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President's Message | Archive

October 16, 2006

TO: Campus Community
FROM: Neil Kerwin, Interim President
SUBJECT: Working Group on Social Responsibility

Following a spirited discussion at its September 15 meeting, American University’s Board of Trustees took action on the crisis in Darfur. Their decisions with regard to AU’s investment portfolio send a strong message about this institution’s historical and ongoing commitment to human rights and its willingness to act on those values. 

This is the latest in a number of individual actions that affirm this important part of the university’s distinctive mission. American University has a long tradition of affirming human rights and dignity, social justice, environmental protection, diversity, and individual freedom. This aspect of the university’s character was affirmed in Point #11 of the current strategic plan, Ideas into Action, Action into Service – Fulfilling the American University Paradigm. Institutional actions in recent years that are particularly aligned with AU’s stated values include the adoption of the Principles on Burma; the wage policy; AU’s decision to join both the Worker Rights Consortium (WRC) and the Fair Labor Association (FLA) to help ensure that its licensed apparel is manufactured under conditions that comply with workplace codes of conduct; plans to adopt the principles outlined in the Talloires Declaration; and the university’s implementation of progressive policies addressing equal opportunity.

Each of these policies is properly viewed as a milestone in American University’s ongoing development as a socially responsible institution. Each of these policies was enabled in part by a dedicated working group that made recommendations for consideration by the university administration. Our commitment to maintaining a general posture of social responsibility is, however, broadly based and permanent.  The board’s deliberations on Darfur included an important discussion of the criteria and policies that should guide us in our many and varied institutional actions and relationships that collectively define what we mean when we describe ourselves as “socially responsible.”

With this memorandum I communicate my intention to create a working group on institutional social responsibility to consist of faculty, students and staff with requisite expertise and interest in the area. I will consult with the interim provost, vice presidents, Faculty Senate, student organizations and Staff Council to identify a pool of prospective members. The group will be advisory to the president, and I will communicate the results of its work to the Board of Trustees and the full community. The working group’s initial charge will be to:

  • Consider and recommend principles of social responsibility that balance AU’s stated commitments to social justice, environmental protection, and related values, with our academic, budgetary, and administrative goals. The working group should consider the general categories of actions the university might take when confronted with situations requiring a response (e.g. investment, purchasing, service work, volunteer efforts, and public statements). 
  • Consider and recommend an ongoing process by which matters of social responsibility can be considered and discussed by the community, prior to formulating recommendations for consideration by the university administration and the Board of Trustees.
  • Consistent with our institutional commitments to regularly assess our work, to consider and recommend benchmarks to evaluate our performance in the area of social responsibility.

I look forward to this group providing an essential framework for a number of outstanding specific commitments that will require action in the coming months. These include, but are not limited to, actions needed to qualify American University as a signatory to the Talloires Declaration; steps to implement last year's student referendum on the purchase of energy from renewable sources; and an examination of the status of our current policies related to the government of Burma.

I will report regularly on the efforts of this working group and on the progress we make on the specific items listed above and on others, as we continue to embrace American University’s distinctive attribute of social responsibility.

October 16, 2006 11:33 AM


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