You are here: American University President Announcements March 20, 2018 - Springing Forward!

Dear AU Family,

Welcome back! I hope you all had a chance to relax and recharge over spring break (for our faculty, hopefully those moments came in between grading midterms).

Last weekend, I had the chance to fly out to Los Angeles to see our amazing women's basketball team play in the Big Dance—the second time our team has appeared in the Women's Basketball NCAA Tournament ever. Our women were great. They left nothing on the court and fought until the end. I was proud to be there with our team in LA and throughout their historic season.

womens basketball team

Our women's team this year has exemplified the best of our scholar-athletes. They're disciplined, they show us how to play as a team, and they teach us everything that college athletics is really about. I can't wait to see what Coach Gebbia and the team can accomplish next year as defending Patriot League Champions. And to our graduating seniors on the team: Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle.

Soon, we're going to gather and celebrate one way that we live out Once an Eagle, Always an Eagle. The Scholarship Luncheon this week is a moment when we can celebrate the generosity of those who have given our students a chance at the life-changing opportunity of higher education.

Donor-funded scholarships are one way that we are able to open the doors here at AU to even more student scholars. Every year, more than 500 students receive support from donors. Some of those donors are even former faculty members. They dedicated their careers to teaching our students, and even after they leave the AU campus, they are committed to keeping the doors of this campus open to as many students as possible. What a proud legacy, and what an important part of our university.

Inclusive Excellence

Inclusion is also of particular importance to this university, which is why we have been hard at work on our Plan for Inclusive Excellence. Here are a few ways we've been doing that: First, I hope you saw our announcement yesterday on Fanta Aw's new role and responsibilities. Second, you may have seen one part of our plan that calls for the use of Inclusive Excellence Mini-Grants—a dedicated pool of funds to encourage collaboration across divisions, departments, units and student organizations. Applications for the Spring 2018 IE Mini-Grants are due by 5 p.m. today, March 20, and you can email with any questions.

Finally, the work of Inclusive Excellence also entails highlighting leaders in inclusion, equity, diversity, and accessibility beyond our campus. That's why I'm so excited that our Antiracist Research and Policy Center recently kicked off The FD200—an effort to honor the bicentennial of Frederick Douglass's birth by honoring 200 people whose work today embodies Douglass's legacy of social change. You can nominate someone for this honor before April 1 here.

Provost Scott Bass

As you may have seen in my recent statement, after 10 years of extraordinary academic leadership and service to American University, Provost Scott Bass will step down on June 29th. Provost Bass has been instrumental in our current ten-year strategic plan, the oversight of hiring more than half of the current full-time term faculty, the enrollment of a student body that has been more diverse and selective than any in AU's history, and unprecedented enhancements to our research infrastructure. Many of the decisions that led AU to its strong position today came under his leadership and guidance.

Provost Bass will transition to his faculty appointment in SPA effective July 1st, where he will be starting a new, university-wide AU center focused on higher education. In a fitting handoff, he will transition as we reach substantial completion on the major elements of our new strategic plan. I hope you all will join me in thanking him for his service to AU. In the next few weeks, we expect to provide additional updates on the search for our next provost.

Strategic Planning

We're on our way to a new strategic plan for the university. Our community has been engaged in a conversation about what American University's future should look like. Drawing on this input, the Strategic Planning Committee (representing students, faculty, staff, and alumni) and I are developing the proposed pillars of our new strategy and engaging in another round of consultation to get input from you and our fellow members of the campus community. During the spring, they will be meeting with faculty, students, staff, alumni, and other interested members of our community to solicit your feedback and ideas. Please check the website for more information, including about who is serving on the Strategic Planning Committee. They are eager to hear from you. You also can submit input anytime through our dedicated email account,


In a little less than a month, we have the opportunity to reflect on American University's past, present, and where we are going in the future, together. On April 11th and 12th, we'll celebrate American University, and I will reflect on how honored and privileged I am to be president. I hope you'll join me for my Inauguration Ceremony. We will start Wednesday afternoon at 2 p.m. with a "History Walk" at Bender Library, and conclude with a "Future Walk" on Thursday afternoon. The ceremony will feature remarks by Atul Gawande, a surgeon, professor, award-winning writer, one of the nation's foremost thinkers on public health issues, and my good friend of over 20 years. Another close friend, Davis Guggenheim, the director of An Inconvenient Truth, Waiting for Superman, and He Named Me Malala, will emcee the ceremony. All the way from past to future, we'll have plenty of fun, celebratory events. You can check for updates on our website, and we hope you'll find a time when you can join one or more of the events—and follow along on social media!


I wanted to share two brief stories of the impact that this AU family is making.

First, yesterday I had the chance to join our Center for Latin American and Latino Studies for their day-long forum on Health Services and Latino Youth: Challenges, Collaborations, and the Social Safety Net. It brought together members of our faculty, along with experts from law, medicine, representatives of the local government, and the community to discuss ways to improve the access to health services for Latino youth. It was a fascinating event, and reminded me that AU is a place for making change because of our place at the nexus of scholarship, research, and service.

Another event a couple of weeks ago served as a similar reminder. I had the honor of joining Professor Derrick Cogburn and Chairman of Special Olympics International, Dr. Tim Shriver, as we celebrated a new partnership between Special Olympics and AU. It's a partnership that will open up new opportunities for internships in the future, and it connects our researchers with the Institute on Disability and Public Policy (IDPP) with Special Olympics to take a closer look at ways to support their athletes and improve the care that all people with disabilities receive.

special olympics signing ceremony

At the event, I had the chance to learn more about ways that IDPP is rethinking how we improve accessibility. As one futuristic example, the team there is finding ways to leverage cutting-edge robotics technology—giving people with disabilities the chance to join UN conferences, meetings and other special events.

As I heard about the work our colleagues are doing at IDPP, it reminded me of the incredible change that we all have the chance to be a part of every day here at AU. We recognize that our own progress on campus with regard to accessibility is incomplete. To that end, we have been working closely with the Office of the University Architect and Facilities Management, along with student leaders and campus partners, to make our campus more accessible—to make sure we're living up to the proud progress members of our campus like IDPP are making every day.

Welcome back, and I look forward to everything you'll accomplish this spring.

Best wishes,

sylvia's signature

P.S. One way you can keep up with what's going on here at AU is to follow me on Twitter! I'm @SylviaBurwell