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Memorandum September 16, 2020

AU Community
Marc N. Duber, Chair, Board of Trustees
Board of Trustees Fall 2020 Retreat Summary

Just as students and faculty are engaging virtually this fall, the Board of Trustees of American University met via Zoom for its annual retreat on September 10. This annual retreat is an important meeting each year, as we explore the larger trends and significant issues shaping higher education and the future of AU. Our discussions this year took on greater urgency as we considered the impact of COVID-19 and the path for AU to emerge stronger after the pandemic, and the critical work of addressing systemic racism within AU and throughout higher education.

The Board of Trustees engaged with two distinguished experts in these areas. Dr. Tiffany Jones, senior director of higher education policy at The Education Trust, led a thought-provoking presentation about how higher education policies and practices hinder the pursuit of equity and how institutions are empowered to develop more race-conscious frameworks. The board discussed the opportunities and approaches to achieving equity mindedness in admissions, hiring, retention, and graduation.

Racial equity will be an ongoing priority for the board and to advance our work, the trustees approved bylaw amendments establishing a new Committee on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. This committee—chaired by Alan Meltzer, with Gaurdie Banister and Maril MacDonald as vice-chairs—will develop educational programming for the board on topics related to systemic racism, work with the Trusteeship Committee on the diversity of the board's membership, produce a governance action plan for board consideration to address institutional barriers to equitable access, and support ongoing university efforts under the university's Plan for Inclusive Excellence and other initiatives to advance a more inclusive AU community. The chair of this committee will also sit on the board’s Executive Committee.

In the next session, President Sylvia Burwell moderated an interactive discussion with Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, about the impact of COVID-19 on higher education and the issues universities need to confront now in preparation for the post-pandemic world. Dr. Mitchell highlighted that more diverse forms of education (e.g., online classes, skills programs) will continue to expand, the demographic shift of higher education students will only accelerate and the pressure for changing pricing models will continue to grow. President Burwell and Dr. Mitchell explored how AU was already addressing these matters through the Changemakers strategic plan, including the commitment to lifelong learning and the opportunities stemming from AU’s location in Washington, DC, to serve different populations of future students.

We are pleased to announce that the Board named Anusha Mannam as student trustee-elect. Anusha is a 2L at the Washington College of Law and will join the board in her new position for the November meeting. I want to thank Gina Adams and the Trusteeship Committee for their consideration of an exceptional pool of student candidates and on behalf of the board, our appreciation to all those who applied for this important position. Your dedication to serving the AU community is outstanding.

Finally, President Burwell and Chief Financial Officer Doug Kudravetz provided an update on the university budget, the impact from COVID-19, and potential actions to address financial shortfalls. The presentation included topline feedback from the budget sessions conducted with the AU community earlier in the week. While the financial challenges of COVID-19 are many, prudent financial stewardship has positioned the university to navigate this time with lower impacts than some other institutions. The board is grateful for the dedication and sacrifice across the AU community that has helped the university mitigate the challenges of the pandemic, advance our mission, and support our students.

The Board of Trustees will host its next virtual meetings on November 11, 12, and 13. Our best wishes to the AU community for a successful fall semester and we hope you and your families are safe and healthy.