You are here: American University Board of Trustees May 20, 2020 Memo

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Memorandum May 20, 2020

AU Community
Marc N. Duber, Chair, Board of Trustees
Board of Trustees May 2020 Meeting Summary

The American University Board of Trustees meeting on May 14-15 was focused on the ongoing challenges of COVID-19, the university’s response, and the comprehensive planning for the fall semester and beyond. In compliance with health and safety guidance and District of Columbia stay-at-home orders, the meeting was conducted via videoconferencing. While we were disappointed to miss the engagements with the AU community that are highlights of our meetings, we look forward to future events when we can once again be together in person.

On behalf of the board, I want to thank the entire AU community for your support and commitment during these unprecedented times. While there is much work ahead and difficult actions will be needed to navigate the current and future challenges caused by COVID-19, we are grateful for the dedication of our students, faculty, and staff that led to a successful completion of the spring semester. The creativity, innovation, and spirit of our community demonstrates that American University changemakers will lead the way in this ever-changing world.

In the meeting, President Burwell provided an overview of the university’s actions since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The response is guided by three principles—the health and safety of our community, achieving our education mission at the highest level in this current context, and our role in the larger community, where AU has an impact on both the health and economics of the greater Washington, DC, region. AU entered into this crisis in a position of strength, with record undergraduate applications this year, increased graduate enrollments, ongoing implementation of our strategic plan that has positioned us well in many areas, and numerous achievements by our faculty and students that highlight the outstanding nature of our community and our educational mission. This has helped us address the initial disruptions, but we know that further work, changes, and sacrifices will be necessary as we move forward.

The board then conducted an in-depth discussion about the planning for the fall and beyond. Importantly, the university is looking at not just the immediate arrangements for the next semester, but also a longer horizon over the next two years, as the impacts of COVID-19 will be felt for some time.  A key element of our planning is to make core decisions about immediate operations that safeguard the health of our community and advance our educational mission, while maintaining flexibility for future implementation based on new information. We know we will face trying financial conditions for some time, and we are preparing appropriately. The board provided input to the ongoing work on enrollment and retention, workforce planning, and health and safety that will shape the university’s approach for the fall semester. We will continue our regular engagement with President Burwell and the cabinet, including a special meeting of the board in June and ongoing support as decisions are implemented.

We also identified areas of opportunity where the board can support the university and our students to meet new needs created by COVID-19. Trustee Tom Gottschalk, who is leading an ongoing effort to enhance trustee engagement, outlined steps where trustees can provide their expertise in areas such as mentorship and preparing students for the workforce.

In regular business, the board approved two new academic programs—an MA in Media, Technology, and Democracy and a BS in Data Science—the new department of Critical Race, Gender, and Culture Studies. Trustee David Trone was reelected to another term on the board and we welcomed our new student representatives—Student Government president Nikola “Nik” Jok, Graduate Leadership Council president Josh Mearkle, and Student Bar Association president Tim Schmeling. The board also expressed our thanks and appreciation to faculty trustee Elizabeth Worden and student trustee Madison Dalton, who have completed their service on the board.

Following the special June meeting, the board’s annual retreat is scheduled for September 10, 2020 and the next regular meeting of the trustees is November 12-13, 2020. I would like to wish our community a safe and healthy summer. We all look forward to when we can gather again on our wonderful campus.