serious consideration.

Budget for Fiscal Years 2012 and 2013
The FY-2012 and FY-2013 budgets approved by the Board of Trustees provide ample funding to achieve our objectives for the next stage of the strategic plan. A detailed report on the new two-year budget, that takes effect May 1, is available in print and online ( This report contains information on the major decisions and priorities that framed the new budget, details on the revenues and expenditures, and a clear accounting of how the budget will support the goals of the strategic plan.

This budget is notable in several respects. Over these two years, we anticipate expenditures of just over $1.1 billion, with revenues projected to cover those costs. A serious and successful effort was undertaken to limit increases in tuition and housing costs. We will continue to invest heavily in AU’s academic core, the quality of student experiences, and the diversity of the campus community, and we will begin a new phase of facilities enhancements. We will continue to support efforts to tell AU’s story and ensure that ever-larger numbers of alumni are engaged in the life of AU. We will endeavor to provide our most important resources—our colleagues—adequate resources to support their important work.

I want to thank the University Budget Committee, cochaired by Provost Bass and Vice President Myers, whose members included Vicki Connaughton, John Douglass, Douglas Hale, Gail Hanson, Khalid Khalid, Ed Levandoski, Daniel Mullins, Kamalika Sandell, Steve Silvia, and Wayne Wright, with resources knowledge and support provided by Nana An, Vi Ettle, and Karen Froslid Jones.

The committee worked long hours to produce a document that earned my full support and the unanimous approval of the Faculty Senate and the Board of Trustees. Now the hard work begins
to produce revenues to support these expenditures and achieve the desired results.

Enrollment Services and University Communications and Marketing partnered to redesign the Admissions Welcome Center, which opened in February in the Katzen Arts Center with a ribbon-cutting ceremony. We immediately began receiving capacity crowds of prospective students and parents. The visit experience integrates AU’s brand strategy in both design and presentation. Highlights include a hospitality area that showcases books by faculty authors, videos, and a presentation with compelling graphics and critical information about the admission process, academic programs, costs, and financial aid. The experience concludes with a campus tour. Initial reviews by students and families have been strong, and one visiting guidance counselor said: “Your video was the best college video I have ever seen. It touches on all of the key points that one would want to highlight at a university.” We appreciate the contributions of more than 50 students to the video and film and the work of the steering committee, which included arts department faculty, OIT staff, and sound and film expert Russell Williams.

The Welcome Center launch aligns with spring advertising in Washington. You may have noticed the ads in the Smithsonian and Farragut West Metro stations, on transit shelters downtown and on Wisconsin Avenue, and in Reagan National Airport. WUSA9 is running ads with six stellar faculty experts: Akbar Ahmed, Pat Aufderheide, Caleen Jennings, Jennifer Lawless, U. J. Sophia, and Donald Williamson. Each shares expertise in three-minute “wonk talks” that run on air during the morning and evening news. The wonk talks also run on the wonk Web site, where all who see the ads are challenged to test their knowledge against our experts. For more information on the campaign, wonk talks, and quizzes featuring our experts, please see

Academic Developments
The following is a sample of our academic accomplishments since the last time I wrote:

Cross Disciplinary
  • KSB associate professor Sonia Grier and SOC professor Kathryn Montgomery are co-principal investigators on a grant of $169,978 from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Their project is titled “Defining Priorities and Optimal Research Designs for Studying the Impact of Digital Marketing on Adolescents.”

School of Public Affairs
  • “The Legacies of America’s First Ladies,” a conference chaired by SPA executive-in-residence Anita McBride, examined the role of presidential wives through history and helped kick off Women’s History Month.
  • Professor Robert Tobias was awarded the Paul P. Van Riper Award for Excellence and Service by the American Society for Public Administration.

College of Arts and Sciences
  • Assistant professor Jeremiah Dittmar has earned a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, for his project (previously supported by the NEH) “Ideas, Technology, and Economic Change: The Impact of the Printing Press.”
  • Assistant professor Mustafa Aksakal has earned a fellowship at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, NEH, ACLS, for a book on the Ottoman Empire at war, to be published on the centenary of the outbreak of WWI.

School of Communication
  • Associate professor Matt Nisbet has been named one of 21 Google science communication fellows. In naming the fellows, Google said they “chose scientists who had the strongest potential to become excellent communicators.” This includes previous training in science communications, research in topics related to understanding or managing climate change, and experience experimenting with innovative approaches or technology tools for science communication.
  • The Human Spark, a three-part PBS documentary series on evolution, directed by associate professor Larry Engel, won the prestigious AAAS Kavli 2010 Science Journalism Award for In-Depth Reporting.
  • Assistant professor Maggie Stogner wrote, directed, and produced the media for the museum exhibition Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archaeology, a co-production of Lucas Films and National Geographic. The exhibition will premiere at the Montreal Science Center and travel to Europe and Asia and features five videos and an audio welcome by Harrison Ford.

School of International Service
  • Associate professor Derrick Cogburn was awarded a $9.9 million grant from the Nippon Foundation (Tokyo, Japan) to create an Institute on Disability and Public Policy for research and professional training on international and comparative disability issues.
  • The United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization has agreed to establish a UNESCO Chair in Transnational Challenges and Governance at American University with professor Amitav Acharya as the first chair holder.

Washington College of Law
  • Dean Claudio Grossman is to be honored in June by the President of the Republic of Columbia for his achievements and life’s work in human rights.

Campus Life
Residence hall room selection for returning students was completed March 7. The rate of rising sophomores returning to student housing continues to be high, signaling overall satisfaction with our campus housing program. Options for rising juniors and seniors were again capped at 400 beds to ensure adequate space for new students. Over the summer, the Housing and Dining Services staff will implement a number of strategies to help us try to hold the number of triples on main campus to around 220. We will continue to house 200 upperclassmen and transfer students at the Berkshire Apartments as part of our overall fall housing strategy.

Elections were held March 23 and new student government officials were chosen. All have proven leadership skills and strong commitments to the offices they will assume. The new Student Government officials are Tim McBride (president, SPA junior), Liz Richards (vice president, SPA junior), Taylor Yeats (comptroller, KSB sophomore), and Kevin Sutherland (secretary, SPA junior). We congratulate these newly elected officers, and we look forward to working closely with them.

Student Activities reports that 1,288 students now belong to fraternities and sororities at AU—more than 19 percent of the undergraduate population. In fall 2010, members of fraternities and sororities posted an overall GPA of 3.35, above the all-AU GPA of 3.21.

Alumni and Development
The AnewAU campaign concluded on December 31, 2010, with $214.1 million raised in cash and pledges. Thank you to the entire campus community for helping to surpass expectations for the most ambitious fundraising initiative in AU’s history. To continue the forward progress worthy of our competitive profile, the strategic plan priorities for the next two years set aggressive goals in Alumni Relations and Development.

To achieve the FY-2011 goal of 10,500 alumni donors and establish high standards for future growth, the Office of Development launched the 50/50 challenge to secure 50 new alumni donors per day for the last 50 days of the year ending April 30. The effort is underway on Facebook and other media outlets. Thank you in advance to the campus and alumni community for showing support for this initiative and making a gift of any size by April 30 and helping us, once again, surpass our goal.

Alumni have been coming out to see us and each other this winter. I was welcomed by large crowds in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and faculty members Gary Weaver, Jim Thurber, and Barry Williams were at Faculty on the Road events in Tampa, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. In mid-March, I was with more than 100 alumni and their families in Philadelphia and had another successful event in New York. A range of events are slated for around the globe. Visit for more information or to register.

The wrestling team had a school record six NCAA qualifiers and finished fifth in the national standings. Steve Fittery, Ryan Flores, Patrick Graham, Matt Mariacher, Daniel Mitchell, and Ganbayar Sanjaa represented AU in Philadelphia at the NCAA Championships in March. Head coach Mark Cody was named 2011 National Coach of the Year by the National Wrestling Coaches Association.

The women’s basketball team finished the regular season at the top of the Patriot League standings and advanced to the league tournament finals. Men’s basketball finished the regular season in second place and lost in the semifinal round of the Patriot League tournament. The men’s team finished sixth and the women’s team finished fourth at the Patriot League Swimming and Diving Championships; Jessica Balance, Dorothy Isaacs, Eleanor Clay, and Leah Breen won the 4 x 400 meter relay championship, our first relay conference title since 2003. The men’s team finished fifth and the women’s team finished eighth at the Patriot League Indoor Track Championships. Octavia Rinehardt won the 3,000 and the 5,000 meter runs and was named to the All-Patriot League First Team, and Erin Koch and Colin Eustis were both named to the second team.

Honors and Awards
AU earned four Telly Awards for three videos produced this year, two for the video holiday card, “AU Wishes,” one for “Get to Know Wonk,” and one for a news video that recapped President Obama’s visit. Congratulations to Matt Fredericks in University Video and Deborah Wiltrout in University Marketing for this strong showing in the first year of the unit’s existence.

Diane Rehm has earned an Excellence in Journalism award from the American News Women’s Club and will be honored on April 7 at the National Press Club.

The new logo for WAMU 88.5 won two Gold ADDY Awards from the D.C. Ad Club. The logo creators, Arnold Worldwide, received the award for the new slogan “The Mind Is Our Medium” and for the logo, a stylized rendering of the call letters with overlapping shapes in rainbow colors. The contemporary design reflects the station’s commitment to diverse programming and civil discussion of wide-ranging ideas.

The Center for Community Engagement and Service received the 2010 International Dalit Rights Advocacy and Social Justice Award, presented by the Ambassador of Nepal on behalf of the International Commission for Dalit Rights. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to promoting grassroots empowerment and social justice, especially the Dalit Rights Movement, through Alternative Break Programs, both locally and globally.


In closing, let me again return to the theme of international service that began this letter. In addition to the events in Japan, our university community consistently demonstrates hands-on care and support for any number of human concerns around the globe—in the Middle East, Latin America, Africa, Asia, and here at home. That is a significant part of an AU education—to be aware and to assist to the extent that we can. We are a university with a huge heart—and we show that often.

I wish everyone the best for the remaining weeks of the semester, and I will communicate again prior to commencement or as developments merit.

Strategic Plan

AU's strategic plan, Leadership for a Changing World, outlines goals and objectives for the next decade at American University. Visit for more information. ( login required for some documents)

Read the Strategic Plan

view objectives, years 7 & 8

Building a Better AU

Visit the Building AU website to read about facilities projects that support AU’s academic aspirations and enhance campus ambiance. You can also learn more about AU's Campus Plan.

Building AU

watch video