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President's Message | Reports & Announcements


September 7, 2012

 TO: Campus Community
 FROM: Neil Kerwin, President
 SUBJECT: Fall Semester 2012


Welcome back for another academic year. I am taking the opportunity to report on a number of matters important to our University.

Strategic Plan
At the next meeting of the Board of Trustees (September 21–22), I will report on our progress on the objectives we set for the third and fourth years of the strategic plan. This report will be available for campus review later this month along with a call to help develop our objectives for the fifth and sixth years of the plan. Please begin thinking about those areas of the plan, or areas not currently covered by the plan, that deserve special attention in years five and six. Without preempting the board’s deliberations, the data and information provided by the provost, vice presidents, and athletics director indicate that we have met or are on track to meet the majority of objectives set for this two-year period. Nevertheless, a few significant areas indicate that we will fall short of our objectives. While you may submit ideas at any time via a dedicated website (, I will ask all community members to participate actively in discussions in the schools, colleges, and divisions. Among other things, our objectives for years five and six will guide the development of our budget for the next two fiscal years.

New Students Welcome
Fall semester began with new freshmen and transfer students reporting prior to classes to get oriented to their new AU and D.C. homes. The Washington College of Law began classes on August 20, and our new graduate students arrived the following week.

At Opening Convocation, 2012 Scholar-Teacher of the Year Richard Sha provided words of academic inspiration. Welcome Week for the undergraduates had some 650 students participating in the Freshman Service Experience, 300 in Discover DC, and 200 in other pre–start of school programs that are integral parts of AU’s orientation. D.C. delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton and Ward 3 councilmember Mary Cheh welcomed new students to the District and emphasized the importance of community service to the District’s nonprofits. Delegate Norton invited students to join her longtime campaign to win voting representation in Congress for the District of Columbia.

The incoming freshman class includes students from 48 states and 40 countries; more than 10 percent are the first in their families to attend college. The average SAT is 1257 and GPA is 3.72.

Enrollment Numbers and FY-2013 Budget
Overall fall enrollment is mixed. Undergraduate categories will meet the goals we set for the term; graduate enrollment has improved over last year but will likely be slightly less than the goal, while the Washington College of Law is slightly ahead of target. Taking summer into account, I expect to end the term at or near the projected tuition revenues. Expenditures are also tracking as expected, so for now, it appears we will operate with revenues and expenses essentially in balance but with spring semester yet to come.

New Deans
We welcome a number of new academic leaders as colleagues this fall, including the following:

• Barbara Romzek, dean of the School of Public Affairs: She is a nationally recognized expert in public management and accountability, with emphases on government reform, contracting, and network service delivery. Her extensive leadership, management skills, and professional standing will build upon SPA’s impressive academic foundation.

• Jeffrey Rutenbeck, dean of the School of Communication: He is an innovator whose expertise in technology, digital media, social and cultural change aligns well with SOC and the future of communication.

• Carola Weil, dean of the School of Professional and Extended Studies: Her success in program and partnership building demonstrates the experience needed to expand SPExS, make it accessible to new and diverse populations, and evolve our model into one that is truly lifelong learning.

• Nancy Davenport, interim librarian: She brings extensive experience in library management, research, and acquisitions from positions in academe and at the Library of Congress.

Campus Plan, Construction, and Facilities
Late last spring, our 2011 Campus Plan was approved by the D.C. Zoning Commission, which authorized AU to proceed with 12 construction projects that will change the university’s face and significantly augment our academic and student serving capabilities. We took care to establish our academic goals in the strategic plan and invest in those prior to planning for these changes in the physical plant. The changes, when implemented, will allow us to address chronic space problems affecting our core academic activities of teaching, research, professional work, and learning while ensuring the institution remains an attractive option for students choosing between us and our competitor institutions. Over the next 10 years, this translates into some 1.2 million square feet of new space and a 30 percent increase in building area; new contemporary on-campus housing with 1,100 new beds; a new law school on the Tenley Campus, freeing 4801 Massachusetts Avenue for other academic purposes; a new eight-acre mixed-use East Campus that includes student housing for 590 along with sports, recreation, dining, and activity space for students and additional faculty and administrative offices.

Construction on two key residence hall projects began over summer—North Hall (360 beds) behind the President’s Office, and the Nebraska Hall addition (150 beds). Both will open for fall semester 2013. The Tenley Campus law school construction will begin in 2013 and East Campus construction in 2014. In addition to campus plan projects, other renovations are also underway—including the renovation of McKinley for the School of Communication and 4401 Connecticut Avenue for WAMU 88.5, University Communications and Marketing, and designated academic programs. The Kay Spiritual Life Center was refurbished and rededicated on September 6.

To keep the campus informed of our construction, we created a website ( with project specifics, timelines, updates, and links. The campus plan website ( includes more extensive details and illustrations.

The excitement of new space brings the inevitable questions of “who is going where, and when?” We will do our best to keep everyone informed. To help manage our space most effectively, a Space Planning Project Team has been created to size up our current practices and recommend efficient and fair ways to allocate new space.

Campus Plan Commitments
New space capabilities also bring specific responsibilities, as our campus plan approval came with an array of obligations that are outlined in a zoning commission order. Fulfilling these city requirements and neighborhood expectations is essential—both for our ability to proceed with our projects and to be a good neighbor. Every campus constituency plays an important role. We must provide periodic updates to ensure that we are compliant; to assist, a Campus Plan Compliance Project Team was created to monitor our progress, educate our constituencies, and ensure that we fulfill our obligations to both city and community. From parking in the neighborhood to the number of students housed on campus, from decibel levels at the fence line to construction and landscaping parameters, we must be cognizant of our impact and manage our issues. The team will provide periodic updates for campus and make recommendations to ensure compliance.

Student Debt Management Conversations
Across the nation, student debt, loan rates, and college affordability are increasingly important issues. Last week, our vice president of communication and vice provost for undergraduate enrollment announced an initiative (and launched a website) to help students and families better understand financial aid, manage their personal finances, and take actions that best fit their educational goals.

The site, College Affordability: AU & Your Education Goals (, provides information about college costs and resources available to help students and families in making appropriate decisions about higher education and its financing.

We are justifiably proud of the quality and value of the education that American University provides and that our current students have chosen AU. But we want no one to put their future financial condition at serious risk to secure it. Please access the website and suggest ways it can be improved. We urge faculty and staff to take part in these efforts and encourage students to utilize the university resources and information available to them.

Our responsibility to work on education costs and debt will continue—most immediately, in developing the university budget for the next two years.

Budget Development for FY-2014 and FY-2015
We are currently in the second quarter of FY2013, and it’s time to begin creating a new two-year budget. I will soon reconvene the University Budget Committee under the cochairs Scott Bass, provost, and Don Myers, CFO, vice president and treasurer, with membership to include faculty, students, and staff. Unlike a considerable portion of higher education, AU has experienced strong financial health during the past seven years. We have invested in core elements of our academic mission and critical support functions, while enhancing salaries, benefits, financial aid, and facilities.

We have done this while keeping tuition increases for the past two years at their lowest level in the past 15 years. As we begin a new round of budget deliberations, we must acknowledge the need to consolidate these recent gains and commitments while dealing with a complex external environment. Concerns about cost and debt have been referenced above, but we also await action on the federal deficit and long-term national debt. The implications of possible changes in federal expenditures and tax policy for higher education in general (and AU in particular) are matters for speculation only at this point—but they could be significant. While not preempting the committee’s work, I expect that we will maintain our current commitment and address pressing institutional needs; but we cannot expect our budget to grow at the rate that it has over the past six fiscal years.

Development and Alumni
On Friday, August 31, the university hosted the first-ever AU Night at Nationals Park, celebrating our community’s relationship with the Washington Nationals and welcoming our very own Clawed the Eagle, over 600 alumni, students, faculty, and friends for a thrilling and convincing victory. I had the honor of throwing out the first pitch and hope that our entire community cheers on the Nats as they finish their first-ever winning season and playoff run.

Still early in the fundraising schedule for the year, the Office of Development and Alumni Relations closed August running 8.7 percent ahead in gifts year to date. As I write, we are completing our programming at the summer’s political conventions, where we have greeted alumni, parents, and friends who have navigated the presidential election with the guidance of Barbara Romzek, SPA dean; Jennifer Lawless, professor and director of the Women in Politics Institute; Anita McBride, executive-in-residence in the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies; and alum Michael Cohen, SIS-SOC/BA ’94, author of Live from the Campaign Trail.

I look forward to seeing many alumni and parents at events in September in Boston and New York and to welcoming them in large number to campus for All-American Weekend on October 19–21, 2012. I hope that our entire community joins in welcoming so many valued guests to campus and participates in events listed online (

WAMU 88.5
Based on the spring 2012 ratings (Spring 2012 Arbitron PPM, Washington, D.C. Metro, Mon-Sun, 6 a.m. to midnight, persons 6 years and older), WAMU 88.5 was again ranked as the number one station in Washington, D.C., for the second successive quarterly rating period. The combined D.C. and Baltimore weekly audience is 761,000 listeners and exceeds 800,000 when you add online and other broadcast platforms. The AQH (average quarter hour) measures the total number of listeners during any 15 minutes and is up 30 percent from one year ago; the TSL (time spent listening) to WAMU hit 5 hours, 45 minutes, per week—which is 1 hour and 45 minutes more per week than WAMU’s closest competitor.

WAMU was number one in the region in morning drive time (6 a.m. to 10 a.m.), evening drive time (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.), Saturday mornings (Metro Connection) and Sunday nights (the Big Broadcast). The Diane Rehm Show was second in the market and the Friday News Roundup was first. On a national scale of public radio stations, WAMU is first in the nation in average quarter hour listeners and AQH share. While ratings will fluctuate, these results emphasize the vital role that WAMU plays as a major source of news and information for the nation's capital and beyond.

Fall Athletics
The AU Athletics and Recreation offices have a colorful new entrance to honor the history and tradition of Eagles athletics. Photos and trophy cases celebrate the competitive success of AU student-athletes. There also is a display that pays tribute to the academic accomplishments of our students and teams. Eagles supporters will notice new video boards that will create an enhanced fan experience for those supporting our teams competing in Bender Arena. The new HD quality displays will be capable of showing live video with colorful animations and vivid graphics.

In the classroom, last season’s lacrosse and field hockey teams were both recognized for the highest grade point average (GPA) in the nation in their respective sports, while wrestling was ranked third. The average student-athlete GPA was more than 3.3, and all teams had a GPA of 3.1 or better.

As fall season got underway, volleyball set the D.C. attendance record on August 24 with more than 2,400 fans for the annual Bender Blue Out. And be on the lookout for the new American University team bus that will transport our teams and travel around the nation spreading the word about AU (while prominently featuring Clawed).

Army Corps
In what we anticipate to be the start of the final phase of almost 20 years of work by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on the AU campus—this fall the Corps will demolish and remove the university-owned house at 4825 Glenbrook Road (adjacent to the president’s house at 4835 Glenbrook). Into the summer, AU officials worked with the Corps and project partners on work details, safety measures, and timeline projections. The Corps awaits only the final permits before starting the demolition—most likely to be scheduled in the first two weeks of October.

After demolishing and removing the house, the Corps will begin their next phase—investigative work on seven test pits and a trench in the yard as they search for any World War I remnants; this will be followed by additional work into the soil beneath where the house previously stood. The more intrusive work will be done under a protective cover and with utmost safety precautions in effect.

The president’s house will be used as it has in the past. The Corps’ work is not expected to affect the AU campus in any significant way. For information on the Army Corps work at the Glenbrook Road site, please refer to the Corps’ own website devoted to the project ( or the AU website that outlines the project history ( I will keep the campus informed as the work gets underway.


For years on our campus, we have discussed how to best balance the rights and conveniences of both nonsmokers and smokers. As the evidence on the impact of second-hand smoke has grown, our current policy that portions smoking areas outside of building entrances has grown less satisfactory. On campus, the feasibility of a "smoke-free campus" has been widely discussed, including at several meetings of the University Council. Meanwhile, around the country an increasing number of universities have gone “smoke and tobacco free,” including the University of Maryland System for all of its campuses, announced this summer. Our strong and increasing commitments to wellness, public health, and sustainability must be taken into account, as we determine our future on this issue. I continue to welcome ideas for on campus alternatives, but increasingly it appears that “smoke and tobacco free” is the best option.


I will write again following the September meeting of our Board of Trustees with a more formal call for participation in the next round of campus deliberations on the strategic plan. Until then, all the best for a strong start to the new academic year.

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