You are here: American University Board of Trustees November 19, 2021 Memo

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Memorandum November 19, 2021

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

The November 2021 meeting of the American University Board of Trustees featured extensive discussion of key ongoing imperatives that are shaping the future of our community. We gathered at an important juncture, with the fall semester coming to close, work underway on the FY 2023-2024 budget, and the Change Can’t Wait campaign approaching important milestones.

The return to in-person learning and activities this semester has seen incredible accomplishments across our AU community. From the historic $15 million NSF grant to study wasted food to the recent Seeing Climate Change symposium to Washington Business Journal naming two undergraduate students and one alumna to its 25 under 25 list of innovators, our community of changemakers is taking on challenges and delivering impact. It is also exciting to see more opportunities for interaction and collaboration on campus, including live performances of the Department of Fine Arts, AU Eagles athletic competitions, and exhibitions at the AU Museum.

The trustees again had the valuable opportunity to spend time with a group of undergraduate, graduate, and law students during a virtual gathering. We heard inspiring stories and important feedback about how students have transitioned to in-person learning and activities, things that have worked well this semester and areas where we can improve going forward, and how they are leveraging their AU education for current opportunities and their future aspirations.

President Burwell’s report focused on the momentum of the university and the challenges in the competitive higher education sector. American University is doing well in many areas, including our research and scholarship, the achievements of our students (such as our recent ranking as number one in Coverdell fellowships), and our ongoing focus on student thriving and retention. Looking across the wider landscape, there is increased emphasis on flexibility in educational offerings and nondegree certifications. Students and families are prioritizing value as they make decisions about how to pursue their educational goals. As we address these challenges, we return to our Changemakers strategy, which positioned us well for these developments, and our work continues to accelerate.

Vice President Matt Bennett led a discussion of AU’s enhanced focus on the university’s reputation. This work builds upon our mission, the Changemakers for a Changing World strategy, the Challenge Accepted narrative, and the Change Can’t Wait comprehensive fundraising campaign. The interconnection and alignment of these priorities enables us to elevate American University’s unique attributes, engage our audiences in new and exciting ways, and continue enhancing the value of an AU education and degree.

Following a presentation by President Burwell and Vice President Brontè Burleigh-Jones, the trustees approved the budget development guidelines for fiscal years 2023 and 2024. These guidelines provide a roadmap for the budget process that is launching this month and will be discussed during the upcoming community budget forums. During the board’s February and April 2022 meetings, we will review and vote on the budget.

Vice President Courtney Surls updated the trustees on the strong progress of the Change Can’t Wait campaign. As of Friday’s meeting, we have raised $293 million toward our $500 million goal. Some of our core focus areas going forward include seeking additional support for faculty chairs and research, student thriving through scholarships and programming, and fulfilling our goal for the Center for Athletic Performance. We are looking forward to the November 30 installation of Professor Terry Davidson as the Trone Family Eminent Scholar Chair in Neuroscience and Behavior. Our thanks again to Trustee David Trone and June Trone for their generous support of Professor Davidson’s groundbreaking scientific work and American University’s commitment to research with impact.

During the trustees’ business meeting, we welcomed AU’s new chief of staff, Sarah Baldassaro, and our new and returning campus representatives. This also marked the first full board meeting for Trustee Korey Neal, Student-Trustee Anusha Mannam, and Burleigh-Jones. We approved construction of the new sound wall for Jacobs Field, which is a component of our 2021 campus plan, and two new academic programs–an MA in international economic relations and an MA in international economic relations: quantitative methods.

Finally, we approved a new trustee—Matthew Pittinsky, SPA/BA ’94, a global expert in higher education technology. He is the CEO of Parchment, a digital credential service, co-founder and former CEO of Blackboard, Inc., and an assistant research professor of sociology at Arizona State University. During his undergraduate career at American University, Matthew served as president of the Student Confederation (now AU Student Government). This will be Matthew’s second stint on the Board of Trustees, having served from 2000-2008 before pursuing his higher education teaching career.

We hope this will be our final virtual meeting and that the health and safety conditions in 2022 will allow for us to gather in person. The Board of Trustees will next meet on February 24-25, 2022. On behalf of the board, thank you to the AU community for your ongoing commitment to each other, your compliance with the critical health and safety protocols, and your energy and enthusiasm, which has been wonderful to see throughout this semester’s return to campus. Our best wishes to all for a successful completion of fall semester and a safe and happy holiday season.