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President's Message | Archive



September 20, 2010

Campus Community
FROM: Neil Kerwin, President
Fall Semester Update


Four weeks into fall term, it’s time for an update on a variety of important issues. 

General Condition of the University

The general condition of the university is sound. We have met or exceeded our enrollment goals for incoming freshmen, transfer students, graduate students, and law students, and the academic credentials of the students is increasingly impressive. The rate of admission for our new freshman class is 43.5 percent, which is down nine percentage points from last year. The SAT scores of entering freshman students are 10 points higher than last year’s class, and their grade point average is identical. Transfer student enrollment was strong, and the quality of these students (as measured by grade point averages) improved. Graduate and law students enrolled in larger numbers than expected, and the deans report strong profiles for these entering classes. The admit rate for the Washington College of Law was 21 percent, with 40 percent of enrolled students minority and 56 percent female.  

At the time of this writing, the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate for the class that entered last fall is 90.8 percent and freshman-to-junior retention for the class that entered in fall 2008 stands at 85.1 percent, which are historic figures for AU.

Provost Scott Bass reports a smooth start to the academic year, and registration is exceptionally strong for the second annual All Faculty Retreat to be held in October. Vice president of campus life Gail Hanson reports that move-in and orientation for new students were successful.

This was the second year of our new format and location for university convocation, and attendance by the freshman class was exceptional. Our newest students heard from a number of speakers, including Scott Bass, Gail Hanson, Scholar-Teacher of the Year Andrew Popper (WCL), AU Alumni Association secretary Sandra Walter-Steinberg (Kogod/BSBA ’86), and me. In addition to his own inspirational remarks, Student Government president Nate Bronstein led everyone in a spirited rendition of the AU fight song to close the program.

AU’s fiscal condition is solid due to ongoing success in enrollment management, the stewardship of our financial resources, and careful administration of budgets throughout the university. While the year is still young, we appear to be on track to produce a balanced budget, or better, for the current year.

Strategic Plan

I will report on the strategic plan’s progress at the September 23–24 meeting of the Board of Trustees. That report is based on the work of the Strategic Plan Measurement Team, which has been collecting information pertinent to the two-year objectives that accompanied the current budget (and was approved by the board in February 2009). Following the September board meeting, I will post both my report and that of the measurement team. In addition to informing the community, the reports will be resources for campus discussions to help develop objectives for both the next phase of plan implementation and the next two-year budget that will provide the resources to accomplish them. 

Two-Year Budget

I will soon appoint a University Budget Committee to develop recommendations related to AU’s revenue and expenditures for the next two fiscal years (2012–2013). As is our practice, the committee will be chaired by the provost and vice president of finance Don Myers and include representatives from the faculty, students, and staff. The committee will develop recommendations for me to consider and submit to the Board of Trustees for their consideration and action. This will occur in two phases.

The first phase will consist of redeveloping the proposed budget formulation guidelines that embody the assumptions and broad priorities for developing a detailed budget. These will be prepared in time for consideration and action by the board at their November 2010 meeting. After the guidelines are approved, the committee will develop a set of specific revenue and expenditure proposals for me to consider and approve and which will be submitted to the board for action at the February 2011 trustees meeting. As was the case with the current budget, revenue and expenditure proposals will be driven by the objectives we set for the next two years under the strategic plan. These objectives will be set after the provost, vice presidents, directors, and I have benefitted from wide consultations with the entire campus community. These consultations will run in parallel with and inform the budget committee’s deliberations. I will communicate the process for setting these new objectives in a few weeks.  

Campus Plan

Work continues on the development of our 10-year campus plan, which will articulate our objectives for the development of facilities for the next decade and will be submitted to the D.C. Zoning Commission later this year for their review and action. Because of the complexity of this process, the public nature of deliberations, and the strategic importance for America University’s future, I am preparing a detailed letter to the campus community to ensure that everyone knows what we are trying to accomplish, why these facilities are important to our future, and the hard work that lies ahead. We have communicated that a key need AU seeks to fulfill is undergraduate student housing, and a lead project is a new “East Campus” development on what is now the Nebraska Avenue parking lot. The architectural firm of Little Diversified has been selected to design the site, which should enable both campus and community to better envision what this new campus might look like. And while plans to develop the Tenley Campus as the new home for the Washington College of Law have proceeded at a slower pace, we are now seeking (but have not yet hired) an architect to similarly envision the possibilities of that site.  


National Survey on Student Engagement

The 2010 NSSE results, released in August, affirm that AU offers a robust and engaging educational experience. American University improved on all five benchmarks for both first-year students and seniors compared with the 2008 results (the last time the survey was administered). The university scored significantly higher than many other participating institutions on active and collaborative learning (first-year and seniors), faculty–student interaction (first-year and seniors) and supportive campus environment (first-year). AU is in the top 10 percent of institutions for level of academic challenge (first-year) and enriching educational experiences (first-year and seniors). The findings also indicate that AU students are much more likely than their peers to participate in cocurricular activities, do community service, study a foreign language, study abroad, and do an internship. 

In sum, AU students are engaged in their studies, active in their community, and take advantage of the many enriching educational experiences that AU has to offer. More information on the 2010 results is online at



Goal 10 in our strategic plan calls on us to “win recognition and distinction” so that the important and impressive work of AU is known and appreciated. A key element is a branding initiative designed to bring attention to the university with a direct, authentic, and distinctive message that motivates people to learn more about American University through the rich information available via the Web and other resources. After much consideration, the concept we’ve selected to deliver that message is “Know/Wonk.” 

I want to thank the university-wide team of representatives—the University Marketing Advisory Council—who worked for almost two years to guide the research and recommend this distinctive approach. I also thank the professionals in University Communications and Marketing and the student brand teams who created and refined the concept and strategy. Many of you participated in interviews, surveys, focus groups, and presentations. We anticipated a range of reactions, and we have received just that—enthusiasm, dialogue, questioning, and criticism. The Eagle has reported and editorialized on this topic, and it has been a source of rich discussion and learning in classes. Feedback has been encouraged and will be considered as we implement this concept in advertisements, recruitment materials, events, programs, and other communications. For those who want to learn more, please visit Get to Know Wonk at


Army Corps 

High probability intrusive work remains suspended at the 4825 Glenbrook Road site as the Army Corps designs a plan for future work. The site will be demobilized, and intrusive work will not continue until after a work plan is approved (in 2011) by the project partners (EPA, D.C. Department of the Environment, Army Corps, and AU). We have stated previously that AU will support the most thorough and complete recommendation to remediate the university-owned property at 4825 Glenbrook, and we are particularly interested in all recommendations for testing and remediating soil beneath the house. 

As has been our practice for facilities very close to an Army Corps work site, this summer AU conducted indoor air sampling at the President’s House (4835 Glenbrook). The results show that Army Corps activities at 4825 Glenbrook are not affecting the air quality at the President’s House. Meanwhile, the Corps continued some low probability work (geo-technical borings and soil sampling) and twice detected Lewisite (a World War I chemical compound remnant) in a sampling taken three feet underground. Also during the summer, it was reported that the horizontal drilling beneath the Public Safety Building on main campus indicated that no further work was required beneath that building. The Corps has restored the site, and a risk assessment report is forthcoming. 


September Board of Trustees Meeting 

The Board of Trustees meets on September 23 and 24. On Thursday, they will meet in a retreat format to consider my report on the strategic plan, as well as hear presentations on the branding effort from executive director of communications and marketing Terry Flannery; on the University Library by librarian Bill Mayer; and on AU’s sustainability program by director of sustainability Chris O’Brien. The board will conduct a normal business meeting on Friday, including actions in both open and executive session. Following the meeting, board chair Gary Abramson will post a meeting summary, and I will post my strategic planning report. 



The new School of International Service building was placed into full operation in time for fall classes, and documentation for our LEED Gold certification is expected to be complete by December. A dedication is planned on September 23 in conjunction with the trustees meeting and features SIS alumni David Gregory (SIS/BA ’92) and Esther Benjamin (SIS/MA ’92 and CAS/MA ’95); project architect William McDonough; and board chair Gary Abramson along with dean Louis Goodman and me thanking everyone for their support of the project. 

Construction to renovate Roper and Clark for additional housing was completed for fall semester, and the buildings now accommodate 116 students in refurbished housing. 


Alumni and Development 

We are pleased that many of our alumni and development programs remain on or ahead of pace. Over the summer, we closed a number of major gifts that bring the AnewAU campaign to more than $206.5 million. Overall cash is up 48 percent (more than $1.5 million), and alumni donors are up slightly year–to-date as well. We will celebrate the success of the AnewAU campaign at the 2010 President’s Circle Dinner on October 22 and are continuing work on post-campaign initiatives and themes. Among them will be continued work for the School of Communication project, new facilities for WAMU 88.5 and for the Washington College of Law, faculty endowments, and student scholarships so central to the Strategic Plan.

Alumni Relations has hit the ground running for fall semester with dedicated programs and services for alumni. The first Alumni Book Club series event kicked off on September 1 at the President’s House, featuring New York Times best-selling author Carolyn Parkhurst, CAS/MA ’97, author of the Nobodies Album and The Dogs of Babel. The fall Faculty on the Road series is underway with upcoming events in Houston, Dallas, Seattle, Philadelphia, and San Francisco. The Faculty Down the Road series will take place in Arlington, Va., and Rockville, Md., this semester. And please save the date for the All-American Alumni and Family Weekend 2010, to take place on campus October 22-24. 



A number of actions demonstrate our increasing momentum in reducing the university impact on our environment. In May, AU published its climate action plan, targeting carbon neutrality by 2020, which is an ambitious goal decades ahead of most peer institutions. At the same time, we halved our carbon emissions by purchasing renewable energy credits from wind power for 100 percent of our electricity, making AU the sixth largest buyer of renewable energy in all of higher education. In August, we became the first university in the world to own a Vegawatt, an innovative renewable energy technology that will convert used cooking oil from our dining facilities into electricity and hot water to be used in the Mary Graydon Center. In an effort to engage the broader community in sustainability, AU hosted a community “green roof-raising” involving dozens of students, faculty, staff, alumni, and neighborhood volunteers in the construction of green roofs on the Kogod School of Business. In further sustainability outreach efforts, the Office of Sustainability launched the resident student Green Eagle program to educate and engage students in campus sustainability activities. 


AU Services 

Recent improvements to services affecting the AU community include the following: 

  • Online Application for Student Employment--This fall, we began using our new online job application system to match students with federal work-study and other part-time jobs on campus. Now students can apply for jobs via their computers from any location instead of having to walk around campus to apply in person, as was the previous practice. Departments will be able to hire students more quickly, and Human Resources will be able to track students who have not been matched to a job and proactively help with their job search.
  • AU Central--On July 1, AU Central opened its doors to undergraduate and graduate students providing a centralized location for financial aid, student accounts, and registration related services. While it was challenging to keep up with the heavy demand during the first week, operations are running smoothly, and feedback from students and parents has been positive. During the month of August, AU Central served 3,172 walk ins, responded to 4,644 email inquiries, and answered 7,900 telephone calls. Support from the University Registrar, Student Accounts, and Financial Aid offices during peak time helped us respond to the many inquiries that are normal for the start of a semester. Thanks to everyone who worked to get this important service launched and successful.
  • Performance Management Program Assessment--Numerous data gathering sessions have been conducted with staff and university administrators during which we discussed desired changes to our current performance management program. The results of the assessment will help us better understand how to revise the program to better align with the university strategic plan and better meet the needs of staff and managers.



School spirit is off to a great start with two athletics attendance records set during AU’s Welcome Week, August 21 to 27. The women’s soccer’s “Phil Reeves” game vs. Georgetown on August 21 drew an AU school record crowd of 1,511 fans. On August 27, a volleyball “Bender Blue Out” set a Washington, D.C., NCAA women’s volleyball record as 2,055 fans saw AU sweep away George Mason 3–0. 


Accomplishments and Honors 

Among the numerous accomplishments that AU has garnered in recent weeks I list only a few: 

  • Newsweek Education College Rankings rated AU sixth among the most diverse universities in the nation (ethnicity, geographic origin, economic status, gender, sexual orientation) and sixth among best gay-friendly schools.
  • Hispanic Business Magazine (September) listed Washington College of Law first in the annual ranking of Top 10 Law Schools for Hispanic Students.
  • Princeton Review (2011) named AU’s Career Center 15th on its list of Best Career Services.
  • Fourth Annual Residential Curriculum Institute selected AU as a showcase institution for exemplary work in developing student housing learning environments.
  • Professor James Thurber received the 2010 National Capital Area Political Science Association Walter Beach Phi Sigma Alpha Award, which is given to a political scientist who has made a substantial contribution to strengthen the relationship between political science and public service.
  • National Association of Business Officers (NACUBO) awarded a grant to AU to apply concepts from the Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Program to higher education. The aim of this pilot project at AU is to lead in budget and financial management best practices through innovation and high performing partnerships across divisions and schools. AU’s case will be presented at the NACUBO annual meeting next year.


I will provide updates on the strategic plan and campus plan in the days to come. Meanwhile, all the best for a successful fall term.

Strategic Plan

AU's strategic plan, Leadership for a Changing World, outlines goals and objectives for the next decade at American University. Visit for more information. ( login required for some documents)

Read the Strategic Plan

view objectives, years 7 & 8

Building a Better AU

Visit the Building AU website to read about facilities projects that support AU’s academic aspirations and enhance campus ambiance. You can also learn more about AU's Campus Plan.

Building AU

watch video