You are here: American University Provost Communications February 5, 2024

American University Office of the Provost

MemorandumFebruary 5, 2024

AU & WCL Faculty and Staff 
Vicky M. Wilkins, Acting Provost and Chief Academic Officer
Thomas W. Merrill, Chair of the Faculty Senate
Announcing Working Group on Free Expression

As you may remember, in 2022 American University adopted a new Policy on Freedom of Expression and Expressive Conduct and the Faculty Senate endorsed a Statement of Values on Free Expression. These documents were developed by a Working Group on Free Expression made up of faculty and staff and chaired by Tom Merrill and Regina Curran. We are proud of the work that the Working Group did and glad that the university community still stands by both documents.

In her November 21, 2023 message to the community, President Burwell raised concerns about rising levels of antisemitism and Islamophobia in the wider culture and reminded us of the importance of fostering an inclusive campus culture as a core element of AU’s educational mission. In her January 25, 2024 message to the community, President Burwell outlined policy changes for the spring semester which are intended, as the message says, to “support students’ sense of belonging” on campus. Members of the community have asked how these commitments intersect with AU’s commitments on Free Expression.

With this in mind, Acting Provost Vicky Wilkins and the Faculty Senate are convening a new Working Group on Free Expression to provide a space for faculty and staff to discuss and review these issues; and where possible, offer guidance to the community. For more details on the group’s purpose and work, please see the attached charge. President Burwell’s message of January 25 notes that the policies announced there will be evaluated at the end of the semester through “community input and our policy review process.” This Working Group, which convened for the first time last week, will provide an important avenue for the community to provide input on these policies and other questions that have or may arise under AU’s Policy and Statement of Values on Free Expression.

In forming the group, we sought to represent both faculty and staff and to include several members of the 2021–22 Working Group on Free Expression. We also sought to include colleagues who are close to various communities who are affected by these issues and can articulate the range of considerations and interests at stake here. We are very grateful to these colleagues for agreeing to serve on this important group. The membership of the group will include:

  • Thomas W. Merrill, SPA and Chair of the Faculty Senate (Co-chair)
  • Regina Curran, Director of Cyberpolicy, OIT (Co-chair)
  • Mohammed Abunimer, SIS
  • Lisa Leff, CAS and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Lauren Strauss, CAS and Director of Jewish Studies
  • Sara Clarke Kaplan, CAS and Director of the Antiracist Research and Policy Center
  • Lara Schwartz, SPA
  • Leena Jayaswal, SOC
  • Jeffrey Brown, Interim AVP for Student Affairs
  • Amanda Taylor, AVP for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
  • Ayana Wilson, Director of Center for Student Involvement
  • Kernysha Rowe, Assistant Dean of Students, Student Conduct and Conflict Resolution Services
  • Morgan Redmond, Associate Director, Kay Spiritual Life Center
  • Elizabeth Deal, AVP for Community and Internal Communication, University Communications

The Working Group will meet several times over the course of the spring semester and is expected to offer a memo by the end of the semester. This memo will be shared with the community.

We are aware that many members of the community are interested in the issues that will be discussed by the Working Group and we are committed to transparency about our work. We encourage members of the community to contact us with questions, concerns, or insights. Please feel free to write directly to the co-chairs or to individual members of the Working Group.

Working Group on Free Expression Attachment