You are here: American University President Announcements September 8, 2020

AU Memo Letterhead

Dear AU Community,

I hope you had an enjoyable Labor Day weekend. It is a particularly important commemoration this year, and I want to thank you for all your hard work over the past months to help address the challenge of COVID-19.

This weekend always marks a moment of transition in the year for me. Fall is upon us, classes are in full swing, and we can look forward to many important milestones throughout the rest of the semester. So, in that spirit, today I wanted to update you on some impactful things happening in our community right now, important work underway that will help shape our future, and news about a key moment on the horizon.

Making an Impact on Today 

COVID-19 has not impeded the amazing work of our scholars, staff, and students. Here is just a sample of how the AU community is forging ahead on critical issues:

  • Our commitment to sustainability can be seen across the university, particularly as our beautiful campus arboretum starts to embrace the colors of fall. Megan Litke, our director of sustainability programs, recently talked about recycling on the Kojo Nnamdi Show, as one component of our dedication to protecting our environment.
  • No matter what else may be happening, AU will never let an election year pass by without creative and thoughtful engagement in our democracy. In one example, SOC professor Lenny Steinhorn and the students in his Presidential Campaign 2020: Inside the Spin Room and the Newsroom class talk every Thursday with local news station WUSA 9 about the latest campaign developments and the views of younger voters. 
  • Professor Caty Borum Chattoo, director of our Center for Media & Social Impact, saw her book Story Movements: How Documentaries Empower People and Inspire Social Change, reach number #1 on Amazon’s list of new releases in documentary filmmaking. As we navigate some of the greatest social upheaval in a generation, it is critical that we document the stories and learn their lessons.

Planning AU’s Future

Later today, AU will release its 2021 Campus Plan Draft, an integral component for implementing the Changemakers for a Changing World strategy. The 2021 Campus Plan is a predictable yet flexible proposal that allows AU to meet the changing needs and demands of the educational marketplace of the 21st century, reinforces the university’s role in the nation’s capital, and underscores our commitment to meaningful collaboration with the community. 

Over the past two-plus years, AU worked with stakeholders, including the AU Neighborhood Partnership and the Community Liaison Committee, to create this consensus-based campus plan draft. We look forward to continued work on the plan and collaborative implementation over the next decade to ensure that our campus will adapt to and meet the changing needs of AU students, faculty, and staff while at the same time respecting and enhancing the quality of life in the neighborhoods surrounding campus. More information about the Campus Plan can be found at

Another critical component for charting our future and supporting our ongoing COVID-19 response is managing the university’s budget in a time of great economic uncertainty. We previously shared updates about the increased costs, lost revenue, and expenses for the spring and summer, and the potential for significant ongoing financial challenges for fiscal year 2021 (which began in July). We’ve taken a number of steps to address these matters and I want to thank you for your commitment and sacrifice. I know this is not an easy time.

This week, we are having a series of conversations across the AU community about the current state of the university budget. We will be collecting comments about potential additional steps to address the possible remaining gaps, which will ultimately be determined by our final enrollment numbers. As a tuition-dependent institution, maintaining our enrollment is critical and so many people across the university have made tremendous efforts in this area. Comments about the budget can be sent to

Looking Ahead to December, Though Not in the Way We Hoped 

I do have some disappointing news to share about an annual event that means so much to our community and to me personally. We have made the difficult decision to host the December commencement celebration online. While we hoped conditions would allow for a full in-person ceremony this December, the ongoing spread of COVID-19 and the continued limitation on the number of people that can gather for an event make that impossible. We plan to honor our summer and fall graduates and mark the moment of graduation with an online commencement celebration on Sunday, December 13. More information will be shared in the coming months on the commencement website and through updates sent to your AU email accounts. We remain committed to celebrating the entire Class of 2020 during in-person commencement ceremonies when health and safety conditions permit. We will announce specific dates and details as soon as they are available.

My heart goes out to all the graduates–standing on the Bender Arena stage with you, shaking your hand for the first time as an American University graduate, is such a special moment. Please know how proud we are of your achievements and your perseverance. You’ve earned these honors and we look forward to celebrating you. 

The dedication to moving forward and meeting any challenge never stops at American University. It represents an enormous amount of work, but that is even more inspiring today because we are forging ahead together. 

Be safe and be well.