You are here: American University Board of Trustees August 8, 2023 Memo

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Memorandum August 8, 2023

AU Community
Gina Adams, Chair of the Board of Trustees
AU Presidential Transition

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, I want to extend our gratitude to President Sylvia Burwell for her dedicated leadership and service to the American University community. For the past six years, during some of the most consequential times in higher education and our broader world, Sylvia provided bold direction, personal caring, and an optimistic vision for American University. As she prepares to step down in June 2024, we will commemorate the many achievements during her tenure while continuing our vital work to building American University’s great future.

As the first woman to serve as AU’s president, Sylvia came to American University at a moment when the university was poised to build on a decade of growth and take its next step forward as a leading institution in Washington, DC, the nation, and the world. Sylvia embraced that opportunity with an inclusive, collaborative approach that leveraged one of AU’s greatest strengths–our community of faculty, staff, students, and alumni.

A thorough story of AU’s substantial growth under Sylvia’s leadership is on the AU website. The success of the last six years and AU’s ongoing momentum that have positioned us for our next era can be seen in three transformational areas–Changemakers for a Changing World, Change Can’t Wait, and COVID.

The best university strategic plans are both stable roadmaps for continued development and dynamic visions that can adapt to new conditions. Under Sylvia’s leadership, the Changemakers for a Changing World strategy exemplified both areas. The strategic imperatives provided clear paths to enhance the already strong AU attributes in scholarship, learning, and community. The forward-looking vision of the plan created the flexibility to leverage new and emerging opportunities. As Sylvia oversaw its implementation, faculty research thrived with more than $51 million in externally funded scholarship this year, the endowment grew by approximately 60 percent, and our commitment to student thriving advanced with the development of the Student Thriving Complex and the U.S. News & World Report specialty rankings, where AU places #12 in First Year Experience, #30 in Most Innovative, and #36 in Undergraduate Teaching.

If the Changemakers strategic plan is the well-designed vessel that is carrying AU into a bright future, the Change Can’t Wait fundraising campaign is the fuel that accelerates our work and impact. The first campaign in nearly 10 years, Sylvia’s deep commitment to launching Change Can’t Wait called all of us to action and ignited the unleashing of our incredible potential. From major gifts such as the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics, the Meltzer Center for Athletic Performance, and the Trone Family Eminent Scholar Chair in Neuroscience and Behavior, among many others, the campaign created numerous opportunities for our current faculty, students, and staff and built a foundation that will support generations of AU Eagles to come.

As AU accelerated, a new external challenge arose in early 2020 that would ultimately reshape nearly everything about higher education and our world. During the upheaval resulting from the rise of COVID-19 and the global pandemic, we could not have asked for a more prepared leader than a former Secretary of Health and Human Services and former Director of the Office of Management and Budget. Sylvia’s early briefing of the board featured the level of knowledge and foresight needed to immediately respond to COVID and plan for its long-term public health and economic implications. The important work that helped AU excel during the pandemic resonates today as we continue building on these learnings and shaping a university that is thriving in the new world of higher education.

There are many more achievements from the past six years that are the building blocks of American University’s future, from opening the Hall of Science to being the first university to achieve carbon neutrality. Over the next year, we will celebrate Sylvia’s impact on American University and express our gratitude to the Burwell family for all they have done for our community.

Now, we will concurrently act decisively on our near-term priorities and plan strategically for the future. Our momentum will continue unabated as we seek the next American University president to build on our legacy. Working together, Sylvia, the trustees, and our outstanding team have crafted an effective transition process that will advance our immediate work and support the selection of AU’s 16th president.

The Board of Trustees in collaboration with our community will conduct a thorough search process that features extensive engagement and input. The process will be led by a presidential search committee that is a representative body with members from across our community. I am pleased to announce the members of the presidential search committee and thank them for taking leadership roles in this critical activity:

  • Janice Menke Abraham, SIS/BA ’79, Trustee, Search Committee Vice-Chair
  • Ajay Adhikari, Faculty, Kogod School of Business
  • Marc Duber, Kogod/BS ’81, Trustee, Search Committee Chair
  • Gina Adams, SPA/BS ’80, Trustee and Board Chair
  • Michael Balmuth, CAS/BA ’72, Trustee
  • Gaurdie Banister, Trustee
  • Jack Cassell, SOC/BA ’77, Trustee and Board Chair Emeritus
  • Jehane Djedro, SIS/BA ’24, Student
  • Lia Epperson, Faculty, Washington College of Law
  • Monica Jackson, Deputy Provost and Dean of Faculty
  • Charlie Lydecker, SPA/BA ’85, Trustee and Board Vice-Chair
  • Maria Otero, Trustee
  • Carolyn Parker, Faculty, School of Education
  • Matt Pittinsky, SPA/BA ’94, Trustee
  • LaTanya Sothern, SOC/BA ’92, Alumni Association President
  • Jennifer Tether, Associate Director, Key Operations & Strategic Communication, School of Public Affairs

We are partnering with Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search and leadership advisory firm highly regarded for its work in placing CEOs and university presidents, to assist with this process. One of our trustees, Gaurdie Banister, serves as Russell Reynolds’ independent board chair, and he did not participate in the search firm selection process. We launched a webpage that will provide additional information as we move forward. Stay tuned for further updates, including dates and opportunities for community listening sessions and additional input on the search.

Today, please join me in thanking Sylvia for her bold and impactful work with and on behalf of the American University community, her friendship, and her thoughtful stewardship of our institution.