You are here: American University President Announcements December 8, 2017 — Checking in Before the Holidays

Dear AU Family,

We're almost there! In just a few more days, our students and faculty will be wrapping up finals, our staff will be preparing for winter commencement, and we can all start a well-deserved break.

I know how hectic those last few days can be. They can be some of the best times, and some of the hardest. When I was in college, back in the Dark Ages, things were a little different—we had finals after the holiday break. That meant you either ignored studying and had the guilt hanging over you all break (as president, I would recommend against this approach), or your quality time with friends and family became quality time with your notebooks and class readings. Though, depending on how much your brother or sister got on your nerves, maybe that was a welcome change!

I wanted to reach out to you before we start that final sprint. I want to update you on our Diversity and Inclusion plan, introduce a new Trustee, provide some details about winter commencement, mention our Pop-Up Events, and send you off with well-wishes for the holidays.

Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

I've been inspired by the way we come together in the face of challenges, some short-term and episodic, and others reflecting longstanding, underlying issues. With that in mind, I wanted to provide an update on our work around diversity and inclusion.

Under the leadership of my predecessor, President Neil Kerwin, and the President's Council on Diversity and Inclusion (PCDI), AU responded to incidents of racism in past years through memos, town hall forums, courageous conversations, as well as engagement with external civic organizations. In 2016, the university put forth a five-point diversity and inclusion plan, part of a proactive effort to turn the goals the community articulated into actions.

This summer we took a close look at the scale and scope of that plan to understand what more we needed to do. We've received extensive input on the additional measures we need to take from stakeholders across the community—we've met with student leadership groups, faculty and staff leadership groups, alumni leaders, university leaders, and external partners. And we have carefully studied institutional climate reports, meeting minutes, surveys, and focus group summaries.

Based on this input, we've made substantial strides in developing a new plan. Our new plan is guided by the principles of the "Inclusive Excellence" framework, an organizational culture-change framework and a best practice in this space that centers on the idea that diversity, equity, and inclusion are catalysts to achieve institutional and educational excellence—and vital elements for the pursuit of educational excellence.

Here are some of the themes we intend to focus on in the new plan:

1. Training, Learning, and Development

We will focus on building the cultural competency of our students, faculty, staff, alumni leaders, and board members. With training, support, and resources focused on better understanding structural racism, systems of power, privilege, and bias, we can enable them to be better equipped to lead change in a complex and changing world.

2. Campus Climate, Culture, and Community

We will develop a campus climate and culture where students, faculty, staff, administrators, and others feel safe, and where they experience a sense of belonging and satisfaction. We need to ensure our campus supports their overall well-being through respectful, authentic, and engaged relationships with each other.

3. Infrastructure, Policies, and Procedures

We will evaluate, revise, and communicate changes in policies and protocols or new proposals to ensure university leadership is clear, transparent, fair, and accountable, especially around bias incidents and claims of discrimination. Our resources and administrative systems need to be better aligned to deliver an academically challenging and inclusive student experience.

Representatives from across the university community have already provided substantial input on the draft of the new plan. We have held 15 stakeholder meetings to capture feedback. And we have already heard from the community about their questions—like who will implement the plan and when? And who will coordinate the plan?—and we are incorporating that input as we finalize the plan.

In the meantime, we hope you'll take a look at the current draft of the new plan and provide additional feedback. Please email your thoughts on the plan to: Following the review of all feedback from university stakeholders this month, we will add that feedback to the draft plan and then launch it at the beginning of the spring semester in January.

This kind of work can't wait, so several of these priorities are already underway. You can read about some of the milestones we've reached in recent months here.

The climate of this campus is still not where we want it to be. There's certainly more work ahead, and we need to continue to ask tough questions and face difficult answers. But through all of this planning process, I've been encouraged to see so many members of our campus community who are committed to inclusion and to making sure our community reflects the best of our values.

Campus Safety and Hate Crime Investigation

We've taken some steps to boost safety on campus. We're currently installing five new Blue Phones across campus, which will be ready for service at the start of the spring semester. Two are new wall-mounted blue phones on the Quad, one is at the McKinley Building on the corner of the roadway and the Bender Library, one is near the flagpoles on the main roadway leaving the tunnel, and one is behind Kay.

Meanwhile, the investigations into the racist hate crime that occurred on our campus at the end of the spring semester are active and ongoing.

We want to thank everyone who provided information through our tip line. AUPD has followed up on those tips and continues to conduct interviews as a result. They are also interested in any new information. If you have recollections or information to share, go to the Public Safety Tip Line or call 202.885.2999.

Sustainability Update

Chances are, you might see a bit of digging going on around campus. Is it a new building? Is it just a hole in the ground? No, it's a new heating system!

American University is right on the leading edge of sustainability efforts. We've already been hard at work on our ambitious goal to have the entire campus be carbon neutral by 2020 at the latest. And today, I wanted to share one way we're getting there.

As the temperature drops, and our campus's old steam heating system kicks into gear, we're reminded that one big element of our carbon footprint is the energy it takes to heat our classrooms and residence halls in the winter. Some of our existing heating infrastructure has been in use for 50 or 60 years. It's time for an update.

That's why we've started converting campus heating to hot water heating with a microturbine CHP. It may sound complicated, but here's one number you need to know: 5,000 metric tons. That progress means our campus will be putting out 5,000 fewer metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year.

This is a great step forward for our campus, and the environment beyond our campus.

students wearing college sweatshirts, one reading American University

Kogod Rankings

In recognition of a couple of other proud steps forward, the Kogod School of Business was recently ranked No. 3 in the nation for "best resources for minority students" and No. 4 for "best resources for women" by the Princeton Review. These rankings show how hard our team at Kogod is working under Dean John Delaney's leadership to promote excellence through diversity and inclusion. This accomplishment points us in an exciting direction for the future.

The Best Resources for Minority Students ranking is based on data like the percentage of students and faculty from underrepresented minority groups, and surveys on the assessment of resources for minority students, how supportive the culture is of minority students, and whether fellow students are ethnically and racially diverse. Our ranking here was ahead of schools like Harvard and Stanford.

The Best Resources for Women ranking is also based on data like the percentage of students who are female and the percentage of faculty who are female, as well as surveys on the assessment of resources for female students, whether the school offers coursework for women entrepreneurs, and whether case-study materials for classes proportionately reflect women in business. Our ranking in this category was right behind Harvard and just ahead of the University of Virginia and UCLA.

We still have work to do across the university, but these rankings help highlight where good work is happening.

A New Trustee

Last month, the Board of Trustees held its fall meeting. It was a productive conversation among members of the university leadership, and we were so thankful to have the thoughtful input from faculty, staff, and students over the two days of meetings. We were also thankful to welcome a new trustee, Gaurdie E. Banister Jr.

Mr. Banister is already part of the AU family—he's the father of a recent AU graduate. He recently retired as the chief executive officer of Aera Energy, LLC, and we're looking forward to adding his extensive experience and insight to our Board.

caps and diplomas

Winter Commencement

I hope you all can join us in person or online for our 134th Commencement ceremony, honoring our graduates from August 2017 and our degree candidates for December 2017 from CAS, SPA, Kogod, SIS, SOC, and SPExS. I'm thrilled to have the chance to welcome these members of our AU family to the alumni community. We'll be joined by a couple of student speakers—Stephanie Block from SPA and Cody Louis Cohen from Kogod. And our honorary degree speaker will be the 10th Archivist of the United States, David S. Ferriero. If you can't make it in person, watch the livestream at and follow along on social media with the hashtag #2017AUgrad.

Nothing says holiday season quite like some hot chocolate around campus and study breaks from finals. I've had fun this week dropping by various spots around campus as part of my "Pop Up" Study Breaks! I hope you had a chance to visit for some holiday treats, special giveaways, and more. I would love to keep doing these even longer, but let's be honest, no one needs more reasons to procrastinate studying for finals.

But we all need a little more fun, and there's no one who understands that better than my good friend Clawed Z. Eagle. Keep an eye out for a video coming on the 15th starring Clawed. We're calling it "'Twas the Week Before Finals," and while I can't guarantee it will win an Oscar, critics have been buzzing about Clawed's performance.

A New Addition to the President's Office

The end of the semester is usually a time for goodbyes, but here in the President's Office we're also saying hello to a new addition to the team, my Chief of Staff, Seth Grossman. Seth has an incredible career. As a graduate of Yale Law School, he's clerked for Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, served as Deputy General Counsel at the Department of Homeland Security, and most recently was Chief of Staff to the President of the University of California. While serving at Homeland Security, he was part of the team that developed and implemented the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals policy, also known as DACA.

Seth joins us after an exhaustive and detailed search process, and he comes to us with the highest recommendations from senior leaders in government and academia. I look forward to Seth's contributions to our AU family, and I hope many of you will have a chance to meet him in the coming weeks and months.

Finals and Wishes for Winter Break

That's just a quick update. Yes, I heard your feedback (i.e., "keep it short!"), and I'm keeping it front and center. Even as we approach the end of the semester, this AU community always sprints across the finish line. (Remember last year?) But in the meantime, I know these last few weeks can be stressful. So take some time to step back, focus on your health and well-being, and take a walk through the University Labyrinth at Kay and be thankful. I know I am thankful to be a part of this great AU community.

Happy holidays!

Sylvia's signature

Sylvia M. Burwell
President, American University