Memorandum January 26, 2017
- American University Community
- Jack C. Cassell, Chairman, Board of Trustees;
- Jeffrey A. Sine, Chairman, Presidential Search Committee
- American University's Next President
On behalf of the American University Board of Trustees, we are pleased to introduce Sylvia Mathews Burwell as American University's 15th president. Burwell will assume her responsibilities on June 1, 2017, when President Neil Kerwin steps down, after more than a decade of outstanding service in the role.
Burwell comes to AU after serving as the 22nd Secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), a role she held from 2014 through the end of President Obama's second term. Prior to that Cabinet appointment, Burwell was Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), also a Cabinet position. She emerged as the top candidate in a very competitive national search.
An accomplished senior government official and global foundation executive, Burwell is a leader of immense character and vision, known for her rigor of thought and laser-like focus on mission. A Rhodes Scholar, she possesses an inherent intellectual curiosity that she has applied to push the boundaries of knowledge in order to address complex problems. These traits, combined with her experience and commitment to education and research, make her well suited to lead AU at this moment in our history, as we build on the momentum and progress achieved in recent years.
Burwell has managed large and complex organizations across the public and private sector. Her career reflects strategic thought leadership at the highest levels of U.S. government, and global executive leadership at two of the world's largest and most well-known non-profit and corporate foundations. Prior to her roles in the Obama Administration, she was President of the Walmart Foundation, where she led efforts to fight hunger in America, empower women around the world and improve local communities. Previously, she served for a decade at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as Chief Operating Officer and as founding President of the Global Development Program, where she helped advance solutions to some of the world's most pressing global public health issues.
"My family and I are honored and excited to become a part of this vibrant AU community," said Burwell. "American University's distinctive mix of academic strengths, its influential scholars, engaged students, successful alumni and extraordinary location are great assets. AU's trajectory over the last decade enables us to leverage our strengths and think in bold, ambitious ways."
University of Pennsylvania President Emerita and Rockefeller Foundation President, Judith Rodin, said, "I applaud the American University community on this outstanding appointment. Sylvia Burwell is a visionary, strategic, and talented leader with an unmatched drive for excellence. She loves learning and rigorous debate, and has a passion for engaging people, from students to scholars, in the critical issues of the day. All of these qualities make her perfect for a 21st Century university presidency."
Burwell observed, "Given the challenges facing higher education, our nation, and our world, there is no better time for American University to assert its considerable strengths, to lead and convene thought leaders, and take on the world's thorniest problems. I welcome the opportunity to help AU expand its scholarly influence, enhance the student experience, and be a model for inclusion and innovation at a time when these ideals are vitally important."
During Burwell's recent government tenure, HHS advanced the most comprehensive reform of the nation's health care system in a generation; confronted urgent public health issues, such as the opioid crisis; through the Centers for Disease Control, addressed the Zika and Ebola outbreaks; and at the National Institutes of Health, supported advancements at the forefront of biomedical research. At OMB, she helped lead the negotiations that won a landmark two-year budget agreement.
Burwell also held leadership roles in the Clinton Administration, including as Deputy Chief of Staff to the President and Chief of Staff to the U.S. Secretary of Treasury. Burwell has served on the boards of the Council on Foreign Relations, MetLife, and the University of Washington Medical Center, among other organizations.
The first woman appointed as president in AU's history, Burwell earned an A.B. in Government from Harvard University, and a BA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics from the University of Oxford.
As we welcome Sylvia Mathews Burwell, we extend our sincere appreciation to the Presidential Search Committee-comprised of faculty, staff, students, alumni, and trustees-whose effective work and commitment brought her to AU. The search committee engaged with the entire community from the earliest stages, listened and reflected the views of various constituencies, and was determined to recruit candidates befitting the university's reputation, and rapid transformation as one of the nation's leading universities. We are grateful for the time and talent the search committee devoted to this process.
Please join us in welcoming Sylvia Mathews Burwell, her husband Stephen, and their children, Helene and Matthew, to the AU family. Over the coming months, there will be opportunities to welcome and get to know them as they prepare to join our community this summer.