You are here: American University President Announcements February 5, 2014 Memo

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Memorandum February 5, 2014

AU Community
Neil Kerwin, President
Spring Semester Update

As we begin the third week of spring semester, much is happening at AU.

Campus Remembrances
The calendar year began on a sad note with the deaths of three campus community members who touched us all: CFO, vice president and treasurer Don Myers (also an AU alumnus); SIS professor Robert Pastor; and SIS doctoral student Adel Ait Ghezala (also an AU alumnus). Poignantly, in a short time span the AU community lost a long-serving key senior administrator and staff member, a prominent tenured professor and faculty member, and a beloved doctoral student candidate due to graduate this year. Their contributions to campus life in different and productive ways remind us that, despite AU's size, scope, and breadth, we indeed are a community of colleagues whose daily work, scholarship, ideas, and ideals make us a strong and vibrant university community .

Admissions Update (Fall 2014)
Applications for fall admission at AU and across the country were affected by much publicized technological issues with the Common Application. Furthermore, AU sought additional materials from prospective students to identify best-fit students. While these factors may have reduced the total size of our applicant pool, we believe it had a positive effect on the quality and motivation of our applicants. Nearly twice as many students this year completed supplementary applications for special offerings at AU, such as our three-year BA programs, the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars program, and the new American Honors Program. Based on their interests, this year's applicants submitted between 3 and 13 essays to be considered for admission. Ultimately, nearly 20 percent of the fall 2014 freshman applications were submitted on the last two days, with 2,600 applications submitted on the day of the extended deadline. We finished just short of 15,000 applications at the deadline and anticipate between 15,100 and 15,200 total applications by the end of the cycle. This represents a year-over-year decrease of less than 14 percent. The quality of this cohort is as strong as last year and is more diverse. In addition, the 950 early decision applications were the largest in AU history and will constitute approximately 33 percent of the entering class. Based on our current assessment, we expect to make our targeted number of 1600 entering freshmen for fall semester 2014.

Capital Projects
The School of Communication moved into the renovated portion of its new McKinley Building home during the winter break, occupying both office and classroom areas. Students began attending classes in the building on January 13; work continues on the new addition to the building as well as on the exterior. The media innovation lab, theatre, and remaining interior spaces are scheduled to be completed by February 28, with exterior façade and site work completed by March 17.

It is important to note the extraordinary efforts of many university colleagues who worked throughout the holiday period to ensure the building would open for the spring semester. They are too numerous to list here but special thanks to the administration, faculty, staff, and students of the School of Communication, as well as many in the offices of Planning and Project Management and External/Local Government Relations. Their expertise, hard work and patience is greatly appreciated, as is that of the members of the university community who will use the building until the project is fully complete.

Despite inclement weather, excavation continues at the Tenley Campus, site of the new home for the Washington College of Law, to prepare for foundation work and tower crane installation in late February. Work also continues on the interior demolition of Capital Hall to prepare for renovation.

On January 23, Board of Trustees chairman Jeff Sine announced that the new technology and innovation academic building on East Campus will be named in honor of former CFO, vice president and treasurer Don Myers as a fitting tribute to his work to enhance AU academics through improved facilities. Meanwhile, plans and specifications were submitted to the District government for the sheeting and shoring permit for the East Campus project, and work continues on the remaining documents needed to secure a foundation to grade and building permit in February.

Finally, Starbucks is now open in the tunnel, and planning is ongoing for additional tunnel improvements later this year.

Student Debt
Student debt is front and center for American University, as we work to reduce the average debt for our graduates. Through a combination of financial aid, financial literacy education, individual counseling, and strategic efforts to minimize increases in tuition and fees, AU has made significant progress and reversed recent trends. Nationally, 7 in 10 students who graduated from four-year colleges and universities had loan debt, and their average debt levels rose in 2012, according to the Project on Student Debt . At AU, however, only 4 in 10 students graduate with loans, and the average debt for AU's Class of 2012 declined 8 percent from the previous year.

While the national average for loan debt rose 25 percent in the past four years, debt levels at AU declined 15 percent-from a high for the Class of 2008 of more than $41,000 in average debt, accumulated over four years, to the current level of $34,649 for the Class of 2012. For the AU Class of 2013, the trend will continue, with a third year of decline in average debt to $32,307.

Historically, AU graduates have been responsible in repaying what they owe as well, with a three-year default rate (2.9 percent) far below the national average (13.5 percent). To help our students and their families, the trustees recently approved the lowest tuition increase on record for the next two fiscal years and increased the amount of tuition revenue dedicated to financial aid from 29 to 30 percent. AU also shifted financial aid resources from merit- to need-based aid, with approximately half of all aid expenditures for need-based aid. Still, we recognize that more can be done, and we will continue to work with students and their families on this important issue.

Achievements, Honors, and Awards
Members of the AU community who received honors and achievements recently include:

  • Donald Williamson, professor of accounting and taxation (Kogod School of Business), who was named Tax Notes's 2013 Person of the Year. The publication, a leader among tax professionals, recognized Williamson for his impact on tax policy, practice, and administration in 2013 and throughout his distinguished career.
  • Richard Breitman and Allan J. Lichtman, distinguished professors of history (College of Arts and Sciences), who received the National Jewish Book Award in American Jewish Studies for FDR and the Jews. This is the world's most prestigious prize in American Jewish Studies and will be awarded at a dinner and ceremony at the Center for Jewish History in New York City on March 5.

University Communications
At the end of fall semester, the University Marketing Advisory Council (UMAC) completed a review of the 2013 benchmark study of all of AU's important stakeholder audiences, which assessed the progress of AU's brand strategy and the KNOW/WONK campaign after nearly three years. The results showed modest changes in awareness and perceptions of quality, particularly in the Washington region and among prospective undergraduate and graduate students, where resources were primarily invested. Faculty, staff, students, and alumni felt the university's reputation had improved in the last three years. There are still mixed reactions to the campaign itself; the largest share of faculty, staff, and students think the campaign ads had a positive impact on the university's image and reputation, but sizable minorities think their impact was negative.

The UMAC recommended a continued commitment to the brand strategy, refinements of the campaign to improve pride and response among internal audiences, and continued monitoring and evaluation over the next two years. Vice president for communication Terry Flannery and UMAC members will present the study's key findings, share recommendations, and receive feedback and ideas from the campus community in a series of meetings and at an open forum from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m. on February 28 in Mary Graydon Center, rooms 4-5.

Development and Alumni
As faculty, staff, and students settle into their new McKinley Building home, the Campaign for SOC remains one of AU's top fund-raising priorities. Just before the winter break, we exceeded 25 spaces named, and we've received an encouraging response to the initial effort to name all of the seats in the Malsi Doyle and Michael Forman Theater. We will share more good news soon as we approach this spring's official grand opening for SOC.

Additionally, 95 alumni, parents, and friends attended the New York launch party for the Entertainment and Media Alumni Alliance (EMAA) on December 10, following the summer launch of the EMAA in Los Angeles. The event was hosted by Pam Kaufman, SOC/BA '85, chief marketing officer and president, Consumer Products for Nickelodeon. Kaufman was also the keynote speaker. Held at the Paramount Pictures Screening Room in Times Square, the event attracted alumni spanning 50 years and included media personalities Dan Lothian, SOC/MA '88 (CNN), and Alisyn Camerota, SOC/BA '88 (FOX News).

Board of Trustees Meeting
The next meeting of the AU Board of Trustees will be Thursday, February 20 (committee meetings), and Friday, February 21 (full meeting). The plenary session will be devoted to campus emergency communications and reputational risk.

Middle States Accreditation Visit
As required by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, every 10 years American University engages in an assessment, critique, and self-reflection to earn reaccreditation as an academic institution. A key step will occur March 23 to 26, when AU hosts an external review team site visit. Led by Eric Spina, vice chancellor and provost (and former interim chancellor) of Syracuse University, the nine-member external review team will conduct interviews and review the findings and all related materials and then report back to the commission for its final action in July 2014.

Our study has been two years in the making and was co-chaired by Karen Froslid Jones, director of institutional research and assessment, and Robert A. Blecker, professor of economics (College of Arts and Sciences). More than 80 people were directly involved in the self-study and served on various committees and subcommittees, which included faculty, staff, students, and a trustee. Each self-study chapter answers questions to help advance AU's mission and ensure the university is meeting accreditation standards and fulfilling strategic goals. The report and review process is designed to show current strengths and identify opportunities to improve. Thanks to everyone who helped in this extensive effort, as we await the review team visit in March and the outcome later this year.

Since my last campus letter, winter sports have begun with an impressive start, and the fall athletics seasons concluded with notable success by two teams in particular. To close out fall season, the volleyball team won the Patriot League championship, earned a spot in the Sweet 16, and met defending national champion Texas-winning the first set before eventually falling 3-1. They concluded the season with 34 wins and 3 losses, matching the record for the most wins ever in program history and a 19th-place national ranking. The field hockey team won the Patriot League championship and won their first-round NCAA tournament before losing to Maryland in second-round play. They finished with 15 wins, 6 losses, and a 9th-place national ranking, and during the season they beat eventual national champion Connecticut.

Academically, AU student-athletes finished fall semester with an average 3.34 GPA and ranked 74th in the Division I Learfield Sports Director's Cup for overall program competitiveness on a national scale.

Meanwhile, men's and women's basketball teams have both earned respect in the league and region under new coaches Mike Brennan and Megan Gebbia.

Social Responsibility
The Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investing, approved by the Board of Trustees at its November 2013 meeting, began meeting in December. Paul Wapner, professor in the School of International Service, and Kate Brunette, Class of 2014, were elected co-chairs. The committee met again in January and will continue its meetings throughout the spring semester.

The Project Team on Social Responsibility, Business Practices, and Service meets quarterly to discuss and consider recommendations on issues of local, domestic, and global concern to members of the AU community. At their most recent meeting, they hosted the executive director of the Fair Labor Association (FLA), with whom the university has been affiliated since its inception in 1999. The presentation focused on the FLA's mission and its work worldwide, with particular attention on worker rights and safety related to recent garment factory fires in Bangladesh.


I will write again following spring break. In the meantime, all the best for a successful semester.