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President's Message | Archive

November 17, 2006

TO: Campus Community
FROM: Neil Kerwin, Interim President
SUBJECT: Campus Update

As we reach the final weeks of fall semester, I want to provide the campus with an update of noteworthy developments. 

Board of Trustees

The Board of Trustees met on November 2 and 3 to review a full agenda. The report from board chairman Gary Abramson will be posted on the trustees’ Web site, and a number of board actions are described later in this memo. The board now consists of 28 trustees, including one student and two faculty members.  The meetings are now characterized by increased participation by the campus representatives and much more of the board discussion taking place in open session.

October Events for Donors, Families, and Alumni

On October 19, nearly 400 members attended the 25th annual President’s Circle Dinner and saw Robyn Rafferty Mathias (CAS/BA ’63 and WCL/JD ’92) receive the President’s Award; Alan Meltzer (’69-72) receive the Cyrus Ansary Medal; and the Honorable Stuart A. Bernstein (KSB/BSBA ’60) earn recognition as a founder of the President’s Circle. We also recognized individuals who have been President’s Circle members for 25 and 10 years.   

Family and Reunion weekend (October 20-22) was a great success, with strong attendance at the various events and tremendous spirit throughout the three days. From welcoming the parents of freshmen students to honoring the “Golden Eagles” (alumni who have celebrated their 50th reunion), the weekend was filled with memorable activities.  Particularly noteworthy activities included the “Legacy Reception” for families who have made AU a tradition—including faculty and staff who are the parents of students or alumni; families with more than one student enrolled; and parents who are AU alums and have a current student enrolled. The Kennedy Political Union hosted speech by the Honorable Cherie Blair, lawyer and human rights advocate (and spouse of British Prime Minister Tony Blair); and the “Movers and Shakers” event at the Reagan Building where alumni Tony Perkins (SOC/BA ’81) of WTTG-TV Fox 5 Morning News received the Alumni Achievement award, and Neal Sharma (SPA/BA ’98) received the Rising Star award.

Our men’s and women’s soccer and volleyball teams were active on campus during celebration weekend and each recorded wins, and our Department of Performing Arts opened their production of “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?”  At my Saturday morning (October 21) session with parents, we discussed matters related to the student experience at American University.  Several parents raised concerns about the delivery and security of mail sent to their sons and daughters. While this seems to be a problem that is common at most universities and colleges, the issue is important and we will follow up.

Campaign for AnewAU

We continue to make progress on the Campaign for AnewAU. As of today, we stand at $125.7 million toward the campaign goal of $200 million; we have raised $8.5 million so far this year.  Both the campaign and the work to be done to fulfill campaign objectives were prominent topics of discussion at the meeting of the Alumni Affairs and Development Committee of the Board of Trustees.  We are pursuing a number of opportunities to convince donors of how vital the campaign goals are to the institution’s future and, above all else, worthy of their support. I remain confident that the campaign will be a resounding success and will contribute significantly to our academic and co-curricular goals.

The Budget

Since my last report, little has changed regarding the general condition of enrollments and of the operating budget.  The undergraduate program remains strong except for some weakness in the credit portion of the Washington Semester program; graduate programs enrolled fewer students than projected, except for the Washington College of Law, which continues its extraordinary record of strong enrollments.  We continue to review the budget impact of these patterns; however, we anticipate no significant difficulty in closing the year with a balanced budget since any shortfalls in revenue (currently projected to be roughly 2% of budget) will be offset by the tuition reserve safeguards or by prudently managing various expense categories.  

Despite this assessment, it will be challenging to develop our budget for the next two fiscal years. The Board of Trustees, acting on the recommendation of their Finance and Investment Committee, approved the budget formulation criteria developed by the University Budget Committee. In reviewing the criteria, the board placed a special priority on university marketing, and directed me and the administration to focus on this increasingly important area of our operations. The University Budget Committee, under the leadership of Interim Provost Broder and Vice President Myers, will now proceed to develop the budget for the next two fiscal years in ways consistent with the criteria approved by the board and to advance the objectives of the university’s strategic plan. The hard work now begins—enrollment projections, revenue calculations, base-spending considerations, and possible reallocation requests for new funding—to produce a balanced budget. I have issued the traditional budget call to the interim provost and vice presidents to initiate the detailed budget formulation process. The University Budget Committee will hold town meetings on the topic; I encourage you to work through your constituency organizations and their representatives on the committee to make your views known. The committee can provide a copy of the approved budget formulation criteria to you, should you care to review them.

I also should add that while it is still very early in the recruitment cycle for fall 2007, the initial indications are positive. Inquiries and applications for the freshman class, including the early decision pool, are up over last year, and the Office of Enrollment reports that the November Preview Day is the largest on record. But it is premature to draw any conclusions about where we will end up with next year’s classes. I will continue to update the community.

Communications, Marketing, and the Web

Given the strong interest in university marketing expressed by the board, it is timely for me to report on the status of our Web project.  Earlier this year, I asked School of Communication Dean Larry Kirkman to head a representative committee to assess our current Web presence and sufficiency and to make recommendations for change. The committee filed its report in September, and I agreed with the fundamental recommendation that American University must make a substantial and immediate investment to make AU’s Web presence comparable to those of peer institutions; this investment includes:

  • A strategic analysis of site objectives, audience needs, and content requirements;
  • The development and execution of new interface and graphic designs for AU’s main Web site and the sites of the schools and colleges and other academic and administrative units;
  • The selection, purchase, and installation of an enterprise-wide content management system (CMS) with appropriate tools for new and multi-media services;
  • An analysis of the management, staffing, structure and skills required of our campus communications and marketing professionals, to ensure that we fully utilize both the current capabilities and future potential of the Web as our primary communications driver.

A key “next step” in this process occurred in mid-October, when our contracts office issued a “request for proposals” to solicit potential vendors for this major project. This month, a team of eight, drawn primarily from the Web committee, met to review the proposals and compile a short list of companies to be invited to campus to make presentations in early December. After the finalists return to present to the university leadership, I am confident that we will be close to selecting a firm by the end of December.  I will keep the campus informed of this vitally important project and the additional steps, such as the appointment of a Web project team and project leadership. 

Social Responsibility

We also are proceeding with the working group on institutional social responsibility.  I am currently working with recommendations from the various campus constituencies to assemble a group that consists of individuals willing and able to contribute to a searching and informed discussion of the areas discussed in my October 16 communication to campus on this topic. The initial meeting will be held within the next few weeks, and the charge and working group leadership will be discussed. We are not alone in this effort, so I will ensure that our working group can benefit from the experiences of other institutions. I expect to make reports to the Board of Trustees, who endorsed the creation of this group, at both their February and May meetings.

Closing Comments

In closing, I mention a special recognition that AU received this semester. On October 30, the Executive Director of the Truman Foundation visited campus to recognize our outstanding performance in the Truman Scholarship competition and to present a plaque to recognize AU’s designation as a “2006 Truman Foundation Honor Institution,” an honor shared only with Emory University, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Seattle University. Indeed, our performance in this prestigious and demanding competition has been extraordinary, with 11Truman Scholars and dozens of Truman finalists since 1978.  It is especially gratifying to receive this award given the confluence of values between American University and the Truman Foundation. The actual award will be displayed in the Office of Merit Awards in the Career Center. The hard work of that staff, led by Dr. Paula Warrick, and a dedicated group of faculty, many of whom were in attendance at the award ceremony, has been crucial to the success of our candidates.

We will end the semester with the annual December reception for our summer and fall graduates. We expect approximately 850 attendees (including 250 graduates) to participate in this event, which has become a winter tradition.

All the best for the upcoming holidays, and I wish for you a successful completion of the fall semester. 

November 17, 2006 12:16 PM


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