Memorandum March 6, 2019
- AU Community
- Jack C. Cassell, Chairman, Board of Trustees
- Board of Trustees Winter 2019 Meeting Summary
The American University Board of Trustees met on the AU campus for its winter meeting on February 28 and March 1. It was an important meeting with a number of significant actions to report to the AU community.
Following a full day of committee meetings on February 28, President Burwell and the board hosted a reception and dinner with the deans and senior administration that featured an insightful presentation by Professor Audrey Kurth Cronin, founding director of the Center for Security, Innovation, and New Technology at SIS.
The full board meeting took place on March 1 on the East Campus. The day began with a breakfast with close to 70 faculty and trustees in attendance to discuss AU’s academic reputation, teaching, research, and scholarly work of all kinds as crucial parts of AU’s success. To foster discussion, the faculty were asked to consider and discuss the most important steps that AU can take to further enhance its reputation, both in terms of the substance of our work and in how we tell our story.
The full board meeting followed with a number of important actions.
Of particular importance—after extensive cross-campus public discussion over the past six months; an endorsement from the Finance and Investment Committee; and a far-ranging discussion and a unanimous vote by the full board—the FY2020-21 operating budget was approved, which totals $1.5 billion over the next two years.
The primary focus of this year’s budget process was affordability, both in terms of tuition increases and providing additional financial aid. I am pleased to report that tuition will increase by only 3 percent in each of the next two years, and lower or no increases in housing and meal plans will make the increase in total cost of attendance 2.3 percent and 2.4 percent, the lowest ever. We have also earmarked additional financial aid of $9.9 million and $7.4 million over the next two years.
This budget will continue the momentum on our strategic priorities of scholarship, learning and community, which are the foundation for our new strategic plan. It also makes significant progress on improving student retention and graduation; diversifies and grows our revenue; strengthens our academic core; and very importantly—the budget reflects ways to increase financial aid while keeping tuition rates as low as possible.
A full and detailed reporting of the two-year budget will be forthcoming from the Office of Finance and Treasurer later this month. On behalf of the board, I thank the University Budget Committee and its faculty, student, and staff members, who worked diligently to structure a budget that is strategic and targeted.
In addition to student involvement via representation in board committees and participation in key AU endeavors such as the University Budget Committee, over the two days of board meetings, a number of students made their voices heard and expressed their concerns in-person about college affordability. Be reassured that the board heard you; we will strive to keep AU tuition at rates comparable or lower than peer institutions; and we will continue to increase financial aid to the full extent possible.
Also of great importance, the Board of Trustees will have new leadership at the next quarterly meeting (May 17), as the board unanimously approved Marc Duber as the next chair and Gina Adams as the next vice chair for 2019–21. We greatly look forward to our new leadership team (both of whom are AU alumni) taking over in May and leading AU through the successful implementation of the new strategic plan; the launch of the comprehensive campaign; invigorating our board with new trustees; the creation of a new campus planning effort; the intensified pursuit of inclusive excellence; and other vital initiatives.
In other board action, the trustee Class of 2022 (nine members) was reappointed for another three-year term; the new faculty trustee was approved—Karen Baehler, vice chair of the Faculty Senate and Scholar in Residence in the Department of Public Administration and Policy. The next student trustee was also approved—Madison Dalton, currently a sophomore in the School of Public Affairs and the student trustee-elect. These appointments take effect at the conclusion of the May 17, 2019 meeting.
Of business significance—the AU fiscal year (that formerly ran from May 1 through April 30 of the following year) has been changed, effective this year. The new fiscal year will run from July 1 through June 30 of the following year, which will align AU with our peer institutions and better align our accounting for federal financial aid with a fiscal year widely recognized as the “norm.”
The board received an interim report and update from Vice President of Communication Terry Flannery on a refresh of AU’s branding effort, as we work to capture our new strategic priorities and prepare for and support the upcoming fundraising campaign, and we evolve our brand expression to better position American University to increase awareness, pride, distinctiveness, and to educate key stakeholders.
Following reports from the campus representatives, administrative leadership, and committees—the meeting adjourned—but not before the board was treated to two videos as inspiring examples of AU students and alumni making a difference. The first, was of senior Marie Rose Belding, who in 2018 was named a “CNN Hero” as an example of everyday people making the world a better place. She was recognized for her innovative efforts to get excess food to hungry Americans. The board also shared in the success of alumnus Andre Ingram via his February 9 acceptance speech as he was inducted into the AU Athletics’ Cassell Hall of Fame—not only for his stellar men’s basketball career, but also for his perseverance as a 32-year old rookie for the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers.
In closing, this will be my last chairman’s report as my four-year tenure as the chair ends with the start of the next meeting, when Marc Duber takes over as board chair. I will return to board service as a trustee. Serving American University for the past five years in leadership positions—one as vice chairman under chairman emeritus Jeffrey Sine and then four years as chairman—has been an honor and privilege.
The next Board of Trustees meeting will be May 16–17 on the AU campus. I wish everyone success as we enter the final two months of the academic year.