You are here: American University President Announcements August 8, 2023

AU Memo Letterhead

Fellow Eagles:

It’s been six years since I first became an Eagle. It’s been quite a journey, and in these six years we as a community–and a team–have taken this university to new levels. We built on the great work and foundation formed by Neil Kerwin and his team, and, together, we’ve led American University to a new level and put in place the people and the infrastructure for accelerating progress. I am very proud to call myself an Eagle, and I hope you are too.

Today, I want to share with you that this will be my last year as president of AU. This is a decision I made together with my husband, Stephen, and you will likely not be surprised to know that there are three main reasons behind it.

First is what I began this message with–our progress as a community of changemakers. Together, we became the first university to achieve carbon neutrality; grew our endowment by approximately 60 percent (from just over $600 million in 2017 to approximately $950 million now); launched the Sine Institute for Policy and Politics and the Khan Cyber and Economic Security Institute; built the Hall of Science; helped to create an ethos of inquiry with an updated policy on freedom of expression and expressive conduct; celebrated the ongoing growth of faculty achievements ranging from multi-million dollar grants to New York Times best books; raised more than $415 million to date in the Change Can’t Wait campaign that is fueling our progress; more than doubled our externally-funded research dollars; saw our School of Public Affairs move into the top 10, our student Model UN team become #1 in North America, and eight of our School of Communication graduates win the Pulitzer Prize as part of a Washington Post team; and enhanced alumni engagement, including growing our affinity groups and expanding career and mentoring opportunities between students and alumni.

Among the things I’m most proud of is our focus and progress on inclusive excellence. Our community is committed to the ideal that we can’t be excellent without being truly inclusive, and the launch of the first Inclusive Excellence plan in 2018 set us on that path. I know there is much more work to be done, but I truly believe that we’re in a new and different place.

Second, we have the people and the infrastructure in place to accelerate our momentum. We have a great team of leaders in place who are partnering with our great faculty, staff, alumni, and students to shepherd us into our next chapter of impact. The progress we made over the past six years and the continuing fuel provided by the campaign has set us up for more transformative change.

Third, is personal. Next summer, when my service as president ends, our daughter, Helene, will be nearly 17, and our son, Matthew, will be almost 15. Throughout their lifetimes, I have always had a 24-7 job­–whether it was fighting Ebola as HHS Secretary, flying around the world for the Gates Foundation, or leading this university. Before our children go to college, and we become empty-nesters, Stephen and I would like to spend some time living a different lifestyle. Like many of us, we also have my mom and Stephen’s mom to consider. We’re blessed to have them in our lives, and while they are in great shape, at ages 88 and 83, we want to spend time enjoying and supporting them as well. And, when I finish this role, I will become a distinguished lecturer at the Sine Institute. Expect more of my signature selfies highlighting the flora and fauna across campus.

In the coming months, we will have time to process and prepare for a successful presidential transition and the 2024-2025 academic year. Until then, we have a lot to do, including welcoming the class of 2027 soon and completing the Change Can’t Wait campaign.

This may be my last year as president, but, with your help, I plan to make it our best year yet.

Once an Eagle, always an Eagle!


Sylvia Burwell Message