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Memorandum March 10, 2021

AU Community
Marc N. Duber, Chair, Board of Trustees
Board of Trustees March 2021 Meeting Summary

Continuing the important work of supporting the AU community and our educational mission as we navigate the pandemic, the March 2021 meeting of the Board of Trustees marked important milestones. First, it has been one year since American University transitioned to online classes to support the health and safety of our community and the broader DC region. We have learned much in the past year and our students, faculty, and staff have taken enormous steps to adapt, learn, and thrive. We cannot thank you enough for your dedication and perseverance. Second, we considered the university’s FY 2022 budget, which is a critical component of our ongoing ramp up of activity and the planned return to in-person classes and activities for the fall.

The challenges of the past year could not slow the momentum we see across the university. In her report to the trustees, President Sylvia Burwell highlighted numerous achievements, such as the recruitment of strong new leaders like Sam Fulwood as the dean of the School of Communication, the progress in our development work as we move toward the public launch of the fundraising campaign, and the new Shield T3 COVID-19 testing initiative that we are leading with institutions from across the DC region. President Burwell also noted the areas that will be key priorities going forward as we transition to more in-person activity, which include our ongoing focus on the enrollment and retention of our students, enhancing the student experience, and supporting our faculty and staff who have tirelessly advanced our mission and supported our students through this difficult year. She concluded her report with the hopeful news that more than 500 students are currently moving into campus for the mid-semester residential experience.

That momentum is also seen throughout the stellar scholarship of our faculty, and the trustees engaged in a fascinating discussion with Dr. Cynthia Miller-Idriss. Dr. Miller-Idriss is a faculty member in the School of Public Affairs and the School of Education, director of the Polarization and Extremism Research & Innovation Lab (PERIL), and one of the world’s foremost experts on extremism.

With recent developments including the insurrection at the Capitol and the ongoing focus on domestic extremism by law enforcement agencies, Dr. Miller-Idriss’s work is at the leading edge of the national dialogue on these issues. She spoke about her book, Hate in the Homeland, and trends in radicalization, including a rapid transformation in where and how radicalization happens, and the way extremist propaganda is shared and seen in public spaces. Dr. Miller-Idriss is a wonderful example of how American University faculty are researching the greatest challenges of today’s world and delivering impactful knowledge that helps communities and governments take action.

The priority business matter for the trustees was the review and approval of the FY 2022 budget. As President Burwell and the cabinet previously communicated to the community, this one-year budget is an important transition as we begin to emerge from the pandemic. The standard two-year budget cycle for FY 2023–2024 will commence in the fall.

In preparing the FY 2022 budget, the university first built upon the work done to navigate the fiscal challenges caused by COVID-19. Thanks to the strong work of our faculty and staff, enrollment levels have been maintained and expense discipline has enabled us to avoid some of the more difficult financial measures seen across higher education, where there have been more than 650,000 layoffs since the beginning of the pandemic. While it has been an arduous path, thanks to the contributions of so many across our community, the university’s financial foundation is strong as we transition to a post-pandemic world.

Budgets reflect our values, and that is clear in the FY 2022 financial plan. The university is supporting the AU community with no increases in tuition or residence hall rates (a historic first), the planned restoration of university contributions to employee retirement plans and the annual merit pool, and investment in the infrastructure and strategic priorities that will maintain and expand our momentum. The budget also includes the necessary funds for COVID-19 testing and safety measures. Ultimately, the budget, the university leadership, and the trustees are focused on helping students and families get the most value from the investment they make in an AU education.

Following a thorough discussion about key decisions in this year’s finances, the trustees unanimously approved the FY 2022 budget. A full and detailed reporting of the budget will be forthcoming from the Office of Finance and Treasurer. We also applauded Vice President and CFO Doug Kudravetz at the conclusion of Doug’s final university budget before his retirement. We will further celebrate Doug’s decades of service to the AU community in the coming months.

Looking forward, President Burwell outlined the next steps and projections in the overall COVID-19 response. Vaccinations are steadily increasing, and COVID-19 case counts are leveling off, but we need to maintain the critical public health measures, both at the university and in the broader community. Thanks to the work of the university leadership and task forces, we are prepared to manage ongoing COVID-19 conditions when the campus is fully populated with extensive testing, contact tracing, and other health and safety measures that will support our students, faculty, and staff.

A valued component that runs through our board meetings is interaction with the AU community. On Wednesday, March 2, we continued our regular (now virtual) engagement through a Zoom luncheon discussion with undergraduate, graduate, and WCL students. The students shared the challenges they faced in the past year, the hope they have for the future, and important perspectives that provided the trustees with understanding of how our students are both coping and thriving with an educational year like no other.

During the official meeting, we welcomed our newest trustees Maria Otero and Wes Bush, as well as Jonathan Mathias as the new chair of the AU Alumni Board and Kevin Gold, the new president of the Graduate Leadership Council. The full complement of campus representatives shared the outstanding work in each of their areas, which is invaluable perspective for the trustees and informs our work on key issues. In other board business, the following members of the board's Class of 2021—Gaurdie Banister Jr., Stephanie Bennett-Smith, Jack Cassell, Mehdi Heravi, Margery Kraus, Maril MacDonald, Betsy Mangone, and Jeff Sine—were unanimously re-elected to the Class of 2024. The board also approved the election of School of International Service professor Garret Martin as faculty trustee (2021-2023) and Washington College of Law student Anusha Mannam as student trustee (2021-2022).

Finally, community is not only one of the pillars of our Changemakers strategic plan, but a defining characteristic of American University. And our community is saddened by the tragic death of AU student Elias Weinstock. On behalf of the trustees, our hearts go out to his family and the entire AU community. The trustees held a moment of silence in remembrance of Elias during our meeting.

As we hopefully begin to see the resolution of the pandemic, I wish everyone good health and please stay safe. The Board of Trustees will host its next meetings on May 13-14, 2021.