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Memorandum November 26, 2019

To:
AU Community
From:
Marc N. Duber, Chair, Board of Trustees
Subject:
Board of Trustees November 2019 Meeting Summary

The American University Board of Trustees gathered on November 14-15, energized by the the achievements in first part of this academic year such as All-American Weekend, and assessed our progress against key goals. We enjoyed and learned from many conversations with our community of changemakers.

The board had three unique opportunities to experience the dynamic exchange of ideas that we see every day at American University. On Wednesday, November 13, the School of International Service (SIS) and Trustee Hani Farsi, SIS ’92, hosted a special colloquium and panel discussion in memory of Mr. Farsi’s father, His Excellency Mohamed Said Farsi, who served as mayor of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. The colloquium – “Civility in the Arab City” – brought together leading scholars to discuss the Arab urban ideal.

Following a full day of board committee meetings on Thursday, November 14, the trustees joined President Burwell to celebrate and thank the university’s most committed supporters at the President’s Circle Dinner. This event features the presentation of the Cyrus A. Ansary Medal, which is awarded to members of the American University community who have displayed extraordinary commitment and leadership within the university and their professions. This year’s recipient is Susan Zirinsky, SOC/BA ‘74, the first woman to serve as president of CBS News. Ms. Zirinsky’s remarks were a reminder of American University’s unique place as a training ground for people who change the world.

Finally, the business meeting of the board on Friday, November 15 began with a breakfast discussion with approximately forty students centered on building academic and social community and helping students succeed throughout their time at AU. This session was an important opportunity for the board to hear firsthand experiences from our undergraduate, graduate, and law students.

The board also heard two presentations on topics that shape not only daily life on our campus, but the future track of the university. Provost Dan Myers reviewed our efforts to improve undergraduate retention, as we strive to ensure the first-year students who join our community each year remain as part of our family, thrive, and graduate. The university has launched a comprehensive effort to provide students the necessary support and address needs that are drivers for student decisions not to return to the university.
Next, Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Doug Kudravetz outlined an important step the university took this year to further bolster our current financial performance and create dynamic opportunities going forward. In May 2019, the trustees approved a new bond issue that allowed the university to benefit from lower interest rates and generate additional revenue from our endowment in future years that can be directed to key university priorities.

The final session of the meeting featured Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence Fanta Aw and ex-officio board members Bishop LaTrelle Easterling and Reverend Greg Bergquist exploring AU’s relationship with the United Methodist Church (UMC). While the UMC continues to address issues regarding same sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights, there has been no change on our campus or for our Methodist community in our commitment to our values of inclusion. Following discussion about how to best support our community as the UMC moves towards another consideration of these issues at their May 2020 general conference, the board voted to develop a statement that articulates our values, our historical alignment with the UMC, and our position that the UMC should adopt policies that foster inclusion.

In other developments, the board approved the awarding of an honorary degree for the fall commencement speaker--former Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter. Mr. Nutter served as the ninety-eighth mayor of Philadelphia from 2008–2016, after 15 years on the Philadelphia City Council. During his term, he focused on improving education for Philadelphia’s children, expanding economic opportunities, and enhancing services for all residents of the city. After leaving the Mayor’s Office, Mr. Nutter was appointed the David N. Dinkins professor of professional practice in urban and public affairs at Columbia University. Commencement will be at 10 a.m. Sunday, December 15, in Bender Arena.

Following updates from our campus representatives, the Board adjourned. The next meeting of the trustees will be February 27-28, 2019. As we approach the end of 2019, the trustees and I wish you the best for a successful conclusion to the semester and a safe and joyful holiday season.