You are here: Position Description

President Kerwin at the podium

American University President Opportunity Statement

About American University

American University (AU) is an independent, co-educational doctoral university that was chartered by an Act of Congress in 1893. American University is dedicated to the creation of knowledge and its dissemination, experiential learning, international understanding, advanced research and creative endeavors. Founded as a Methodist institution, AU values public service and encourages the integration of academic programs and co-curricular experiences with the larger local, national, and international communities. Known as a college-centered research university, AU strives to combine the finest qualities of a liberal arts education with the intensity of a vibrant research university associated with the assets of prominent professional schools. Unique to this setting is the inextricable link between the academy and pinnacle institutions in the Washington, DC, region providing fertile ground for research, internships, and collaborations. AU is not just located in the nation’s capital—it is part of the District of Columbia’s dynamic growth as a world-class destination.

Today, the cosmopolitan, multi-cultural campus enrolls more than 13,000 students in undergraduate, masters, doctoral, and professional degree programs. AU attracts students from 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the territories, and more than 130 countries. Located in the heart of one of the world’s most influential cities, American University’s 84-acre campus, an officially designated arboretum, provides an attractive collegiate setting, characterized by federal-style architecture and the contemporary Katzen Arts Center, a state-of-the-art exhibition and performance space that serves both the university and greater DC communities. Enhancements and investments in the campus are visible in more than one million new square feet and renovations of existing properties—investments totaling more than $400 million in facilities.

American University offers a wide range of undergraduate and graduate programs through its seven major divisions: College of Arts and Sciences, Kogod School of Business, School of Communication, School of International Service, School of Public Affairs, Washington College of Law, and School of Professional and Extended Studies. The College of Arts and Sciences consists of 19 teaching units, including the School of Education. Each semester, more than 500 students from 200 colleges worldwide participate in programs through American’s School of Professional and Extended Studies, American University Abroad, and Abroad at American University. Academic offerings include 68 bachelors, 71 masters, and 10 doctoral degrees, plus the Washington College of Law’s JD, LLM, and SJD programs. Additionally, students have the opportunity to create individualized interdisciplinary programs at the bachelor’s level.

American University’s nationally and internationally acclaimed faculty are committed to excellence in both scholarship and teaching, sponsoring programs that build upon the extraordinary cultural, scientific, public affairs, legal, business, international, and communication resources of the Washington, DC, area.

American University’s rich arts and athletics offerings are strong components of the residential experience which ranges from numerous student-led performance productions to 16 varsity sports teams which compete in the NCAA Division I Patriot League. AU will continue to build on the strength of its residential community to advance a distinctive, globally-oriented university dedicated to academic excellence and to preparing students for leadership in a complex international society.  

To advance this mission, the university has identified a series of priority interdisciplinary academic areas of research (AU 2030) that cut across all school/college units for sustained multi-year investments. In addition, support has been provided to nurture high impact multi-investigator research on campus.  

The 2014 Middle States accreditation review team recognized American University as an agile, entrepreneurial, and interdisciplinary institution. The team’s report said, “The entire American University community is to be commended for its efforts and its success; American University is stronger, more vibrant, more relevant and better positioned as a result of what has transpired over the past six years.” It called AU a transformed institution, and with good reason.

The university has established a culture of innovation that underlies this transformation and is important to continue to cultivate. An example of this is RiSE (Re-imagining the Student Experience) which boldly aspires to transform systems, processes, and culture to deliver an integrated student experience for today’s diverse, technologically sophisticated and stressed college students—one that will help students succeed and thrive. The RiSE planning process explored best practices within and outside higher education to advance student, faculty, and staff experiences by use of design, integrative planning, and technology.

The Next President of American University

With a decade of meaningful advancement on nearly every level, American University is well-poised for new leadership. Working with an engaged senior leadership team of faculty and administrators, students, and the Board of Trustees, President Cornelius “Neil” Kerwin put the university on a highly ambitious path forward. The success of this university’s collective efforts shows an institution that has embraced its past and its traditions but is looking to the future with courage, open-mindedness, and a sense of purpose.

While retaining its deep commitment to teaching excellence, research and scholarship at AU have intensified along with the hiring of some of the most outstanding recent doctoral graduates and numerous distinguished senior scholars. Every college and school has raised its national profile in recent years and increased its productivity among the most prestigious and influential scholarly venues as well as expanding externally funded research. As a result, AU has moved up its Carnegie Classification to “Doctoral: Higher Research Activity.”

With American University’s enhanced recognition and visibility, the demand for undergraduate admission to AU has never been greater. A record number of applications and rapid increases in yield rate demonstrate AU’s increased selectivity.

At this critical moment in its history, AU is seeking a bold intellectual leader who is confident and discerning about new opportunities, rather than opting for the status quo. The next president should embody the university’s values and have a capacity for inspiration and vision that will continue the university’s dynamic trajectory. A passion for diversity in all its forms, a commitment to building an inclusive community, and a deeply held belief in engagement and shared governance, will be paramount to the selection of American University’s 15th president.  

In addition to personal characteristics that include someone of high ethical standards, integrity, empathy, confidence, innovative thinking, selflessness and optimism, the following competencies and capabilities emerged as the hallmarks of American University’s next presidency:

  • Strategic Management and Vision: Building on the university’s considerable success and forward momentum, the faculty, staff, students, alumni, and Board of Trustees, seek even higher levels of achievement to be led by their next president. The next president should serve the American University community by pursuing meaningful dialogue with the community to articulate and define an enterprise-wide vision of extraordinary ambition that inspires the community and drives the institution forward. The president will leverage a track record of innovation to lead AU on a journey of continued transformation in the higher education community and beyond, strengthening and adding unique elements to its undergraduate programs, and enhancing the competitiveness of its graduate offerings. Within a rapidly changing and challenging landscape of higher education, American University’s president will seek to make strategic investments that will allow the university to achieve its bold ambitions, financial sustainability, and decrease its dependency on tuition.

  • Effective Leadership in the Academic Environment: An important part of American University’s recent improvement of its national profile has been the university’s gains in faculty grants and research while improving teaching effectiveness. The next president of American University must continue the institution’s upward trajectory as an institution known for innovation in scholarly research and teaching, by understanding the proper balance of these dimensions of faculty productivity. To this end, the next president must have a strong commitment to the value of knowledge production through excellence in research and teaching, the fundamental and enduring contributions of any good university, and must demonstrate the ability to manage the university community and all of its diverse and unique constituencies.

  • Championing an Inclusive Community: American University’s diverse community members are active, passionate and engaged citizens, continually working toward goals of cultural appreciation, global awareness, and social justice. Given its location, history and values, this American University president should be characterized by a commitment to setting the standard in higher education with boldness, equity, transparency, and collegiality. The president must be experienced in engaging the complexities of diversity in all its dimensions and untiring in promoting all aspects of inclusiveness, and in recognizing the essential contributions of all constituencies. New research points toward the value of empathy in the development of an inclusive community. Again, American University is at the forefront—developing and implementing bold new initiatives to revolutionize and improve the student experience in concert with other constituencies.

  • Institutional Advocacy and Profile Raising: Much like the city it calls home, American University cares about effective public engagement, intellectual discourse, global citizenship, diversity of opinion, and thought leadership. As such, American University’s next president will deepen local, national, and global partnerships to increase the university’s profile as a place where new ideas and thinking about higher education are given a voice. Ideally, the next president should be a public intellectual who contributes to the great issues of our time and provides leadership within the higher education community. The institution values community engagement, translational research, and public outreach. Weaving together, anticipating, and addressing the needs of the internal community of the university, the president will develop a strategic agenda that will enable the university to achieve the next level of excellence and institutional leadership.

  • Resource Building: American University’s financial stability and growth are reflected in its A+ bond rating and growth of its endowment to $575 million. In recent years, the fundraising culture has been energized. However, to pursue emerging opportunities, compete globally for the best academic talent, and enhance support of scholarly research, the next president will be focused on even greater philanthropic investment. He or she will embrace the opportunity to develop connections with AU’s alumni, parents, and supporters of American University’s innovative efforts to cultivate and steward new and expanded gifts. A compelling spokesperson with a deep understanding of the institution and its goals, the president will partner with the advancement staff, faculty, alumni, and Board of Trustees to further develop a culture of giving to support critical investments.

The Search Process

A presidential search committee, consisting of trustees, alumni, faculty, staff, and students, will advise the Board of Trustees on the selection of American University’s next president. The members of the search committee are actively engaged in seeking input to identify the best candidates to lead the university. To that end, the search committee welcomes your comments, applications and nominations. The committee is interested in considering candidates with a broad range of experiences and the demonstrated skills to lead a complex organization with a global profile.

American University is an equal-opportunity employer and strongly encourages individuals of all backgrounds and cultures to consider this important leadership position. The university’s commitment to inclusiveness encompasses, but is not limited to, diversity in nationality, ethnicity, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age, and ability.

If you wish to submit your own application materials or nominate someone to serve as the next president of American University, please send an email message with supporting materials to AmericanPres@spencerstuart.com.

Revised July 8, 2016