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President's Message | Reports & Announcements


September 27, 2011

 TO: Campus Community
 FROM: Neil Kerwin, President
 SUBJECT: Fall Semester and Start of School


Start of the Academic Year
Fall semester began in lively fashion as we welcomed nearly 1,900 new (first year and transfer) and returning students to American University. Our first-year students were chosen from the largest and most talented applicant pool in AU’s history and are our most selective group ever with a 41 percent admit rate.

Our new students are highly engaged and passionate with varied interests and talents. They also are diverse: 30 percent are students of color; almost 10 percent are the first in their families to attend college; and nearly 23 percent are Pell-eligible students—a figure that is nearly double that from the previous year.

The new undergraduates join nearly 4,500 returning students on campus. AU’s undergraduates come from 108 different countries and 49 states. This fall, a record number of students, almost 450, are studying abroad at locations around the world.

At the graduate level, we enrolled almost 1,200 new master’s students and 80 new doctoral students and launched a number of new and innovative graduate programs, including a doctoral program in communication and a master’s degree in comparative and international disability policy.

Over 115 student leaders, staff, and faculty volunteered during the opening weekend to create a “move-in” environment that was both festive and efficient. We opened with 135 triples in on-campus housing and 266 students in university-provided off-campus housing (in the Berkshire and on Capitol Hill). Freshman orientation and Welcome Week activities for new students drew record crowds each night (often 1,000 or more). This culminated in Opening Convocation in Bender Arena, where more than 1,500 began their academic journey and learned the AU fight song.

Enrollment targets were exceeded on all of the major budget categories in the summer, including undergraduate, graduate, and law, and online learning exceeded expectations. This fall, the enrollment picture is more mixed, but manageable, and efforts are being made to ensure a successful spring semester and for the university to make budget this fiscal year.

We also welcomed a remarkable group of new faculty colleagues. They bring a wide range of professional experience and exceptional credentials. Visit our Web site at ( to learn more about our newest faculty members.

Trustees Retreat and Meeting
The Board of Trustees met on campus on September 22–23 in a format that combined a normal business meeting with a retreat. This enabled the board to focus on our strategy for international and global engagement as articulated in Strategic Plan Goal #6.

The board welcomed a new voting member, Kim Cape, general secretary of the Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church; she takes the seat previously held by Jerome Del Pino. Also joining the board are James Girard, the new faculty trustee, and Chazmon Gates, our new student trustee. The business before the board included a review of the recently concluded annual external audit; and I submitted a report on our performance for the first two years of the strategic plan, “American University and the Next Decade: Leadership for a Changing World.”

Strategic Plan
My report to the trustees is based on information compiled by the Strategic Plan Measurement Team and can be accessed for campus review and comment.

The first two years under our strategic plan has reaffirmed many of AU’s strengths. Our faculty is remarkable. They are productive, influential scholars, professionals, and artists with a deep dedication to teaching and student learning and a strong commitment to service. Our students, both undergraduate and graduate, share a passion for learning and for improving the world. Our staff consists of dedicated professionals who ably and tirelessly support our mission. We came through the worst economic and financial crisis since the Great Depression without job losses, layoffs, or furloughs. Indeed, we added faculty and staff, enhanced our financial assistance to students, and maintained our long-standing policy of annual merit salary increases.

The progress on our 10 transformational and 6 enabling goals has been both positive and impressive. And the budget for the current fiscal year includes substantial allocations to advance our work further. We also face some challenges, and the report indicates areas that will need special attention for the next few years. The plan and the two-year objectives that give it specific direction must be considered as works in progress, and we depend on the active engagement of the entire AU community to ensure that we focus on the right things. Please review the document, and I welcome your thoughts.

Emergency Response and Communications
As the semester began,two unusual occurrences tested our emergency communications network. One situation we anticipated and the other we did not, but each prompted constructive critique.

Our earthquake response began within minutes as our AU facilities office deployed 40 staff members to inspect and assess all buildings for damage. Our inspections were completed and normal activities resumed more quickly than many other D.C. institutions that day. Response by most AU community members was calm and orderly. Our communications emphasized that ongoing and repeated messages through a range of delivery methods are essential. Electronic and mobile messages (such as text—including alerts through AU Campus Connect) can be affected because of user demands, and ours were initially delayed; however, e-mail and land lines worked well.

This underlines that multiple delivery methods—both modern and traditional—are extremely important for emergency communications. Amplified sound can be crucial to assist with evacuations, and we must continue to practice our procedures with designated building marshals as an ongoing and essential part of our readiness.

Weather tracking gave us time to prepare for and communicate in advance of the hurricane. The work of Campus Life to offer safe indoor activities for students was critical, and our residence hall students responded with patience and spirit. The storm aftermath required an assessment of power outages and isolated flooding, and the variable conditions across campus reinforced the need for our Emergency Response Team (ERT) to communicate early and often to ensure that our response was effective and our communications timely.

Facilities Improvements and General Operations
A number of facilities improvements were completed during summer including:

  • McDowell Hall Renovation—As part of the annual update and improvement of residence halls, McDowell got new furnishings, appearance upgrades, and heating and air-conditioning replacements.
  • 3201 New Mexico Enrollment and Mail Services—Part of the first floor of 3201 New Mexico Avenue was renovated to accommodate the move of the Enrollment and Mail Services staff from Letts lower level. This helps with relocating the McKinley occupants as we prepare for McKinley’s renovation next year as the new home of the School of Communication.
  • Solar Installations—Scheduled for September completion, photovoltaic panels are being installed on Bender Library, Mary Graydon, Katzen, 4200 Wisconsin, 3201 New Mexico, and the law school, and a solar hot water system installed for South Campus residence halls. The number of panels in place is now roughly 2,400.

The Army Corps of Engineers is engaged in a public comment phase following the release of their “Remedial Investigation Report” for the AU-owned property at 4825 Glenbrook Road. Investigation and remediation have proceeded at that site for the past decade, and the Army Corps is planning the next steps for property clean-up. American University prefers that the house be removed and the soil fully cleaned to the surrounding community standards with unrestricted future use. The Army Corps would like to begin work in 2012 and complete it in 2013. Information is available on the U.S. Army Corps Spring Valley Project Web site ( and on the AU Web site dedicated to the project (

Campus Plan
Work continued on the 2011 Campus Plan with four Zoning Commission hearings held (June 9, June 23, July 14, and September 22,) and more scheduled (October 6 and October 13) to review the plan components that were part of the March 18 filing and May 20 pre-hearing statement. In addition, we filed “further processing” details for the North Hall (student residence) and for the law school’s proposed move to the Tenley Campus. The Zoning Commission hearing for North Hall will be October 20 and for the Washington College of Law on November 21 and December 1. We anticipate receiving the Zoning Commission’s final decision on the 2011 Campus Plan and further processing filings in early 2012.

The Campus Plan team continues the dialogue with surrounding community groups and city officials and will discuss the plan at meetings throughout the fall. We greatly appreciate the ongoing and active support of AU students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends as we seek approval of the facilities plans that will enable AU to thrive into the decades to come. All documents, updates, and presentations are posted on the AU Campus Plan Web site (

Recent months brought a number of transitions as we welcomed those newly appointed, congratulated deserving campus leaders for new titles earned, and announced a few more transitions of some long-serving academic officials.

As previously announced, we welcomed School of International Service dean James Goldgeier ( and Kogod School of Business dean Michael Ginzberg ( and look forward to their contributions as new members of AU’s academic leadership. Provost Bass also announced the arrival of Alice Poehls as university registrar; and following their appointments we welcomed Phyllis Peres as senior vice provost and dean of academic affairs; Jonathan Tubman as vice provost for graduate programs and research; and Virginia “Lyn” Stallings as interim vice provost for undergraduate programs.

Provost Bass also announced that at the end of the academic year, William LeoGrande will step down as dean of the School of Public Affairs ( after 12 years as dean (and interim dean); and Larry Kirkman will step down as dean of the School of Communication ( after 11 years. We appreciate the significant contributions both have made to AU, and we will continue to benefit from their presence through the end of the academic year. National searches for both deanships have begun.

Also announced as the semester began, I named Teresa Flannery vice president of communication, based on her strong performance and applied innovation since coming to AU in 2008. Chief financial officer, vice president and treasurer Don Myers announced a number of appointments and a reorganization designed to position his division for the recent changes in external regulation and audit requirements, implementation of our Campus Plan, and more efficient delivery of his division’s services to the campus.

Achievements and Honors

  • Anthropology assistant professor Dan Sayers's research on the community of escaped slaves in the Great Dismal Swamp received publicity recently in the Associated Press (appearing in 200 news outlets, including ABC News) and Archaeology Magazine.
  • Economics assistant professor James Bono received a new NASA award for his work developing models and software to predict air carrier behavior. Specifically, his research will help NASA to predict airline route and schedule decisions given policies like carbon taxes, equipment restrictions, and slot auctions. He is collaborating with a team from Stanford's Aero-Astro Engineering Department and a researcher at Booz Allen Hamilton.
  • USAID and the U.S. Department of State awarded two AU undergraduate teams first and third prize ($1,000 and $500, respectively) in the code-a-thon competition, held on campus this past weekend. The students competed against six teams (including some graduate students) from George Mason University, Catholic University, and the University of Maryland College Park.
  • CASE (The Council for Advancement and Support of Education) selected the Office of Development and Alumni Relations for a 2011 CASE Circle of Excellence Award for Overall Improvement. The award recognizes exemplary performance by institutional advancement staff, volunteer leaders, and donors in advancing the mission of the institution through significant program growth and creative programming during a three-year period.

Alumni and Development
Over the summer, alumni planned or hosted 18 “Summer Send Off” events for first-year students. That fast clip continues into the fall with chapter events all over the world and occasions to introduce Dean Ginzberg and Dean Goldgeier to alumni.

Fund raising continues with major commitments to our established priorities, including annual funds, scholarships, and building projects. Notable are a gift made by Professor Jack Child shortly before his death to name the Jack Child Language and Foreign Studies Hall; significant estate gifts to benefit Washington College of Law and College of Arts and Sciences from Arthur M. Levin and Estelle Seldowitz, respectively; and a commitment from young alumna Noel Greene to the School of Communication building fund and for a production finishing fund.

Looking ahead, during All-American Weekend (October 21–23) we will honor four special alumni with awards: David Gregory, SIS/BA ’92, Alumni Achievement Award; Karen Bune, CAS/BA ’76, SPA/MS ’78, Alumni Service Award; Brian Keane, SPA/BA ’89, Alumni Eagle Award; and Talila Lewis, SPA/BA ’07, Rising Star Award.

I will write again in about six weeks with updates on most the above items and any other developments worthy of consideration by the community. In the meantime, 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

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