You are here: American University About Strategic Plan Theme: Community


AU will strengthen our ties and partnerships with our communities. Imperatives 6 through 9 further our commitment to building an inclusive community, nurture and grow our roots within the Washington, DC, region, expand and enhance our partnerships, and improve how AU works.

Imperative 6: Inclusive Excellence

AU cannot be excellent without being truly inclusive, and the university, at all levels, is committed to ensuring inclusive excellence as an integral part of a strong AU. We have developed a comprehensive plan, based on extensive input from students, faculty, staff, alumni, and other community members, that lays out concrete, specific steps we will take to improve inclusion on campus. Our plan requires everyone at AU to recognize their personal stake in making AU an inclusive campus community. This plan is not limited to building community—it is also deeply rooted in scholarship and learning.

We launched our Plan for Inclusive Excellence in January 2018. Our plan identified five areas of focus—training, learning, and development; campus climate, culture, and community; systems, policies, and procedures; access and equity in the way we recruit, hire, train, develop, evaluate, and recognize faculty, staff, and administrators; and curriculum and instruction. The plan includes immediate steps in each of the five areas through 2020. During this period, and based in part on the initial phase of implementation, we will develop the longer-term plans in each area for the following three years. Through this work, AU has demonstrated that it is a changemaker in this critical area—and will continue to evolve its approach over the next five years.

Implement Training, Learning, and Development: AU community members will demonstrate cultural competency by learning key strategies that reduce bias; exploring personal identity; fostering diversity, equity and inclusion; and being equipped to lead change in a complex world.

Improve Campus Climate, Culture, and Sense of Community: We will work to develop a campus climate and culture where all community members feel safe and experience a sense of belonging and satisfaction. We will support overall well-being through respectful, authentic, and engaged relationships with each other.

Implement Systems, Policies, and Procedures: AU’s systems, policies, and procedures will facilitate diversity, inclusion, transparency, equity, and accountability. We will evaluate, revise, and communicate changes in policies and protocols that will facilitate reports of bias and discrimination, improve clarity, provide transparency, promote fairness, and enhance accountability.

Improve Access and Equity: We will transform the way we recruit, hire, train, develop, evaluate, and recognize AU faculty, staff, and administrators to encourage the achievement of our diversity, equity, and inclusion goals.

Offer Curriculum and Instruction: We will offer an inclusive core curriculum that advances a holistic learning experience and demonstrates AU’s values of critical inquiry, intellectual engagement, and respectful discourse across diverse perspectives.

Implement Next Phase of Inclusive Excellence: Based on the learning, assessment, and feedback from the first two years of implementation of the Plan for Inclusive Excellence, we will develop new, continued, or extended priorities for years 3 through 5. The process for building out the next phase of priorities will be developed by the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI), the Student Advisory Council (SAC) for the President’s Council on Diversity and Inclusion, the Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence, and others.


In five years, AU will have shown an improved campus climate that provides a sense of belonging and community for all its members as evidenced in surveys and focus groups. The retention and graduation rates of underrepresented populations at AU will have increased. And members of the AU community will have successfully completed their training and coursework. As a result of this work, the AU community will have: increased our intercultural competence; used more strategies to interrupt bias and increase inclusivity; and increased our ability to welcome, value, affirm, and engage the perspectives and contributions of all members of our community, especially those who have been historically marginalized.

Measuring Success and Outcomes

AU’s Plan for Inclusive Excellence is guiding efforts across campus and our community that build a culture where everyone has a sense of belonging, collectively contributes to a positive climate, and uses inclusive practices to advance educational outcomes for all. Since the plan’s inception, we have begun building the initial structures, systems, and culture to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion, though this work is only the beginning of the journey.

Imperative 7: Working with Washington

The American University experience is synonymous with Washington. As the nation’s capital and a growing business center, Washington provides unrivaled opportunities for experiential learning, research, and applying scholarship to some of the nation’s most important policy questions. Washington is more than a center of government and of business, however. It also has a rich arts and culture tradition, and it is a vibrant, diverse community.

AU is committed to connecting with all the dimensions of the Washington region. We will partner closely with the District of Columbia on efforts to support local schools and improve engagement between AU and DC students in elementary and high schools. We will make AU a center for Washington art. We will ensure that we undertake our DC engagement in a culturally responsive manner. We will be a part of Washington, not apart from it—reflecting how AU faculty, staff, and students are changemakers dedicated to public service. Since understanding that our future and commitment to inclusive excellence are tied in part to those of our neighbors and physical surroundings, this strategic imperative expands and enhances our current efforts to be an “anchor institution” in Washington.

Advance Education: AU will build out the School of Education’s Dual Enrollment and Teacher Pipeline programs with DC Public Schools. The Dual Enrollment program allows DCPS high school students to take college-level education courses at AU during their senior year. The first cohort of 10 students began their classes in fall 2018. Our Dual Enrollment program is the only one in the DC area with an education/teacher-preparation focus.

Our efforts will continue with SOE’s Teacher Pipeline program, a partnership between American University and DCPS to provide full scholarships to DCPS graduates who wish to become teachers and come back to teach in DCPS. Once fully funded, this program will allow students to earn a bachelor’s degree in education at no cost to them in exchange for a commitment to teach in DCPS for at least five years. The Dual Enrollment and Teacher Pipeline programs are important contributions to the District and will be a foundation of AU’s efforts to grow its collaborative relationship with DC, enhancing the university’s reputation as a valuable member of the Washington ecosystem.

Enrich Arts and Culture: AU will establish itself as a center for Washington arts and culture. AU’s museum, for example, has a long-standing commitment to local artists. Its Alper Initiative for Washington Art is dedicated to preserving, presenting, and creating the art history of Washington, DC, and supports five new exhibits by Washington artists each year. This commitment expanded dramatically with the acquisition of the Corcoran Legacy Collection, which encompasses several works by both modern and contemporary Washington artists, including members of the Washington Color School and figurative artists Sarah Baker, Manon Cleary, and Claudia DeMonte. Through its Arts Management program, AU also has strong relationships with the Kennedy Center and Strathmore. AU’s faculty are also important contributors to the DC arts community, including in theater and visual arts. With its strong and growing support for Washington art, AU is putting the District’s arts and culture at the very heart of is engagement with the local community, creating a unique opportunity for AU to serve as a convening institution in DC.

In addition, the Humanities Truck is a mobile workshop, recording studio, and exhibit space that circulates stories, histories, and creative productions generated through community collaborations to help inform solutions to community-based concerns and priorities—another important way that AU can engage with the community through arts and culture.

Promote Economic Development: AU is committed to supporting the economic development of the local community. We are currently working with the Greater Washington Partnership to develop a digital credential to support the cultivation of a workforce with cutting-edge skills in Washington. We are also working to support the District’s commitment to data-driven governance through our work with the Mayor’s Lab at DC, and to deploy research to address pressing community problems through our Community-Based Research Scholars Program. The Kogod School of Business’s Business in the Capital program and several programs in the School of Public Affairs also provide platforms for expanding the work in DC in this area.

Work with the Community to Shape Our Priorities: University leadership will engage the mayor, DCPS chancellor, other government officials in the District of Columbia and throughout the Washington region, businesses, nonprofits, the Chamber of Commerce, other Washington, DC, regional leaders, and community members to discuss the city and region’s needs in the three anchor areas—education, arts and culture, and economics—and where AU-Washington partnerships can make the biggest impact in addition to the endeavors outlined above. As part of our broader partnerships work (described further below), we will evaluate and map AU’s existing Washington-based partnerships to determine if there are opportunities to achieve greater coordination between programs, to improve communications and marketing around the collective Washington regional work underway and planned for the future, and to seek external funding based on AU’s collective DC regional work.

Expand Education Partnerships: Using these programs as a start, we will explore the basis for developing an expanded set of education-related partnerships with the District (including DCPS and the Department of Employment Services), such as programs related to summer education and workforce development. One goal of these partnerships would be increasing the number of DC students who attend AU.

Expand Arts and Culture Partnerships: We will explore the important model of AU’s Humanities Truck to determine whether deploying a related model in other areas would advance our work in the arts and culture and education contexts.

Consider AU Downtown: AU will explore opening “AU Downtown,” a dedicated, cutting-edge space in the center of the city that supports a range of activities that would raise AU’s profile and generate additional revenue. This space would be used for classes, including for new lifelong learning programs. In addition, this space would be used to host convenings and to bring together AU’s faculty and students with leaders in government, business, and other sectors who live in the Washington, DC, region or are visiting the District.


In five years, we will establish a strong pipeline of District high school students to AU and grow the amount of partnerships between our faculty and the District and other local governments.

Measuring Success and Outcomes

AU is making its relationship with our local community and communities throughout the DC region a top priority as it seeks to become an anchor institution in Washington. AU is partnering with the District and local governments, non-profit organizations, businesses, policymakers, and others to support local schools and improve engagement with DC students; enrich arts and culture; and promote economic development.

Imperative 8: Partnerships

In the changing world of higher education, no single institution will be able to thrive on its own. Partnerships—both across schools at AU and between AU and the public, private, and nonprofit sectors—will be critical to achieving excellence and meeting our ambitious goals for the next five years. While partnerships are not an end in and of themselves, effective partnerships will enhance AU’s reputation and provide important new revenue sources. They will also create opportunities that attract students, simultaneously supporting our efforts to increase retention. As an institution of higher education committed to service, AU is well positioned to make a valuable impact on society through the right partnerships.

By improving how AU partners internally, we will ensure that an already strong institution is greater than the sum of its parts. The type of cross-disciplinary work that will be central to the areas of strategic focus and the strategic imperatives will also be important to taking advantage of many other opportunities for research, teaching, and impact. As a result, removing obstacles that inhibit internal partnerships and implementing incentives that encourage the creation of such partnerships will be essential.

Equally important, AU must work with external partners to complement its areas of strength in order to explore opportunities to shape the future of work, learning, and citizenship. AU will develop the infrastructure and criteria to drive university partnerships in a way that is nimble and guides AU to the most impactful opportunities. We will also work with the many people at AU who have already developed effective external partnerships, to determine how to best support these existing efforts and to identify lessons to guide our future partnership efforts. We anticipate our partnerships could span research collaborations, community-based and experiential learning, career opportunities, advanced/professional education for employees, business development opportunities, international and domestic student recruitment, recognition and brand awareness opportunities, product commercialization, licensing and tech transfer, philanthropic investment, athletics, arts, event sponsorships, and access to faculty consultants, facilities, and labs.

Through placing partnerships at the center of AU’s work, American University will serve as a leading changemaker during this period of flux in higher education.

Expand AU’s Partnership Infrastructure and Process: We will identify and onboard a point person for the partnership start-up work. The point person will work with a task force appointed by the president to assess and build out AU’s partnership efforts, including recommending what structure should be created to catalyze our partnership work. Their efforts will be guided by core principles: First, any proposed structure to support partnerships must be agile, rely on leveraging and coordinating—not replacing—existing partnership efforts at the university, and strike a balance between providing necessary support and ensuring that people throughout the university continue to feel empowered to propose and pursue partnerships. Second, the proposed structure must be cognizant that different kinds of partnerships will require different types and levels of support from the central partnership infrastructure.


In five years, AU will have at least two high-impact partnerships that advance strategic objectives underway, and one more launched.

Imperative 9: How AU Works

For AU to take advantage of the many opportunities outlined in this strategy and to ensure our day-to-day operations are excellent—both in terms of outcomes and the experiences of our community members—we need to improve how the institution works. We need to ensure that faculty, staff, students, and other community members have the tools and support to excel at everything they do, including teaching, research, learning, athletics, and efforts to support those and other university activities.

We want our processes and infrastructure to support excellent work, collaboration, and innovation by our faculty and staff—not to be a barrier to these outcomes—and to create a service-oriented culture for administrative units in support functions. We are fully committed to reforming our processes and infrastructure to achieve this goal. We will continue our efforts to increase transparency and education around the university’s budget so that all members of our community are aware of our financial opportunities and constraints and can contribute to charting a course forward. Our strategy will not succeed without a talented and properly supported team of faculty and staff, which is why we are committed to undertaking a workforce planning strategy to make sure we have the professional development, compensation and benefits, performance measures, incentives, and other tools for our people to succeed, and that our workforce is aligned to our strategic goals. And recognizing that it is critical that people both within and outside AU know of the terrific work of our faculty, staff, and students, we will commit to improving how we tell the story of AU’s enduring and new strengths and accomplishments.

By the end of five years, our goal is that all faculty and staff members feel the ease with which they do their work has dramatically improved and that this has enabled them to focus on substantive priorities instead of navigating needlessly cumbersome processes and unwieldy infrastructure.

Evaluate Our Technology: We will work toward having the technological and physical infrastructure that supports excellent work by our faculty, staff, and students. We will establish an executive committee to develop and then implement the process for deciding on what technology-based tools are needed to support our strategic goals. We will focus first on technology that supports HR practices (such as position creation, recruitment, hiring, onboarding, and promotion), finance practices (such as travel and expense, purchasing/accounts payable, accounts receivable, and budgeting and distributed financial management), and research administration practices (such as pre-award grant development and submission support and post-award financial management). As part of this effort, we will undertake a review of the key processes in these areas (described further below), recognizing that even the best technology will not succeed if it is built on top of flawed processes.

Examine How We Use Space: With respect to space, we will study how the university uses classroom and meeting spaces. Given the space constraints at AU and our ambitious vision for the next five years, improving space utilization is vital. Accordingly, we will review classroom scheduling procedures to determine whether there are ways to achieve more efficient utilization during the school year. We also will study ways to better use facilities year-round.

Make Our Processes Simpler and More Effective: Too many processes and policies at AU are needlessly unwieldy. They force our personnel to jump through a seemingly endless series of hoops instead of doing the critical work of deepening and discovering new knowledge, teaching, supporting students, and other mission-critical functions. We are dedicated to achieving a change of this culture by 2023.

To meet this ambitious goal, we will implement a phased approach to overhauling university policies and procedures over the next five years. Starting with the greatest pain points, a core team will systematically go through policies and procedures to assess their current operation and propose improvements. The core team will conduct this work in close partnership with the relevant stakeholders across campus, including those community members who deal with a policy or procedure on a regular basis. The core team will also rely on internal and external benchmarking to assess processes and provide recommendations for a process to review administrative programs and policies for potential sunsetting of some of those programs.

The core team will also focus on change management to ensure that there is follow-through and successful adoption of new policies and procedures. Through this work, we will mature our use of project and portfolio management across the university.

As part of this review, we will seek to significantly reduce the excess layers of approval in the hiring and onboarding process and realign the support structure to a higher-performing, right-sized team, so that this process will be quicker and smoother for both the hiring office and the applicant. We will work with the Faculty Senate to assess whether the process for approving new programs can be streamlined to allow units to be more nimble in moving forward on key initiatives, while being conscious of avoiding redundancies across schools. In addition, we will pursue several new initiatives to better support sponsored research (detailed in the section on the research strategic imperative).

Convene a Council of Assistant Vice Presidents/Cabinet Direct Reports: To help further improve coordination and communication across units at AU, we will establish a regular convening of the direct reports of all cabinet members.

Undertake Comprehensive Workforce Planning Strategy: AU will undertake a comprehensive workforce planning strategy to ensure that we properly support our talent in their day-to-day work and career growth, that our practices appropriately reward effective performance, and that our allocation of personnel is aligned to our strategic goals.

Develop Shared Goals: We will work on a process of developing university-wide shared goals around the areas of strategic priorities—including collaboration across units (internal partnerships) and overarching measures of success (i.e., enhancing reputation, improving retention and graduation rates, diversifying and growing revenue, and achieving operational excellence)—and implementing these shared goals through the Performance Management Program.

Empower the AU Community with Budget Information: Our ambitions for AU for the next five years depend in significant part on the available financial resources. The development of additional revenue streams—including through the expansion of lifelong learning programs, increased sponsored research funding, and development—is central to our strategy. Expanding collaboration within AU—such as through cross-disciplinary research projects and on courses offered across units—and with external partners is also a core element of our strategy. We need to ensure that our budget processes and structures facilitate these goals. We will also build on our efforts to increase transparency and education around AU’s budget, so that all interested members of the AU community can fully participate in informed discussions about budgetary opportunities and constraints.

Improve How We Tell AU’s Story: AU will undertake a concentrated effort to improve how we tell the story of the university’s enduring and emerging strengths, both internally and externally. AU excels across a range of areas and these successes will only grow as we implement our strategic plan over the next five years. We will use a variety of tools and techniques to ensure we get the word out about these strengths to our own faculty, students, staff, alumni, parents, and others; to our long-term and new partners; to the higher-education community; and to other external sources. A centerpiece of this effort will be the new branding campaign, led by University Communications and Marketing, and a deeper focus on communications.

Review Student-Support Technology: Based on the outcome of the first phase of technology assessment in years 1 and 2, we will determine what technology-based tools are necessary for student support.

Pilot Streamlined Approval for Credential Programs: We will explore a pilot where new credential programs can be approved in an expedited process, allowing units to quickly test demand for areas of potential new degree programs in the market.

Leverage the 21st Century Leadership Institute: We will explore ways to draw on the alumni of the 21st Century Leadership Institute to surface issues that inhibit collaboration across units at AU and propose solutions.

Develop New Approaches to Office Space Utilization: We will explore a possible pilot for potentially moving toward the use of collaborative spaces instead of exclusively private offices in some circumstances.


In five years, AU will have changed the culture of how we work. We will have adopted a nimble and responsive approach to business practices and policies, such that every faculty and staff member feels that their ability to do their work and support the core missions of the university has improved, as demonstrated by survey data. The implementation of a new suite of technology solutions that support this work will be underway. We will have successfully designed and implemented a comprehensive workforce strategy. We will have improved how AU tells the story of its enduring and emerging strengths, as evidenced by applicable survey data, and will have rolled out the new branding strategy.

Measuring Success and Outcomes

AU is changing the culture of how we work. We are adopting a nimble and responsive approach that supports teaching, learning, and research by improving our employee hiring, onboarding, and advancement; modernizing our technology; and enhancing how we use our space. We will tell the story of AU’s enduring and emerging strengths through a new branding strategy.