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President's Message | Archive

September 4, 2008

TO: Campus Community
FROM: Neil Kerwin, President
SUBJECT: Fall Semester Update

Welcome back. We've completed the first week of the new semester and there are a number of items and developments to report.

Start of Academic Year

This semester, we welcomed the largest freshman class ever at AU, with some 1,580 first-year students reporting to campus. The class comes from 45 states and 53 countries, is 19 percent domestic minority, and its average GPA is 3.78. The number of returning undergraduates also is strong, with 4,191 registered. The current retention rate is now 88.6 percent, and the two-year retention rate is 78.9 percent, but these numbers could change. The Washington College of Law has 1,677 total students registered for fall classes. Other categories—graduate, transfer, Washington Semester—may vary relative to specific goals, but we expect overall enrollments to be consistent with the targets set for the fall term.

All totaled, more than 3,200 students are living on the main campus, which includes more than 290 in temporary triples. Each residence hall will house an additional 50 to 100 students, with Anderson, Leonard, and Letts having the largest number of first-year students. Approximately 520 students are living on the Tenley campus and approximately 200 students are being housed in university-provided, off-campus facilities in Georgetown, Silver Spring, and Capitol Hill.

Preparations for a smooth move-in and Welcome Week had been planned all summer, so when the residence halls opened on August 16, we were ready to greet AU’s newest students; 1,130 new students checked in that day. A key part of Welcome Week—the Freshman Service Experience—was also one of the largest ever, as 590 freshmen and 80 upperclassmen participated at 49 sites across the city. Sites included 26 schools or youth-oriented programs, four Latino organizations, and dozens of other nonprofits addressing a variety of critical issues in all four quadrants of the District.

Dozens of campus offices worked overtime making special preparations in the weeks leading up to orientation, Welcome Weeks, and the start of fall semester. Special thanks goes to Housing and Dining Programs, Public Safety, and the many other units and individuals across campus who helped make the opening of school so successful.

Strategic Plan

Through the summer, the Strategic Planning Steering Committee, led by Professors Bill DeLone and Sarah Irvine Belson, has maintained a full agenda in its efforts to meet an exacting set of deadlines. In addition to biweekly committee meetings, often with resource persons, the committee hosted two town hall meetings and communicated extensively with the campus community through successive drafts of key planning documents. The most recent communication was distributed August 25 and consisted of a draft strategic plan (available online at including a summary environmental analysis, a draft vision statement, broad themes that will be the focus of our next 10 years, and university-wide goals related to each of these themes.

Over the first two weeks of the semester, the draft plan will be the focus of meetings in the schools and colleges and other units; a joint session of the Steering Committee and the President’s Council; another town hall meeting; and individual input by any community member willing to comment by September 5. Following this round of consultations, the Steering Committee will issue another revised draft strategic plan, and on September 25, the Board of Trustees will meet to consider and comment on the work to date.

Our strategic planning process is entering a critical period. Based on the current timetable and after receiving input from the board meeting in September, the Steering Committee will have approximately six weeks to complete a final draft plan—which will be submitted to the board for review and action at its November meeting. The formulation criteria for the next two-year budget also will be considered for approval by the board at its November meeting.

If the strategic plan is approved, we will promptly begin to develop specific action steps for implementation, as well as for the plan’s first two-year budget. The task is important, the schedule ambitious, and these final steps require the attention of the entire campus community. I urge you to engage in these discussions through the multiple means the Steering Committee has made available to our AU community.


During summer, construction continued on our two largest projects—the Kogod School of Business addition, slated to open in January 2009, and the School of International Service building, scheduled to open in spring 2010. Meanwhile, our facilities management office supervised a number of other priority projects, including:

  • Centennial Hall – Refurbishment included replacement of many mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and air conditioning components. Renovations also included bathrooms, new carpet, and fresh paint.
  • Mary Graydon Entry and Bridge – Upgrades were made to the appearance and function of the busiest building on campus, including improving access to the quad. Completion is expected in late September.
  • Dining Services – Improvements were made in response to survey feedback and recommendations from users and consultants. Changes were made to improve the speed of service in several retail venues, and hours will be extended in the Terrace Dining Room, Marketplace, and Eagle’s Nest.
  • Jacobs Field Replacement – A new turf field and base were installed to improve the playing surface.  
  • Sports Center Annex – Upgrades to Sports Center Annex offices enabled us to house additional faculty required to accommodate the large class of enrolled students.
  • Welcome Center – Renovations were made to the Welcome Center in Centennial Hall to improve the aesthetics and make it more comfortable for campus visitors.
  • Washington College of Law – Lobby and exterior/plaza were remodeled to improve access and aesthetics.


The time has come to begin preparations for the two-year budget for FY 2010 and FY 2011. As you recall, to develop the current two-year budget we revived the university-wide budget committee after several years of hiatus. I will name a similar, broadly representative committee shortly, to be chaired by Provost Scott Bass and Vice President of Finance Don Myers. This group, in addition to the usual but complex task of balancing revenues and expenditures, will face the additional challenge of developing a budget to adequately fund the first stages of our new strategic plan. Their work will include the development of budget formulation criteria based on the themes and goals of the strategic plan, which I will review and approve. I will submit these criteria to the Board of Trustees for consideration at its November 2008 meeting. After the budget formulation criteria are approved, the committee will develop a detailed budget proposal for my review and submission to the board for action at its February 2009 meeting.

New Faculty

This semester, we welcomed 35 new tenured and tenure-track faculty members, who represent a diverse and able population of scholars and teachers. Nearly 50 percent come from PhD programs (or other terminal degrees programs appropriate to the field) in Ivy League or comparable institutions, including universities ranked among the best in the discipline. Some 86 percent were the first choice of their academic units, which speaks highly of AU’s growing academic reputation and competitive standing. On August 18, we hosted an orientation to welcome these and new temporary and in-residence faculty and to help them learn about AU’s culture and values.

Web Project

Through summer, work has continued on the Web project to invigorate and reenvision AU’s Web presence. Internally, the project is being coordinated by a nine-member Web committee, with considerable work being done across campus by dozens of people working diligently and collaboratively to learn about the new Web design and how to create the project components. Three vendors are currently helping us with this project:

  • HUGE – is responsible for wireframes and main-page designs for five schools and four priority projects, and is helping to create the calendar. To date, it has developed more than 70 wireframe/page designs and some special AU features. HUGE also is developing a template toolkit to explain how to create Web pages not part of its original work, and a style guide.
  • North Highland – is working with AU staff on content migration—an extensive and intensive effort on how to write new content, create the new features, and modify existing copy to populate the new pages.
  • Paper Thin – is building the content management system (technological underpinnings) and is working closely with AU’s IT staff and tech specialists.

When launched,, the project will affect every corner of campus and introduce a new era of campus communications in the spirit of Web 2.0 and user-generated content. Moving beyond one-way communication, it will be an open and collaborative interactive tool that creates a real connection between Web users and the university. In conjunction, we will be aligning our central communications resources to support the launch and to operate the new system into the future. 

Graduation 2009

It has been increasingly clear that our current graduation format in Bender Arena—five schools in three ceremonies on Mother’s Day and the law school commencement on the following Sunday—is getting stretched to its physical limits. Meanwhile, we have continued to study different scenarios, timelines, and ways to organize Commencement Weekend.

Having to allocate tickets for the ceremonies has never been popular; plus, shepherding 15,000 people into three substantive events over a 10-hour span was a complex task that worked smoothly—but required incredible behind-the-scenes orchestration and clock management along with a rapid turnaround of Bender Arena.

Starting in spring 2009, we will try a new format for commencement weekend—individual commencement ceremonies for each school, spread over two days (May 9–10), with three ceremonies on Saturday and two on Sunday; the law school ceremony will follow on May 24 (no change). One significant change will be the elimination of ticketing for the ceremonies. Each school ceremony will have our traditional elements—bagpipe procession; comments by the president, dean, and student speaker; honorary degree presentation and commencement address; graduates crossing the stage; and recessional. A number of events previously held on Saturday will now be held on Friday.

Preliminary planning has already begun by the commencement team working with key links within the schools and units. The schools will be tasked with providing more staffing and logistical support. We will provide more details and a projected timeline for the 2009 three-day graduation weekend (May 8–10) in the very near future.

Development and Alumni

Bolstered by support from current and previous members of the Board of Trustees and by last year’s 32 percent increase in giving from the Faculty and Staff Campaign, the AnewAU campaign has now raised $168.4 million, an increase of more than $6.6 million since my last update. Important progress continues for our capital projects, most notably the Kogod School of Business, which is approaching its goal, and for the School of Communication, which has reached nearly $2.8 million. I am especially pleased to announce that trustee Alan Meltzer and his wife, Amy, have made a leadership commitment of $2 million toward the campaign for AnewAU. The Meltzers’ support will fund initiatives in athletics, the Kogod School of Business, and the Center for Israel Studies. Their lifetime philanthropy has been extraordinarily generous and the new gift will greatly benefit our entire community.

The development office is working aggressively with the schools and colleges, campus life, the library, athletics, and other units to bring us to the $200 million mark within the next 20 to 24 months so that we can refocus our efforts on the financial and programmatic needs of the strategic plan.

The work of the alumni board to actively engage alumni in the strategic plan discussions has been gratifying. The alumni board hosted four online chats and received numerous comments from alumni via e-mail, the blog, and participation in AU’s town hall meetings and regional alumni events. The alumni board also revised its bylaws and is preparing for the nomination and selection of new members this fall. Nominations will be open to all AU alumni, with final selections made by the existing board members.  

A successful D.C. alumni event was held at the Kennedy Center in August, when alumni gathered for a dinner and a performance of The Lion King. Plans for the fall include regional and international alumni receptions in Atlanta, Denver, Seattle, San Francisco, London, and Paris and a D.C. alumni holiday party. Additionally, “Faculty on the Road” lectures will take place in Boston, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Chicago, with deans hosting each gathering. The alumni programs staff is finalizing details for Alumni and Family Weekend, which will begin with the President’s Circle Dinner on Thursday, October 23. More information about Alumni Weekend can be found at


The items below are a small sampling to show AU’s breadth of activity and achievement in scholarship, service, and performance. Our students were described as “the most politically active” by the Princeton Review’sannual publication, The Best 368 Colleges. We again did well in the National Survey of Student Engagement, sponsored by Pew Charitable Trusts, and you will hear more about that. In the schools and colleges:

  • School of Communication – SOC announced that J-Lab: The Institute for Interactive Journalism moved to AU from the University of Maryland, bringing with it a $2.45 million grant from the Knight Foundation and the leadership skills of Executive Director Jan Schaffer.
  • Kogod School of Business – Sonya Grier, associate professor of marketing, received, along with another investigator, a $3.5 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on developing community action strategies to facilitate obesity prevention in African American children and adolescents.
  • School of Public Affairs – SPA celebrates its 75th anniversary with a series of academic events, culminating in a major conference after the presidential inauguration, “What Should We Expect of Our Government?” exploring public policy issues such as healthcare, environmental protection, and homeland security.
  • College of Arts and Sciences – The Professional Science Master’s Program was featured in a Science Magazine article, “Mastering the Job Market.”
  • School of International Service – Graduate student Michael Aguilar was awarded UNESCO’s inaugural Laura W. Bush Traveling Fellowship and will spend a month in Central America examining the role of culture in conflict resolution.
  • Washington College of Law – Dean Claudio Grossman was unanimously elected chair of the United Nations Committee against Torture, which supervises compliance with the Convention against Torture and has been ratified by 145 countries.  

In other significant news around campus:

  • Campus Life – The National Association of College and University Residence Halls awarded the AU Residence Hall Association the “National Building Block of the Year,” for the most improved RHA, and Centennial Hall director Leah Kreimer was recognized as the National Residence Hall Association Advisor of the Year.
  • WAMU 88.5 – The spring Arbitron numbers solidified WAMU’s ranking as the third-most-listened-to public radio station in the nation, with some 653,900 weekly listeners; in Washington, WAMU ranks number two in weekday morning drive time, number one from 10 a.m. to 12 noon (The Diane Rehm Show), and number one for Saturday morning and evening. This year marks Kojo Nnamdi’s 10th anniversary at WAMU, and next year marks Diane Rehm’s 30th.
  • Athletics – Closing the books on AU’s exceptional achievements this past year, in 2007–08 our student-athletes earned a combined 3.27 GPA; 136 student-athletes were on the Dean’s List (3.5 GPA); and 160 were named to the Patriot League Academic Honor Roll (3.2 GPA). AU student athletes earned 52 All-Patriot League selections, and four coaches earned honors as a Patriot League Coach of the Year.

Army Corps

The Army Corps of Engineers work has continued through summer with particular focus on three areas—adjacent to Hughes Hall; around the Public Safety Building; and on the two university-owned properties on Glenbrook Road. All work was reviewed and approved by the Army Corps, Environmental Protection Agency, D.C. Department of the Environment, and AU, following review by our own independent environmental health consultant, Dr. Paul Chrostowski.

Soil was removed and replaced from a small grassy area adjacent to Hughes Hall, behind the AU sign at the main entrance to campus; this project was necessary to complete unfinished work from a few years ago, which identified a few random pockets of soil with arsenic readings that exceeded the normal range for this region. The Public Safety Building area project has included investigating two areas in front of the building and excavating and removing buried debris in the rear of the property. The removed debris included glassware that postdated the U.S. Army presence on campus; and one empty/hollow shell was found dating back to World War I, but tests revealed no chemical agent present. The Army Corps expects to complete this aspect of work at Public Safety by the end of 2008.

The work at 4825 Glenbrook Road continues under the metal containment structure built to strict safety specifications; all munitions and scattered debris found to date have been removed and transported elsewhere for storage and testing. The Army Corps expects work to continue under the containment structure at least through the end of this year; the structure will be moved as necessary to cover all excavation. The nature of this work requires that those working in the campus areas closest to the Glenbrook site (including Watkins, Kreeger, Hamilton, the turf field, and the empty Child Development Center) be aware of the work under way and be knowledgeable of shelter-in-place protocols as a precaution in the unlikely event of an accident.

Pending progress on the aforementioned projects, the Army Corps is assessing additional areas for possible exploratory work; we will inform the campus regarding the nature of this work and the projected timeline in the near future. If anyone has any questions about the Army Corps project, information is posted on AU’s own Web site devoted to the project (, and the Army Corps lists additional information on its site for the Baltimore District, Spring Valley project (

Global Activities
Among the many important elements in our commitment to be a premier global university is ensuring our ability to bring highly qualified students to American University from all over the world. This fall, for example, our freshman class includes 92 new international freshman students (up from 48 last year), which is approximately 6 percent of the cohort (up from 3.7 percent last year). We also have substantial numbers of international students enrolled in Washington Semester and Abroad at AU. Study abroad by AU students is down from recent record numbers, due in part to the interest in the current election cycle, but our staff reports that our recent upward trend will resume in the spring.  

Our working relationship with the American University of Nigeria continues. AUN expects to enroll approximately 900 students this fall and to pass the 1,100 student mark this spring. Like us, AUN also will open new facilities and welcome new senior administrators, faculty, and staff. Because our current contract to provide management and academic consulting assistance to AUN will expire this December, we are in active discussions with the school’s leadership and Board of Trustees regarding its renewal for another five-year term. If agreement is reached, the focus of our work with AUN will be to assist in its efforts to achieve full accreditation in the United States.

For my part, I participated in board meetings and commencement ceremonies at the American University of Sharjah in late May. As you may have read, AUS was mentioned very favorably in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article that focused on higher education in the Gulf region. From the UAE, we traveled to Istanbul for a series of meetings with Turkish alumni.

I was pleased to be included in a group of college and university presidents invited to visit Israel on a program called Project Interchange sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. Ann and I joined the presidents and their spouses of the California university system, UC–Irvine, UC–Santa Cruz, Indiana, Michigan, Nebraska, San Francisco State, Temple, and Trinity College of Hartford, in a series of seminars with our counterparts at a number of Israeli universities and Al-Quds. We heard from a number of experts on the current political situation in Israel and the region and were briefed by a representative of the Foreign Ministry of Israel and the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority. University officials there were eager to increase collaborations with our institutions. We will continue to explore those opportunities and build on the substantial relationships that already exist, including our work in study abroad, faculty exchanges, and various efforts led by our Center for Israel Studies.

Beyond these, international programs and contacts in the schools and colleges are both too numerous and diverse to summarize but no less critical to maintaining our global connections.

The university began this academic year in a strong position but with plenty of important work and decisions ahead. I will write again as developments merit.


September 5, 2008 10:35 AM  


Strategic Plan

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