You are here: American University President Announcements September 15, 2015 Memo

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Memorandum September 15, 2015

AU Community
Neil Kerwin, President
Fall Semester Update

I write to the AU community at the start of the academic year to report on the condition of the university, which is sound, and to identify factors contributing toward that condition. I also want to share progress over the summer and identify issues, developments, and events that have or will affect the campus.

Losses to the University Community

The summer months were accompanied by the loss of several important members of the AU community. We mourn their loss and our thoughts remain with their family and friends.

  • Milton Greenberg, former provost (1980-1993), interim president (1990-1991), and professor emeritus of government in the School of Public Affairs, was a passionate advocate for excellent teaching. Details of his memorial are forthcoming.
  • Julian Bond, legendary civil rights leader, was a valued colleague and distinguished faculty member in SPA's Department of Government since 1991 and a mentor to hundreds of AU students over the decades.
  • Kevin Sutherland (SPA/BA '13) was a two-time secretary in the AU Student Government and digital strategist with a promising career in political campaigns. Two scholarships have been established in his memory.
  • Matthew Shlonsky (SIS/BA '14) was working as an analyst at Deloitte at the time of his death. The Cleveland native interned for Ohio senator Rob Portman. His family is working with AU to establish a scholarship fund.
  • Mark Bevilacqua (SOC/BA '16) was a rising senior and member of Sigma Chi. A resident of Long Island, he was majoring in communication studies, with a minor in Spanish, and was an Eagle Scout.
  • Annette Normand (SPA/MPA '16), a student near completion of the Key Executive Program, made a career in the federal government as a human resources development specialist.

As of the writing of this report, we surpassed fall 2015 full-time undergraduate enrollment goals by 5 percent, with returning and first-year students both exceeding targets. This marks the second consecutive year in which the number of new freshmen students choosing AU surpassed our expectations. The fall 2015 admissions cycle was the most selective in AU's history, marked by an admit rate of 35 percent-a decrease of 11 percent compared with last year. Additionally, a higher percentage of students accepted our offer of admission. The conversion rate of 32 percent is the second jump in two years for students who accepted our offer. Our increased selectivity, as measured by the admit rate, and desirability, as measured by the conversion rate, are indicators of the strength of our reputation. These unprecedented achievements at AU are in sharp contrast to the national trend of increasing admission and decreasing conversion rates among colleges and universities.

At the graduate level, results were mixed. Graduate credit hours were 2.6 percent below budget. However, enrollments from master's online partnerships and instructional revenue centers have exceeded budget targets. Enrollment at the Washington College of Law is within range of its budget target.

Continuing to reflect the national downturn in law school enrollment, the Washington College of Law slightly missed its full-time student goal, but part-time law school credit hours exceeded the budget target.

Student Housing
University residence halls opened on August 22. Temporarily triple rooms were created to accommodate 972 of the 1,786 first-year students, 98 new transfer students, and 155 Washington Mentorship students who moved in. Occupancy in the halls where most first-year students reside-Anderson, Letts, and Leonard-will be especially high this fall.

The tight conditions that come with high occupancy can introduce more behavioral incidents in the halls. Last year, when we had a similarly large first-year class, we saw a 47 percent increase in behavioral incidents over the previous year. Anticipating similar patterns this year, we authorized the temporary addition of two case managers in the residence halls, an additional clinician in the Counseling Center, and 1.5 hearing officers in Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Services. Early evidence suggests that these added staff will be critical to our ability to support and manage the large resident student population this fall.

The university's annual convocation, marking the start of a new academic year, welcomed our new students. As is our tradition, they marched, led by pipers, from the Quad and into Bender Arena, cheered by members of the community who gathered to welcome them.

The assembled faculty, staff, and students heard from Student Government president Sasha Gilthorpe, Provost Bass, Scholar-Teacher of the Year and professor Angela Davis, and Alumni Association president Andrea Murino. Thanks go to the many student orientation leaders and the AU Pep Band for making convocation a memorable experience for all who participated.

Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Climate On and Off Campus
As our student body begins to mirror more closely the demographics of our nation, it is imperative that we create a more welcoming and inclusive experience for students, faculty, and staff. Last year, through a series of forums and demonstrations, some students told us the university is falling short of its aspiration to be a truly inclusive community for those of diverse socioeconomic, racial, cultural, ethnic, and political identities. We will act on what we have learned.

The Office of Campus Life and the Office of the Provost have planned programs devoted to education in venues created for frank and civil discussion. Attention will be given to advancing inclusion on many fronts. For example, training on unconscious bias was held for the President's Council, and similar sessions are scheduled for the faculty units during the month of October. The Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning developed Creating Inclusive Classrooms, a website designed to assist faculty with creating and implementing classes that promote diversity of thought and perspectives. Several schools and colleges have established diversity committees that will examine a multitude of relevant issues, including diversity and inclusion in curricula, assessment, and unit culture; faculty engagement and training; and retention of minority faculty. Many units have started affinity group networks to facilitate community building among individuals with similar backgrounds. Expanded opportunities for conversations on issues of race include brown bag lunches, symposia, workshops, and dialogue groups, sponsored by the Center for Diversity and Inclusion. A calendar of events can be found on the CDI website.

Engagement around these activities is promising and introduces another critically important challenge: How will we maintain the type of welcoming community we desire without compromising our unshakable commitment to academic freedom and freedom of expression? That balance will never be easy, but we are dedicated to addressing it in an open and constructive matter. We will continue to address all of these important issues in future reports.

Title IX and Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Initiatives
In mid-August, Gail Hanson, vice president of campus life, provided a progress report on AU's sexual assault awareness and prevention initiatives. The report, the fourth in a series of updates since June 2014, is online at I strongly urge all members of the campus community to read this report and participate in these critical education and training efforts.

The new home for the Washington College of Law at the Tenley Campus will soon be complete, with offices moving during November and December and spring semester classes commencing there in January. Opening celebrations and activities are planned, including a ribbon cutting with Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on February 12, 2016. Events will be posted at

A number of other important projects are in progress. The East Campus project at Nebraska and New Mexico Avenues is proceeding but is facing a challenging schedule because of record rainfall this spring. Meanwhile, architects will soon be delivering a feasibility study for the new science building and potential sites, and planning and design are proceeding for 4801 Massachusetts Avenue, to be repurposed after the law school moves out. We have identified a number of academic and administrative units for relocation; several of these units are housed in the commercial properties we are selling. We received more than 30 offers on the three properties and are currently in final review and negotiations.

Over the summer, we completed a number of important improvement projects, including a renovation of the original section of Nebraska Hall. We performed a major renovation to the Terrace Dining Room and opened a new Subway sandwich shop in the Butler Pavilion tunnel. Also, we replaced transformers in two major buildings in order to prevent catastrophic power losses in the future.

Technology Updates
We opened the fall semester with a surprising 26 percent increase in the number of wireless clients or devices and a 50 percent increase in the use of bandwidth over last year. OIT staff helped 1,119 students connect their devices to the network, including configuration of printers and laptops, cleaning computers of viruses, and linking new SmartTVs to the network.

During the summer, OIT upgraded the wireless network infrastructure in the University Library from 802.11n standard to the latest 802.11ac standard, resulting in a 10-fold increase to wireless capacity. We also conducted a comprehensive wireless site survey in all residence halls to ensure the functionality of all wireless access points prior to the beginning of the school, and we replaced any damaged wireless access points. We successfully implemented the Ellucian Recruiter CRM system supporting graduate admissions programs within KSB and SIS, and we upgraded the Ellucian Colleague administrative system to a higher performing server, necessitated by some of the performance issues last spring. The new server enables much faster processing.

Financial Condition
When we developed this year's operating budget, we held tuition increases to three percent, increased financial aid, and reduced the overall budget from $615 million to $610 million to match expectations for graduate and nontraditional tuition revenue categories. We are almost halfway through the FY2016 fiscal year and, overall, are on target. The large freshman class has resulted in a significant revenue surplus; however, other tuition revenue categories, including graduate and SPExS revenue are below budget and will offset much of the surplus. We are closely monitoring expenditures throughout the university and anticipate finishing the year with a slight surplus.

The Audit Committee met on August 27 to review and approve the annual financial audit for FY2015. PricewaterhouseCoopers provided a very positive report and issued an unqualified opinion on the financial statements. There were no internal control matters or other recommendations from the auditors, which is a proud first for AU.

President Obama Visits AU
Thanks to the efforts of many, President Barack Obama's third visit to AU during his presidency was a great success. The president chose the School of International Service atrium to deliver a major foreign policy address on August 5. Harkening back to President Kennedy's famous speech at AU in 1963, President Obama made his case for the proposed nuclear deal as the best option for preventing or delaying Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons. Attending were representatives of the European Union and the five countries that negotiated the deal, along with selected SIS students, student and faculty leaders, and members of the university's leadership and board.

The president's speech was streamed live, and the visit gathered worldwide attention for AU, with coverage from more than 7,500 news outlets from all 50 states and several countries. Several AU faculty experts were made available to the White House press pool and other media to provide analysis on the speech and the deal, most notably in the Los Angeles Times and BBC World News. The announcement of the speech on AU's Facebook account reached 280,000 people and was shared nearly 10,000 times. On Twitter, #ObamaAtAU was trending two hours before the speech, and there were more than 5,200 "likes" on Instagram for the photos and video documenting the event.

The White House advance team thanked us for our professional operation and response that enabled the successful visit. I am grateful to all who worked to ensure that plans were executed smoothly at short notice. It is clear that AU knows how to host world leaders and take advantage of the opportunities they bring.

Appointments and Transitions
Please join me in welcoming our dynamic cohort of new full-time faculty, including 19 tenure-line faculty, four of whom were appointed with tenure. Our new colleagues reflect a wide range of expertise and accomplishment, including in global studies, the sciences, public policy, literature, music, performing arts, media studies, and business management. Committed teachers and superb scholars, our new faculty have hit the ground running, providing new curricular offerings and intellectual enrichment within and beyond the classroom, laboratory, and performance space.

On August 1, David Swartz, was promoted from chief information officer to vice president and chief information officer. During his tenure at AU, he has revolutionized our technology infrastructure through a period of constant change and established an enterprise-wide portfolio management process, enabling us to prioritize and fund critical investments in systems and software to support learning, scholarship, services, storage, and security. In addition to his current responsibilities, supervising the Office of Information Technology, Dave will also assume leadership of AU's Enterprise Risk Assessment Project Team.

Today, we formally welcome Courtney Surls to our senior management team as vice president for development and alumni relations. She is an experienced leader whose collaborative style and contagious enthusiasm combined with high performance at remarkable institutions will help us advance AU in unprecedented ways.

Megan Zanella-Litke has been promoted to director of sustainability programs. As the head of sustainability, Megan will provide leadership in the maintenance and implementation of AU's sustainability and climate plans and our American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment.

Finally, our esteemed colleague Claudio Grossman announced his decision to step down from his position at the end of this academic year and return to the faculty after 21 years as dean of the Washington College of Law. Routinely cited as one of the most influential individuals in American legal education and a highly respected scholar and protector of human rights, Claudio has led WCL through two decades of remarkable change and achievement. He will remain in his position until his successor is selected. Provost Bass has taken steps to initiate a search to fill this most important position. There will be opportunities in the coming months to express our appreciation for the many contributions Claudio has made to the University and WCL. For now we simply wish him the best as he prepares for the next phase of his life and career.

Development and Alumni Relations
Alumni and student-alumni activities are in full swing. I will visit a number of areas this fall, including Denver, Panama, and Atlanta, and interact with alumni and families. All-American Weekend, A Celebration for Alumni and Families, will take place October 16-18. The weekend is packed with activities for alumni, students, and families. You can learn more at or, for alumni, visit


  • Presidential Management Fellowship Program-Over the past five years, AU has emerged as a national leader in producing Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) finalists and semifinalists. This year, AU ranked first among all universities, with 43 finalists in the PMF class of 2015. Although the process was more competitive this year, the university produced nine more finalists than in 2014.
  • Teach For America-This program just released its annual list of colleges and universities contributing the greatest number of alumni to its teaching corps. Among nearly 830 colleges and universities, AU ranked #2 among medium-sized schools, contributing 28 alumni.
  • FORBES Most Entrepreneurial Universities 2015-In August, FORBES ranked the country's most entrepreneurial schools based on alumni and students who identified themselves as founders and business owners. AU ranked #24, ahead of Harvard University (#25) and Boston University (#26).
  • Foreign Service Feeder Schools-The American Foreign Service Association ranked AU #4 among the top foreign service feeder schools, after Georgetown, GW, and Maryland, and ahead of Columbia, Harvard, UVA, UCLA, Hopkins, and Yale.
  • Princeton Review, Green Schools-In August, the Princeton Review named AU to its Green Rating Honor Roll. AU is one of 24 colleges and universities that received the highest possible score (99) in this year's tallies.
  • Top 50 Green Schools-AU is the nation's top green school, according to Online Schools Center, a website about higher education. The site noted AU's silver rating as a bicycle friendly community (League of American Bicyclists), scores, the Princeton Review's green rankings, Sierra Club #2 ranking of Cool Schools (2014), and STARS rating.
  • 50 Most Beautiful Urban College Campuses- Best Choice Schools, a leading online resource for obtaining information about colleges and universities, named AU #4 in its list of the 50 most beautiful urban college campuses.
  • Becca Peixotto-Congratulations to Becca Peixotto, AU anthropology PhD candidate and graduate of our public anthropology master's program,who was a part of the expedition that discovered a new species of human ancestor Homo naledi. More on the discovery, Becca's coauthored paper, and her upcoming talk at AU on September 28 are on the College of Arts and Sciences website.
  • Jen Dumiak-Women's basketball four-year starter and graduate student Jen Dumiak was named the 2014-15 Corvias Patriot League Female Scholar-Athlete of the Year. She became a candidate for the honor after winning the Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year for women's basketball. Currently pursuing her master's degree in mathematics, she holds a perfect 4.0 GPA. Other awards this past season include Division I-AAA ADA Scholar-Athlete of the Year and first-team Capital One Academic All-America recognition.

Board Retreat
AU's Board of Trustees will meet on September 16-17 for its annual retreat, which offers board members the opportunity to review their performance and governance standards and to focus on specific issues of interest. This year, they will focus on the future of legal education and the opportunities it presents for the Washington College of Law, with its distinctive mission and new facilities. Regular board business meetings resume in mid-November.

As always I welcome your comments directed to I will write again later in the semester with further updates.