You are here: American University President Announcements April 17, 2020

AU Memo Letterhead

Dear AU Community, 

Our COVID-19 response is guided by the principles of ensuring the health and well-being of our community; advancing our mission of teaching, learning, and research; and contributing to the broader public health and economic response to this crisis. Moving classes online for spring and summer, expanding telework, and reducing operations on-campus safeguarded our students, faculty, and staff, helped reduce the risk of transmission, and positioned us well for the next phase of this challenging time. We cannot thank you enough for your support, flexibility, and commitment to one other. Your ability to adapt to a changing world and lead the way forward showed exactly what AU Eagles are made of. 

Today, we write to you in the unified voice of the university’s executive team to discuss our current state of affairs and our planning for the future. We still have many challenges to face, given the uncertain trajectory of the virus. Each day brings the stark reality of COVID-19’s health and economic impacts. Our hearts go out to everyone who has been affected – to our friends and colleagues who are recovering from COVID-19, members of the AU family who have lost loved ones to this terrible virus, and those struggling with very difficult financial circumstances. 

All of us – as individuals, as a society, and as a university – will emerge from this situation profoundly changed. We are looking ahead with the purpose that defines us as Eagles, dedicated to our community, our mission, and the short- and long-term strength of AU. Today, we want to share our steps to address the immediate financial realities for the university. 

Financial Impacts 

The response to COVID-19 created approximately $27 million to date in increased expenses and lost revenue for the university. Many of the unanticipated impacts came from decisions we made to support our community – ensuring our full and part-time employees are able to perform their jobs or alternate work from home and continuing normal pay; providing prorated refunds to students for housing and meal plan costs; offering the 10 percent discount for summer courses; enhancing our technology infrastructure and services to support online learning and telework; and fully funding the benefits and retirement plans for our contract workers. 

Depending on conditions for the fall, financial shortfalls for the university could significantly expand. Like all universities, we are highly tuition-dependent and we have to prepare for potential negative impacts on those finances. Additionally, our endowment has been affected by uncertainty in the financial markets, though we have mitigated some of the impact with strategic investment decisions over the past several years. The endowment is not an unlimited source of funding that can be used to cover unforeseen expenses. It is governed by restrictions that direct much of its value to specific purposes and ensure that it can support the university and its students far into the future. 

We have already taken a number of immediate steps to begin mitigating these financial challenges, identifying cost savings and carefully controlling all spending. We have applied for federal funding dedicated to universities in the relief legislation, which includes aid for students, though the US Department of Education is still defining the exact parameters. As we look ahead, we are taking the following additional actions to maintain our commitment to health and safety and manage our finances during these times of uncertainty. 

Expanded Telework and Supporting Our Staff 

Expanded telework operations will continue until further notice. This will enable us to continue our core mission and functions, follow evolving health guidance from federal, state, and local governments, and support team members as they balance responsibilities at work and at home. When a date is determined to resume in-person work, we will update you with sufficient notice so our teams can prepare for the return. 

The current compensation approach for full-time and regular part-time employees will continue through the end of this fiscal year (June 30). We will work with HR to make every effort to find alternate assignments for positions not suitable for telework. While there is always potential uncertainty with evolving timelines, making decisions for defined periods based on the best available information provides as much clarity as possible, supports our team, and enables the responsible and necessary financial actions. 

Executive Compensation and Performance Management

To help address the current financial challenges, the executive team (the President, Provost, and Vice Presidents) will reduce our compensation this year. President Burwell’s compensation will be lowered by 15 percent, while the Provost and the Vice Presidents will forgo 8 percent at this time, with the understanding that further actions may be necessary depending on future financial developments. We all agree that this is the right and appropriate thing to do to support our community and our university in this time of need. 

Due to the ongoing economic pressures, the annual merit program will be limited to only faculty and staff making $40,000 per year or less. We will proceed with a modified performance management process (PMP) for all employees this year. More information will be coming from HR, as we know that the COVID-19 situation has caused significant impacts on many people’s goals. 


We are revising the previous guidance and implementing a hiring freeze for all faculty and staff positions until further notice. This policy applies to new hires, promotions, reclassifications, and stipends. Limited exceptions will be allowed for mission-critical positions, which will require the approval of the relevant cabinet member in consultation with Human Resources. 

Capital Projects

We will complete major ongoing projects such as the Hall of Science, but all new capital investments and construction are on hold until further notice. Long-term planning, including developing the new campus plan, will proceed. We will continue regular maintenance to ensure our facilities and infrastructure remain in good condition to support our students, faculty, and staff. 

Although these unquestionably challenging times require sacrifice from so many members of our community, we believe these steps will help to address the existing hurdles, put AU in the best position to navigate potential financial shortfalls in the future, and preserve our core mission. 

We are all hopeful and planning for a return to campus in the fall. The decision will ultimately be determined by health guidance and scientific facts, and we are preparing for a wide range of possible scenarios. Should COVID-19 continue to disrupt our community, we will address the associated economic impacts and additional steps that may become necessary. We know there are many questions, and while we cannot always provide the certainty we all seek, we will share information as soon as it is available. 

No matter the changes caused by COVID-19, we will not waver in our educational and research mission, nor our commitment to the AU community. Changemakers always look ahead, prepared to address this ever-changing world and take action to make it better. That is what you do every day, and we could not be prouder to be part of this inspiring community. 

Be safe and be well. 

Sylvia M. Burwell President 

Dan Myers Provost 

Fanta Aw Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence 

Matt Bennett Vice President and Chief Communications Officer 

Traevena Byrd Vice President, General Counsel, and Board Secretary 

Seth Grossman Chief of Staff and Counselor to the President 

Doug Kudravetz Chief Financial Officer, Vice President, and Treasurer 

Steve Munson Vice President and Chief Information Officer 

Courtney Surls Vice President, Development and Alumni Relations 

Billy Walker Director, Athletics and Recreation