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Memos to AU Staff

Dear AU Staff,

We are pleased to announce elections results for our 2017-2019 Staff Council! Thank you to each of you who participated in the process by nominating a colleague or accepting a nomination!

Elections Process and Results

This year AU staff elected 11 out of 21 nominees to serve two year terms on Staff Council.

With help from the Office of Information Technology, Staff Council launched its election system allowing staff members to vote directly from their AU Portal landing page. As a result, 367 staff members voted this year (about a 30% increase in votes from last year).

On August 1, 2017, Staff Council held their first business meeting with our new members and also voted for the 2017-2018 Executive Leadership. Read more


Dear Colleagues,

After receiving a lot of questions from AU Employees about their rights as staff, in particular, if their positions would come into conflict with the University, if they choose to partake in forms of activism, engagement or more, we knew it was important to hold a forum on the subject.

In Spring 2017, Staff Council in collaboration with the Employee Relations team within American University's Human Resources Department held a forum on the topic of Professional Roles and Activism.

While we had a great turnout and also live tweeted the event, we know that not everyone could attend. We thought the themes of this forum were too important not to share with our colleagues and collected many of the topic points and resources in the details below.

If we can highlight one resource over them all, please remember American University's Employee Relations team! They can be reached at and are available to answer many of your questions as it pertains to navigating your rights and responsibilities as a member of the AU Community. For more information about the Employee Relations team and what they do please check out their website.

On Behalf of your 2016-2017 Staff Council and 2016-2017 Executive Team (Adrian Sanchez, Keesha Ceran, Colin Gerker)


Key takeaways from Professional Roles and Activism Forum:

Employee Relations wants us to be reminded that our general standards of professionalism are directly tied to the University's Core Competencies. Additionally, Employee Relations highlighted Relevant AU Policies that are important for us to be mindful of in acting in accordance with our responsibilities as personnel of the institution.

I. AU's Core Competencies

  • A. Acting Ethically and with Integrity
    • i. Be a role model for tactful and diplomatic behavior
    • ii. Effectively defuse anger and other adverse reactions; remain a calming force for others
    • iii. Serve as a model for compliance with policies and procedures
  • B. Supporting a Diverse and Inclusive Community
    • i. Create a respectful workplace; do not tolerate insensitivity
    • ii. Consider diverse views and opinions
    • iii. Include others

II. Relevant AU Policies

  • A. Staff Personnel Policies
    • i. Table of contents
    • ii. 1.2: "Staff members carry out the mission of the university by performing their assigned duties with high professional standards. In addition, they must conduct themselves as responsible and cooperative members of the university community. The fulfillment of these expectations is a condition of continued employment."
  • B. Code of Business Ethics
    • i. Memo
    • ii. "Each faculty or staff member can and should make basic ethical decisions, and can and should consult with his or her dean, director or unit/department head on difficult or questionable decisions. Each faculty or staff member should feel free to contact the Executive Director of Human Resources or the Interim Sr. Vice Provost and Dean of Academic Affairs directly to discuss any situation about which there could be differences of opinion or legitimate exceptions to the guidelines contained in the Code."
    • iii. "Except as approved in advance by the President or Chief Financial Officer, the University prohibits political contributions (directly or through trade associations) by the University or its business units. This includes: (a) any contributions of University funds or other assets for political purposes, (b) encouraging individual Employees to make any such contribution; or (c) reimbursing any Employee for any contribution. Individual Employees are free to make personal political contributions as they see fit."
  • C. Guidelines for Freedom of Expression and Dissent
    • i. Document of guidelines
    • ii. "The University fosters and protects freedom of expression and dissent for all members of the University community. The only limits on free expression are those dictated by law, limits necessary to protect the safety and rights of others, and limits to ensure the normal functioning of the University."
  • D. Policy on Lobbying and Political Activities:
    • i. Policy guidelines
    • ii. "All students, staff, and faculty are strictly prohibited from engaging in lobbying and political activities on behalf of the University unless specific and prior authorization has been granted by the Office of Finance and Treasurer. This policy is not intended to hinder an AU community member's personal expression of political views made in a person's individual capacity and on his/her personal time. However, when engaged in such personal activities, AU community members must indicate by their words and actions that these activities or expressions are personal positions and are not made on behalf of American University."
  • E. Social Media Guidelines
    • i. Document guidelines
    • ii. Intro: "Both in professional and institutional roles, employees need to follow the same behavioral standards online as they would in other forms of business communication. The same laws, professional expectations, and guidelines for interacting with students, parents, alumni, donors, media, and other university constituents apply online as in person. Employees are accountable for their posts on social media sites."
    • iii: "Do not use AU logos for endorsements: Do not use the AU logo or any other University images or iconography on personal social media sites. Do not use AU's name to promote a product, cause, or political party or candidate."

Additional Takeaways and responses to critical questions asked:

Much of what was discussed during the forum was nuanced and is really subjective to the cases themselves. Some key points that were expressed were the following:

  • Keep in mind what you do and that your actions promote a respectful workplace
  • Keep in mind what you do and that your actions promote inclusion in the workplace
  • The University encourages you to act with integrity


I. Social Media Use

Q: Can I face repercussions at work for things I post on my personal social media?
A: Review the University's Social Media Guidelines, but your social media is yours as long as you are not speaking on behalf of the University. If your postings create a media firestorm that have impacts to the University, than there is a potential for repercussions.

II. Identity and expressions of individualism

Q: What types of things are okay to hang up in our office space?
A: There is latitude depending on your position and where those items are placed. For example, if you are a staff member whose workspace is primary to the office setup and open, you might not be able to hang particular items that might set the tone for what the office believes. You can't always anticipate what's offensive to others. What is okay to hang might be dependent to who you work with, and the nature of the item. Work with your supervisor to understand office culture when it comes to these questions.

III. General Questions

Q: Many staff are also students. How can we separate our student activism- even on contentious campus related issues- from our jobs? Are we able to freely advocate for on-campus causes in our role as students? How do we protect ourselves should that activism be critical of administration policy?
A: Every employer has certain expectations for their employee's behavior, in every industry. The University is no different, and those expectations can be found in the Staff Personnel Policies. Similarly, there is a Student Conduct Code for students, just like at every other major college or university. Generally speaking, what you do on your own time and in your own capacity will not concern the University or your status as an employee. You are free to advocate for whatever cause you deem worthy, regardless of where the University stands on the issue. This includes reasonably voicing concerns on-campus (but not while you are working - "on the clock," so to speak) with certain administration policies, should that situation arise. What will be crucial is the manner by which you advocate: respectful, peaceful rallies will generally not be problematic. Advocacy that runs counter to University values or policy, such discriminatory conduct or calls for violence or property damage, will not be tolerated. So the key is in your approach and methods, and not about your stance.

Q: If I am detained through non-violent protest, what would/could the University do?
A: The University will likely not, absent anything more, take any action against an employee simply because the employee was arrested at a non-violent protest - provided the employee's work was not affected (including work schedule). Again, acting on your own time and in your own capacity will likely not trigger any action by the University if your work and/or campus is not impacted. For any conduct that does occur which runs afoul of University values or policy, discipline could be triggered according to the Staff Personnel Policies.

Q: How close can I get to the fine line without losing my job?
A: The phrasing of the above question suggests an approach that one might be trying to push the limits just to see how far one can go, which is not the best approach. The better question is: "What's the most effective way to advocate for my cause clearly AND respectfully?" From this starting point, you will likely be able to design your campaign in a manner that will not require you to worry about the University taking action against you, because you are beginning with the University's core principles in mind.