You are here: American University President Announcements April 9, 2015 Memo

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Memorandum April 9, 2015

AU Community
Neil Kerwin, President
Spring Semester Update

Condition of the University

I typically open my letter to the community to report that the condition of AU is sound--and then move on to specific topics. In many respects, our university is quite sound.

But forces are affecting our institution that are troubling and, in some cases, deeply so. They require attention in this letter and, far more importantly, throughout our community.

Recently members of our campus community were subjected in social media to racist, offensive comments that were reprehensible. Similar experiences are occurring with disturbing frequency nationwide at other colleges and universities, but they are especially unwelcome at our university, which so actively strives to be diverse and inclusive.

In the wake of such acts, demonstrations and discussions have empowered members of our community--from a range of racial and ethnic backgrounds and political perspectives--to recount numerous experiences that left them outraged and disappointed. Insensitive comments, attitudes, and academic interactions with faculty and other students have left many AU community members feeling marginalized and disrespected.

To keep the promise made in the university's strategic plan to "reflect and value diversity," we must recognize acts like these and call them what they are--bigotry, ignorance, and intolerance. Like all institutions devoted to learning, we face a great challenge in balancing conditions that make it possible for every member of the community to learn and work in a respectful environment that also supports free academic inquiry and unfettered speech. Since the strategic plan also articulates a promise to "promote civil discourse," we will promote venues to express our differences in ways that encourage responsibility and accountability, while we condemn venues that invite anonymity, irresponsibility, and incendiary speech.

Equally troubling is the incidence of sexual assault, described as an epidemic on college and university campuses, including our own. Recently Rob Hradsky, the dean of students, notified the campus community that the Office of Civil Rights (OCR) of the Department of Education is conducting a Title IX inquiry. The university is working with OCR and will provide information about our case investigations and our programs to prevent sexual assault. We strive to continuously review and improve our prevention, victim support, investigation, and adjudication processes. We want to ensure that American University has in place the best practices available to prevent and respond to sexual assault.

Every member of the AU community has a role in dealing with these two issues. To that end, I urge you to attend our next Board of Trustees open forum, on Wednesday, April 15, at 3 p.m. in the School of International Service (Abramson Family Founders Room). I invite you to ask questions and present your views on these or other matters to board chair Jeff Sine, chair-elect Jack Cassell, and me.

Enrollment Projections for Fall 2015

The Office of Enrollment received more than 16,700 freshman applications for fall 2015, an increase of nearly 11 percent compared with the fall 2014 admission cycle. Undergraduate enrollment projections indicate that we are on track to meet a target of 1,600 new first year students. Most impressive is the admit rate of 35 percent, the lowest in AU's history and a decrease of 11 percentage points compared with last year's admit rate of 46 percent. Conversion activities are underway with the Admissions staff and other campus partners to meet newly admitted students in 27 U.S. locations and a number of international cities. We look forward to hosting students and their families on campus during upcoming overnight programs and Freshman Day on April 17.

Strategic Plan and University Operating Budget (FY16-17)

The Board of Trustees approved the university budget for FY16 and FY17 at its March meeting, which sets the course for AU's continuing achievement and progress in the next two years. The strategic plan, American University in the Next Decade: Leadership for a Changing World, was at the forefront of these actions. The board reviewed the strategic plan objectives for years seven and eight, which were developed through an open and consultative process. An overview of that process, as well as the objectives that culminated from it, can be found on the strategic plan website. These objectives reflect an ambitious view of the future and a diligent effort to ensure we are getting all we can from the large investments made.

The details of the budget are available on the Office of Finance and Treasurer and University Budget Resource Center websites. The budget for the next two years includes an additional investment of $55 million to fund strategic objectives and action steps considered to be an utmost university priority.

Carrying forward the momentum on our strategic priorities for the next two years is carefully balanced with other critical factors including affordability, Middle States reaccreditation recommendations, and external factors such as regulatory changes. Tuition rate increases will be 3 percent in FY16 and 3.5 percent in FY17; and overall increases for tuition, room, and board will be 2.5 percent in FY16 and 3 percent in FY17. Our strategic investment in human resources will continue in the next two years with enhancements to instructional resources, market-based compensation adjustments for term faculty, 1.5 percent funding pools in each year for performance-based payments for faculty and staff (one-time payments in FY16 and base salary increases in FY17), and wage increases to support our student employees.

The environment in which this budget was developed faced a greater degree of complexity than those of other recent university budget formulation processes. Our approach to managing within this context includes 1 percent operating budget reductions in each year and cash funding supplements. These measures within the approved budget are necessary to achieve equilibrium and to ensure a strong foundation for the FY18 and FY19 budget process. I am confident that our response to these challenges will result in being better positioned for progress and growth in the coming years.


Commencement ceremonies will be held Saturday, May 9; Sunday, May 10; and Sunday, May 17, in Bender Arena as follows:

Saturday, May 9

  • 9 a.m. School of Public Affairs, with William K. Reilly, senior advisor, TPG Capital LP and former administrator, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as speaker.
  • 2 p.m. School of Communication, with Sheila C. Johnson, CEO, Salamander Hotels and Resorts and vice chairman, Monumental Sports and Entertainment as speaker.
  • 7 p.m. College of Arts and Sciences, with Kathryn D. Sullivan, under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and administrator, National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration, and former astronaut as speaker.

Sunday, May 10

  • 10 a.m. Kogod School of Business, with Mark A. Weinberger, global chairman/CEO of EY as speaker.
  • p.m. School of International Service, with Robert F. Smith, founder, chairman/CEO, Vista Equity Partners, and chairman, Robert F. Kennedy Center for Justice and Human Rights as speaker.

Sunday, May 17

  • 1 p.m. Washington College of Law, with Thomas Goldstein (WCL/JD '95), partner, Goldstein and Russell PC , and one of the nation's most experienced Supreme Court practitioners as speaker.

In addition to celebrating the achievements of our graduates and honoring our commencement speakers, we will present an honorary degree to long-serving trustee and former board chair Gary Abramson, in recognition of his decades of commitment to American University as an alumnus, trustee, board chair, and supporter. This will be part of the School of Communication ceremony on Saturday, May 9.

The schedule and parking procedures were altered this year due to the loss of 900 parking spaces because of East Campus construction. Parking will be extremely restricted, and no parking is allowed in the adjacent neighborhoods. We encourage guests to use public transportation. Each graduate who rents or purchases regalia (or wears formal military dress) will receive one pass for on-campus parking. Special commencement parking passes will be required for faculty and staff participating in or working commencement weekend who wish to drive to campus. Updated information regarding parking passes is on the commencement website.

To accommodate guests without tickets, the ceremony will be shown live at a remote viewing location in the Ward Circle Building. Commencement materials will be provided to those guests. The ceremonies will also be streamed live on the commencement website for guests who are unable to attend.

Additional details about the ceremonies and parking can be found on the commencement website.

Vice President of Development Search

With the departure of Tom Minar, vice president of development and alumni relations, to become president of Franklin College at end of this academic year (see January 23 memo), the search for a successor is under way. Chairing the search committee is Mary Kennard, vice president and general counsel. We will use the executive search services of Witt/Kieffer.

In addition to Vice President Kennard, the committee members include:

  • Jack Cassell, incoming chair, AU Board of Trustees

  • Marc Duber, incoming vice chair, AU Board of Trustees

  • Peter Scher, vice chair, Alumni Affairs and Development Committee, AU Board of Trustees

  • Andrea Agathoklis Murino, president, AU Alumni Board

  • Terry Flannery, vice president, University Communications and Marketing

  • David Taylor, president's chief of staff and secretary, AU Board of Trustees

  • James Goldgeier, dean, School of International Service

  • Peter Starr, dean, College of Arts and Sciences

  • Fanta Aw, assistant vice president, Office of Campus Life

  • Raina Lenney, assistant vice president, Alumni Relations.

Our goal is to name a new vice president in the summer of 2015. Inquiries, nominations, and applications should be emailed to Dennis Barden and Amy Crutchfield at The job description appears on the Witt/Kieffer site.

Development and Alumni Relations
The College of Arts and Sciences announced in March that international philanthropist and businesswoman Susan Carmel Lehrman has established the Carmel Institute of Russian Culture and History, with one of the most significant gifts in AU history. Ms. Lehrman will endow and elevate the former Initiative for Russian Culture (IRC) to fund the existing operations of the IRC in perpetuity to enhance and expand its already robust programming in cultural diplomacy. Since its inception, the IRC has promoted greater understanding of Russian culture's versatility and richness among all students in the Washington area's Consortium of Universities. Its work continues to build lasting connections between Russians and Americans. More than 14,000 students and guests in the Washington metropolitan region have participated in IRC film screenings, panel discussions, and cultural experiences. The institute will build upon this foundation by offering new classes, additional study abroad opportunities, and more robust academic symposia.

United Methodist Review

Every 10 years, following the Middle States process of self-study and accreditation, the University Senate of the United Methodist Church also conducts a peer review of Methodist affiliated institutions-of which American University is one of almost 120 such colleges and universities, including Duke, Emory, Syracuse, and Boston University.

Last fall, an AU working group assembled to collect documents and organize a report to fulfill the assessment criteria of institutional integrity, academic program quality, sound management and financial health, and church relatedness and to demonstrate how AU's values align with those of the United Methodist Church.

From March 25-27, a review team that included Rock Jones (president, Ohio Wesleyan University); Brian Casey (president, DePauw University); and Bridgette Young Ross (dean of the chapel and spiritual life, Emory University) conducted the review, which included interviews with board leadership, students, faculty, chaplains, staff, and members of the AU administration. American University made a very strong impression on the review team, who suggested that AU is a model Methodist-related institution and that other universities could benefit from AU's example as a vibrant university committed to the ideals of academic excellence, service, human dignity, and positive change. I thank all who participated in this vigorous and important review.

Construction, Facilities, and Financing

The Washington College of Law Tenley Campus project is proceeding on schedule, despite the severe winter weather. The new law school facility will open for spring semester 2016. Our East Campus project experienced excavation delays due to the severe winter weather. The project start also was delayed by 112 days due to neighbors' concerns about groundwater and additional testing, design, and permitting of the site's dewatering system. We also are seeking permission from the D.C. Zoning Commission for extended work hours to allow longer work days and Saturdays, an action for which AU received support from ANC 3D and Westover Place (and which we appreciate).

To support these projects, we recently completed Phase II of our planned capital financing by issuing $128.5 million in 30-year bonds. As part of that process, we were pleased that both Moody's and Standard & Poor's affirmed our A-1 and A+ credit ratings with positive reports. I also am also pleased to report that our endowment value has surpassed the $600 million mark for the first time in AU's history and now stands at $608 million, as of February 28, 2015.

As Board of Trustees chair Sine mentioned in his March 9 letter to campus, the board has authorized that we proceed with a process to plan for a new sciences building, as contemplated in the 2011 campus plan. A preliminary program statement was shared with the board by the College of Arts and Sciences. The project would co-locate natural science programs such as biology, chemistry, environmental science, and neuroscience in the new building. We will update the campus as our planning proceeds for this exciting initiative.

Faculty Awards and Scholar-Teacher of the Year

In March, Provost Bass announced the 2015 University Faculty Award recipients, who represent AU's finest scholars and teachers. Each has contributed immensely to the university, to the lives of students and colleagues, and to his or her respective disciplines. Their valuable contributions can be seen in their teaching, research, publications, service, and other scholarly awards and creative work.

This year's award winners include:

  • Scholar-Teacher of the Year: Angela Davis, professor, Washington College of Law

  • Outstanding Teaching in a Full-Time Appointment: Kathleen Gunthert, associate professor, psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

  • Outstanding Scholarship, Research, Creative Activity, and Other Professional Contributions: Susan Carle, professor, Washington College of Law and Terry Davidson, professor, Psychology, College of Arts and Sciences

  • Outstanding Service to the University Community: Pallavi Kumar, assistant professor, School of Communication

  • Outstanding Teaching in a Term Appointment: Michael Clayton, professorial lecturer, Marketing, Kogod School of Business and Chris Edelson, assistant professor, Government, School of Public Affairs

  • Outstanding Teaching in an Adjunct Appointment: Eric Novotny, professorial lecturer, School of International Service

  • Morton Bender Prize: Elizabeth Malloy, associate professor, Mathematics and Statistics, College of Arts and Sciences.

These honorees will be recognized at the annual Faculty Recognition Dinner at the National Press Club on Sunday, April 26, along with faculty who reached milestone anniversaries ranging from 25 to 45 years of service and those faculty who will retire this year. These scholars have dedicated their careers to AU and have helped shape the institution that stands today.

OIT Campus Upgrades

OIT has upgraded the core campus network. This upgrade provides our community with a robust platform capable of higher inter-connectivity between our campus, the AU data center, and the Internet. The wireless network in Bender Arena has also been upgraded, not only to improve signal quality and coverage, but also to improve the capacity needed to support thousands of attendees during special events such as commencement, dignitary visits, and sporting events.


AU winter sports made a strong showing, led by the women's basketball team, which won both the regular season Patriot League title and the Patriot League Tournament to earn its first-ever berth in the NCAA Women's Championship. On the national stage, we played a solid first-round game against host team Iowa before losing 75-67. Graduate student Jen Dumiak was the Patriot League Player of the Year, Scholar-Athlete of the Year, and MVP of the Patriot League tournament. She also earned Capital One Academic All-America status as one of only five student athletes chosen from all 349 Division I institutions that play women's basketball. In her second season as head coach, Megan Gebbia earned Patriot League Coach of the Year honors as the Eagles won 11 out of 12 games after February 1.

Men's basketball had a strong finish to the season. After placing sixth in the Patriot League standings, the Eagles won two playoff road games to reach the League Championship game before losing by only two points in the final period at Lafayette. Pee Wee Gardner and Jesse Reed were selected to the All-Patriot League squad.

In wrestling, David Terao and John Boyle each finished second in their respective weight classes at the Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association Tournament and advanced to the NCAA Division I Championships in St. Louis.


As we enter the final weeks of the semester, I wish everyone the very best for a successful conclusion. I will write again in early summer.