The academic year ended with a flurry of activity that emphasized what we know and appreciate about American University—that we are a campus at the forefront of academic thought, student activism, social movement, and significant impact. We also are strong, reflective, and values driven, and the combined efforts of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and trustees are what make AU vibrant.
Middle States Reaccreditation Visit
Every 10 years AU conducts a comprehensive self-study as part of the reaccreditation process conducted for the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Given the numerous initiatives that have occurred over the last seven years and the rapid changes since the last interim Periodic Review Report (2009), we welcomed the opportunity for this internal evaluation and external assessment by a peer group of higher education colleagues from nine different institutions who visited campus from March 23 to March 26. On the final day, the team chair, Dr. Eric Spina, vice chancellor and provost at Syracuse University, gave an oral report that commended the efforts by and achievements of AU's faculty, staff, students, senior administration, trustees, and alumni.
We received the report draft, made edits, and returned it to Middle States for their review and final reporting out this summer. In the summary comments and report, AU was described as “agile, planning intensive, well governed, and well run,” and AU was commended for being “stronger, more vibrant, more relevant, and better positioned.”
I thank everyone who played a part in AU’s self study—a process that lasted almost two years—and in particular, I commend self study co-chairs Karen Froslid Jones, director of institutional research and assessment, and Robert Blecker, professor of economics, College of Arts and Sciences, who so ably led our work.
I also thank everyone who played a part in the success trajectory of the past 10 years and which helped make American University a truly remarkable place.
The official start of “conversion season” in the Office of Enrollment began on March 18 with the decision letters sent to applicants for the Class of 2018. Of the 15,147 applicants, 46 percent were offered admission to yield a projected incoming class of 1,600 new first-year students. This year’s class will be as strong and talented as previous classes. The numbers of students declaring AU as their first choice (by virtue of applying Early Decision) continues to grow—this year more than one-third of the incoming first-year class were Early Decision applicants. In addition, our fall 2014 applicants were also a highly motivated group, completing upwards of 13 application essays in some cases to apply for special programs. With the May 1 candidates’ reply deadline having arrived, we expect to achieve our enrollment target.
Our campus became part of a national dialogue in April, as allegations of serious misconduct by students affiliated with an unsanctioned group prompted outrage and an intensive review of incident reports, possible student conduct violations, and potential violations of the law. This included allegations of assault, sexual assault, bullying, underage and binge drinking, illicit drug use, misogyny, homophobia, racism, and similar behaviors antithetical to our values. American University has taken these disturbing allegations seriously; we have examined them thoroughly and expeditiously to identify what is actionable and what, if proven, would violate our Student Code of Conduct and the law. To keep our community informed, Gail Hanson, vice president of campus life, wrote to campus on April 18, April 24, and April 29; I wrote to campus on April 21; we discussed this issue in a public forum convened by board chair Jeff Sine and me on April 22; and a website was created to offer ongoing information and to update our community.
As we have carried out the investigations, we have strived to protect the safety and well-being of all who are directly involved, including victims and witnesses, as well as the rights of the accused, so that eventual outcomes are the result of due process and fair treatment without prejudice. Those accused are presumed innocent until found responsible or proven guilty. In the weeks to come, we will engage in ongoing community discussions about how to improve and strengthen our prevention efforts.
Issues such as that we experienced are part of a larger national dialogue, as the Obama Administration released a report (April 29) with recommendations and stringent new guidelines. American University is strongly committed to best practice strategies to prevent sexual assault or any other kind of violence in our community. The recommendations of the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault include proven strategies that AU already has instituted—which includes regular surveys, bystander intervention training, and the hiring of a trained victim advocate. This report and other initiatives, such as Senator Claire McCaskill’s survey of 350 university and college presidents, will focus attention on this issue and help higher education develop better ways to stop sexual assault. We look forward to participating in this national discussion while doing all that we can to improve student safety.
Budget—FY2014 and Looking to FY2015
Although we experienced tuition revenue shortfalls in most categories in FY2014, we also were able to achieve expense budget savings and are confident that we will close the year with a balanced budget. We expect a similar revenue profile in FY2015, and I urge you to continue to be vigilant in identifying expenditure savings in your areas. We are still working to refine the current models we use to project revenue for 2015 which are, as always, heavily dependent on enrollment. Current patterns suggest a revenue situation somewhat different from the fiscal year just ended, and, as soon as we have confidence that the patterns are firm, we will be able to better communicate with divisions and units on whether any minor adjustments will be called for during the implementation of the current 2015 budget.
May 2014 Commencement
Six prominent persons will be honored at May 2014 commencement and will deliver remarks to the graduates. This includes on Saturday, May 10, at 9 a.m. at the School of Communication, Katie Couric, television journalist, author, and talk show host; at 1 p.m. at the Kogod School of Business, alumnus Paul Diaz (Kogod/BSBA ’84) and president/CEO of Kindred Health Care Inc., one of the largest health care services in the United States; and at 4:30 p.m. at the School of International Service, the Honorable Paula Dobriansky, foreign policy expert and former under secretary of state for democracy and global affairs.
On Sunday, May 11, the honorees include Gwen Ifill, public broadcasting journalist, political analyst, and author, at 9 a.m. at the School of Public Affairs; and the Honorable Cecilia Munoz, assistant to the president and director, White House Domestic Policy Council, at 1 p.m. at the College of Arts and Sciences.
On Sunday, May 18, at the Washington College of Law for the 1 p.m. ceremony, the honoree will be alumna Judy Smith (WCL/JD ’86), founder and president of Smith & Co., a strategic and crisis communications firm. She also was deputy press secretary in the White House under George H.W. Bush and was former vice president of communications at NBC. Additional details on all ceremonies, including information about live webcasts of each ceremony, will be featured on the AU home page and information for graduates is available via the commencement website.
Faculty and Student Honors
At the Faculty Recognition Dinner at the National Press Club on Sunday, April 27, Max Paul Friedman, professor of history, College of Arts and Sciences, received the Scholar Teacher of the Year Award. This annual award is given to the AU professor who best demonstrates a combination of exceptional teaching, concern for students and colleagues, and commitment to high standards of professional and personal life. Nine more faculty earned 2014 Faculty Awards for this academic year and were honored at the recognition event along with those celebrating particular years of service.
This year’s President’s Award winner is Alexis Dobbs, a graduating senior with a 3.81 GPA as a public health major and biology minor in the College of Arts and Sciences. As a basketball standout, Alexis earned three consecutive Patriot League Scholar Athlete of the Year awards and was an All Patriot League team honoree three times for her on-court performance. The President’s Award is the highest award for undergraduate students and is presented to a graduating senior whose accomplishments over the course of his or her undergraduate years are truly exceptional and reflect the highest ideals of American University (see full story).
Among national awards for all schools across the country, 59 Truman Scholars were named this month and AU had two of them—juniors Caroline Brazill and Eric Rodriguez, who demonstrated the passion, intellect, and leadership potential to become “change agents” and serve the public good.
The full slate of all Student Achievement Award winners for academic year 2013–2014 also have been named and each will be honored at May commencement. Congratulations to all of our faculty and student honorees this academic year.
New Student Leaders
Congratulations to the newly elected student leaders who take office this month—including Student Government president Sophia Wirth; Graduate Leadership Council president Jonathan Lubin; and Student Bar Association president Alexandra Spratt. We look forward to working with the new student leadership in their governance roles and thank those who served previously in these important positions—Patrick Kelly, Forrest McGraw, and Tiph Harner.
In January, the School of Communication moved into new offices and classrooms in the renovated and expanded McKinley Hall, and work was completed on the Malsi Doyle and Michael Forman Theater and media innovation lab in March. With 30 physical spaces in McKinley Hall already named through philanthropic gifts from alumni and friends, fundraising efforts for the project remain steady. The exterior improvements are now being finished with a dedication planned for mid-May.
At the law school Tenley Campus site, excavation continued through winter and recently moved to the next construction phase, which includes the foundation and actual building. The goal is to open for fall classes 2015. The East Campus design and construction team are preparing to apply for a building permit to begin construction in May 2014. As part of this, the Nebraska parking lot will be taken offline on or about May 19 and the parking management details will be forthcoming prior to then.
In May, work will begin on improvements to the Terrace Dining Room and an updating of kitchen equipment. And finally, work will continue through July on improvements to the tunnel between Mary Graydon Center and Bender Arena to enhance pedestrian and vehicular circulation, lighting, and the overall esthetic appearance. Facilities Management will soon issue a full inventory of all summer projects.
I report on two issues of note for spring semester:
Bangladesh—Upon recommendation from the Project Team on Social Responsibility, Business Practices, and Service, we are amending AU’s vendor code of conduct to address the concerns associated with the apparel industry in Bangladesh. Effective immediately, American University will require that all licensees that produce, source, or procure university-licensed apparel from or in Bangladesh, within 30 days of this notice, sign the May 13, 2013, Accord on Fire and Building Safety in Bangladesh. The accord is an independent, legally binding agreement between apparel company and retail signatories and worker representatives and is designed to improve factory safety through a three-part program that includes independent factory inspections and public reporting of inspection results, worker training, and the provision of resources to make factory improvements over a five-year period. I appreciate the work of the project team and the student group, AU End Deathtraps Coalition, for their commitment to achieving a positive outcome.
Fossil Free—The Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing has sent its interim report to the Finance and Investment Committee for their review at the May Board of Trustees meeting. We appreciate the ongoing work of the Advisory Committee and of the Fossil Free AU group as we all work to assess the best way to address the important issue of global climate change.
Athletics Achievements (AY 2013-2014)
As we conclude the academic year, I commend our Eagles athletics teams, individual athletes, and coaches for their exceptional achievements this year, both on the field/in the arena or in the classroom. The list of accomplishments is long, and includes team accolades such as Patriot League titles for men’s basketball, women’s volleyball, and field hockey, along with NCAA championship tournament appearances for all three and an NIT appearance for women’s basketball; Patriot League Scholar Athlete of the Year honors for Alexis Dobbs (women’s basketball), Jesse Reed (men’s basketball), and Monika Smidova (women’s volleyball); and Patriot League Coach of the Year honors for men’s basketball coach Mike Brennan and field hockey coach Steve Jennings. In addition, Coach Brennan and women’s basketball coach Megan Gebbia were named national finalists for rookie coach-of-the-year honors.
In the classroom, the field hockey team posted the top GPA of all Division I field hockey programs in the nation for the second time in program history, registering a cumulative team GPA of 3.60. The men’s swimming and diving team was recognized as having the third highest GPA in NCAA Division I, while the women’s swimming and diving team earned the 19th highest GPA. Men’s soccer had 14 student athletes recognized on the 2013 Patriot League Academic Honor Roll; women’s soccer had 18 student athletes recognized on the 2013 Patriot League Academic Honor Roll; and volleyball placed 10 student athletes on the 2013 Patriot League Academic Honor Roll. Eighty-eight percent of all student athletes earned at least a 3.0 GPA in the fall semester, while 40 percent earned a 3.5 or higher GPA.
Army Corps of Engineers
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers continues its investigation in Spring Valley, with current focus on the university owned property at 4825 Glenbrook Road. This work is based on the neighborhood’s history, as during World War I, the 660-acre area in northwest Washington was used by the U.S. government for research and testing of chemical agents, equipment, and munitions. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Baltimore District has the lead responsibility for investigation and cleanup actions and partners with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Washington, D.C., District Department of the Environment.
At the Glenbrook Road site, crews have loaded excavated soil and have continued to recover American University Experiment Station (AUES) related debris. To date, approximately 160 pounds of AUES related glassware and 7 pounds of metal debris have been removed. All safety protocols are being followed at the site and university officials updated regularly.
Due to the slow nature of the work and winter weather delays, the Glenbrook Road schedule has been revised. Excavation is projected to be finished in spring 2015 with site restoration to residential standards to follow and eventual return of the property back to American University in summer 2015. Updates will follow on work progress and schedule changes. At any point, a project status report is available via the Army Corps website and general information also is available on the AU website.
AU and Washington Nationals
AU has partnered with the Washington Nationals again this year for another season of baseball at Nationals Park. The relationship includes prominent visibility for American University via signs at the stadium, faculty video WONK challenges at select games throughout the summer, and a special AU night (August 22 against the San Francisco Giants).
Alumnus volunteer Toby McChesney (SPA/BA ’02), has committed $25,000 to AU in support of the AU Fund for Excellence. With his gift, Toby is challenging alumni to commemorate their time on campus with a gift of their own. A gift in any amount and to any school, college, department, program, or project counts toward the challenge goal of 1,000 additional alumni donors by the close of commencement weekend. For more information or to make a gift online, visit alumniassociation.american.edu/challenge.
Have a great end of semester and best wishes to all graduating students.
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)