Memorandum September 16, 2021
- AU Community
- Marc N. Duber, Chair, Board of Trustees
- Board of Trustees September 2021 Meeting Summary
The September 2021 meeting and retreat of the American University Board of Trustees was an opportunity for team building and to engage deeply on significant issues affecting our society. While we had hoped to meet in person, we again conducted our gathering virtually to support the university’s health and safety measures.
The fall semester is off to a strong start. Many of us had exciting opportunities to interact with students and parents in-person during Move-In, Convocation, and Culturefest on the quad. We are also seeing incredible momentum in our Change Can’t Wait comprehensive campaign. As of this month, we have raised $283 million towards our $500 million goal. President Sylvia Burwell reported on the university’s continued response to COVID-19 and the return to in-person learning and working. Trustees are proud that our enrollment and financial position are strong thanks to the university’s focus on retention, student thriving, and sound fiscal management.
For the discussion session of the meeting, we conducted an in-depth and stimulating exploration of a topic that is relevant to our students, our faculty and staff, our strategy, and our mission. We asked the question–what is the future of work? We engaged on this topic from multiple perspectives—as the fifth largest non-governmental employer in the District of Columbia and as an educational institution that is preparing students to be members of the future workforce.
Our first panel, led by Vice Chair Gina Adams, featured Trustees Janice Abraham and Jeff Sine, and Pat Kyllonen, distinguished presidential appointee, research and management sciences, at Educational Testing Service (ETS). Dr. Kyllonen outlined research that reveals the noncurricular skills sought by employers, such as how to manage interactions, how to foster creativity, and how to thrive in team-based environments. There is a new currency for employees with strong social and communications skills, cultural competence, and adaptability. These are the types of skills that cannot be automated, which is vital as technology is rapidly automating many previous functions.
The discussion that followed centered around how AU’s faculty, staff, and alumni prepare students for this workplace environment, as well as the critical importance of lifelong learning opportunities that will allow students at any point in their careers to gain the additional skills that employers want. AU’s focus on internships, project-based class work, and experiential learning is uniquely suited to this new environment. Going forward, it will be our responsibility as an institution to enhance the high value of the AU degree by ensuring that our graduates have these in-demand skills.
The second panel, moderated by Trustee Michael Kempner, featured Trustee Maril MacDonald and Kweilin Ellingrud, senior partner at McKinsey & Company. This session switched perspectives and addressed what employees want and expect in the workplace of the future. The “work from home” experience driven by the pandemic was more successful than anticipated, with increased productivity, reductions in “inefficient time” (e.g., commuting), and enhanced recruitment of global talent. However, the past 18 months also increased pressures on employees, with blurred lines between work and home life, difficulty in building new relationships with colleagues and onboarding new employees, and new challenges to social/emotional/mental health. Our AU workforce is facing these same pressures as it responds to changing student expectations, builds a new hybrid work environment, and supports the health and safety needs of our community.
To address these opportunities and challenges, we must mobilize the entire organization and involve all stakeholders in building solutions. The more we connect our work to our purpose and our values, the more successful we can be. Preparing for the future requires an integrated plan with technology, a comprehensive COVID-19 response, and creative approaches to delivering on our core mission.
That is the playbook we are following at American University. We will continue to listen to our students and our employees. We will test ideas, evaluate their outcomes, and evolve our approaches. This fascinating discussion offered some key takeaways that will help the trustees, our university leaders, and our entire community address these matters going forward.
During the trustees’ short business meeting, we approved our new student trustee-elect, Aisha Jallow. Ms. Jallow is a junior in the School of International Service, a program leader in our Complex Problems class, and a resident assistant in Letts Hall. We welcomed our new trustee, Korey Neal, to his first meeting and had the pleasure of meeting our incoming CFO, Dr. Brontè Burleigh-Jones.
The trustees also authorized the sale of two university-owned residential properties on Glenbrook Road, which have undergone a lengthy remediation by the Army Corps of Engineers and are part of a larger development effort important to the university’s future. Proceeds from the sale, along with the funds that were set aside from the Army Corps of Engineers’ rental payments on these properties, will be used to renovate a property on Nebraska Avenue that was gifted to the university by Mary Weinmann. The former Weinmann property includes 2.8 acres of gardens that are now part of the AU Arboretum. The new design will include a residence for presidents of American University and a new conservatory that will be a gathering place for the AU community and an important tool to support the Change Can’t Wait comprehensive campaign. Ultimately, the new AU House at Weinmann Gardens will be an additional location for Eagles to come together, including opportunities to use the conservatory space for events. Importantly, these investments will be made with no impact on our operating budget or student services.
On behalf of the board, thank you to the AU community for all your efforts to support our return to in-person learning, residential experiences, and campus activities. Our best wishes to all for a safe and successful semester. The Board of Trustees will next meet on November 11-12, 2021.