Dear AU Community,
A good strategy serves as an organization’s North Star. It points us in the right direction, guides the use of resources, and gives us a reference point when we might be off course. It reflects the values that connect a community and helps put them into action. A strategy also serves as a solid foundation when things change all around us, which has certainly been the case in the past year.
Our Changemakers for a Changing World strategic plan builds on the core strengths of the university and our faculty, students, staff, and alumni. The innovative workstreams under our three pillars of scholarship, learning, and community advance our mission, position AU to thrive, and help us address some of the most pressing challenges in higher education and our communities. While we were confident the plan was the right direction for AU, what we did not fully understand was just how timely our focus on a “changing world” would be.
We chronicled the first year of our strategic implementation work one day after the very first AU community message about the emergence of the coronavirus. Our inaugural efforts yielded important results in each of our imperatives, and we began the second year’s work with momentum.
The concurrent crises of the past year from COVID-19, economic uncertainty, and racial injustice presented enormous challenges. While we worked through previously unimaginable changes and explored critical questions about building a more equitable society, our focus on the strategic priorities never wavered and our momentum as a university accelerated. We integrated our strategic work with our COVID response. For example, insights and achievements from imperatives such as Lifelong Learning assisted our transition to online classes. As we catalogued and converted campus spaces for safe and physically distant engagements, we brought those lessons into our ongoing strategic thinking about the future of our workplace and facilities. We quickly implemented and updated processes that supported the shift to widespread telework thanks to the foundational improvements made through the How AU Works imperative. Through it all, we continued to move forward.
Today, we celebrate two important milestones in our Changemakers journey. We reflect on Year 2 of the strategic plan implementation, and we kickoff Phase 2 of the Inclusive Excellence (IE) work. I am excited to share details in both areas and hope you will explore the additional online resources.
Changemakers Year 2
We have a new Year 2 progress report and infographic that highlight key achievements over the last year, such as:
- New faculty research proposals for external funding grew by 20 percent in FY 2020.
- Through more outreach to underrepresented student populations, the Admissions team increased the number of underrepresented populations in the incoming class from 21.5 percent in 2019 to 25.3 percent in 2020.
- The AU District Scholars initiative provided $3 million in dedicated funding for full scholarships to 11 students from Washington, DC, and led to a significant increase in the number of DC students who applied to AU and who were ultimately offered admission.
- Within the university’s overall IE work, we saw important advances in our scholarship and practices that help foster a more equitable AU community. In 2020, the Inclusive Pedagogy Fellows Program, which supports our faculty in creating and sustaining a more inclusive classroom through programming and consulting, added three new fellows and boosted participants from 66 to 283 faculty members.
- The university also established a new Office of Equity and Title IX to centralize the university’s efforts to prevent and respond to discrimination, harassment, and sexual assault.
- To foster lifelong learning, we hired our first chief online officer and accelerated the implementation of the Canvas learning management system, the foundation for future development of online and hybrid programs.
- The Sine Institute of Policy and Politics’ third class of fellows includes Suzanne P. Clark, president of U.S. Chamber of Commerce; Ann Curry, award-winning journalist; Kolinda Grabar Kitarović, fourth president of Croatia; Gary Locke, governor of Washington and former US Secretary of Commerce and Ambassador to China; Lt. General H.R. McMaster, former national security officer; and Wes Moore, CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation.
- A review of university policies and procedures contributed to updated leave benefits for employees that reflect their needs.
I want to thank our strategic plan implementation teams, including our imperative directors and the many faculty and staff who are advancing this important work. As we strive to make AU an even better place to learn, work, research, and grow, I hope you will explore the many areas of our progress. If you have feedback or would like to get involved, please visit the strategic plan website. We will have more information about the next phases of implementation in the coming months.
Inclusive Excellence Phase 2
Inclusive Excellence is a key imperative of the strategic plan and an overarching AU priority. Since this work began in 2017, we have been guided by the principle that AU cannot be excellent without being truly inclusive. Thanks to the many AU community members working on IE, and with the full support and participation of our cabinet, deans, and trustees, we are on a journey to a more equitable future.
American University was an early institution making inclusive excellence a priority, and over the initial phase of our work we have made important progress in key areas. In addition to the areas highlighted in the strategic plan report, we advanced inclusivity and equity in our hiring, student engagement, and scholarship. For example, in the first two years of the IE plan, 39 percent (2018) and 56 percent (2019) of new tenure-line faculty hired identified as faculty of color. More than 800 students participated in IE-related trainings and dialogues. We initiated Black Affinity Housing, which will welcome residents in fall 2021 as we return to campus, and increased the number of faculty and staff affinity groups. Our research and scholarship in this space expanded, with the Antiracist Research and Policy Center (ARPC) welcoming forty-seven new AU faculty affiliates from across the university and a grant from the National Science Foundation supporting a study of racial equity among STEM faculty.
Yet we still have much work to do, much of it at the fundamental level of changing our culture. Phase 2 of the Inclusive Excellence plan outlines our path forward through five high-level goals where we will make tangible impacts in the areas that matter to our community. Each goal has detailed action steps, and I encourage you to review them. With a clearly defined accountability structure for the goals, we are pursuing measurable outcomes in the following areas:
- Enhance IE knowledge and skills in our community through training and education: We will provide university leaders (including the President’s Council and Board of Trustees), faculty, staff, and students with critical skills that support equitable decision-making, inclusive teaching, and antiracist practices. This includes faculty and staff training and dedicated classroom experiences for students, such as AUx.
- Develop an inclusive campus climate and culture: Through direct engagement with members of our community who have historically felt excluded and community building programs that foster collaboration and connection within and across different groups, we will help our students, faculty, staff, and alumni experience our community in more positive and inclusive ways that foster a sense of belonging.
- Continue building the framework for inclusion and equity in our operations: We will update existing university policies and create new procedures where needed to ensure our student community, academic environment, and workplace are based on a foundation of diversity, transparency, and accountability.
- Create access to educational and employment opportunities and advance equitable outcomes: We will recruit and retain a diverse body of students, faculty, staff, and administrators, with a specific focus on racial equity. This will be achieved through programs that addresses affordability for historically underrepresented students and inclusive hiring practices.
- Promote inclusive excellence in our academic mission: Our faculty are leaders in the fields of inclusivity and equity, and we will further promote scholarship and research that advances knowledge and impacts the broader dialogue and societal progress in these areas.
The Inclusive Excellence plan has an important place in nearly all facets of our work. In every opportunity where we can enhance equity, we benefit the entire AU community. There will still be many challenges ahead in this space, both within the university and throughout the national reckoning with systemic racism. But if we can stay focused on our goals and our plan, this strategy will help us move toward a more inclusive AU.
In a year dominated by upheaval and uncertainty, I am proud that our community not only remained committed to our strategy, but also demonstrated creativity and flexibility in advancing this important work throughout the challenges presented by COVID-19. Thank you for your dedication and inventiveness; it never ceases to amaze what AU changemakers can accomplish.
Be safe and be well.