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Memorandum September 24, 2019

AU Community
Marc N. Duber, Chair, Board of Trustees
Board of Trustees Fall 2019 Retreat Summary

In the midst of an exciting day on campus that illustrated American University’s place as a convener of discussions that shape our world, the Board of Trustees met for its annual retreat on September 12 at the Decatur House, which is owned and operated by the White House Historical Association (WHHA). We were grateful for the opportunity to plan for AU’s future in a beautiful and historic setting which has strong ties to the university. This annual gathering is unique in our calendar, where we both address university governance issues and also take time to consider larger questions that are affecting not only our community, but the entire higher education ecosystem.

We were fortunate to hear the insightful, and ultimately hopeful comments from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Dr. Philip Zelikow, as they spoke to American University students in an inspiring event hosted by the Kennedy Political Union, the School of International Service, and the Sine Institute for Policy and Politics.

The board began its activities on the evening of September 11, where the American University Black Alumni Alliance honored several distinguished alumni, including board vice chair Gina Adams, who received the Distinguished Ebony Eagles of Excellence Award. The evening concluded with a dinner for trustees and members of the president’s cabinet.

The official meeting opened with a fall semester update from myself and President Burwell. We focused on the momentum that can be seen across campus, from the rapidly rising Hall of Science, to the steam project that will bolster our carbon neutrality, to the record amount of externally-funded research grants awarded to our faculty in the last year. Provost Dan Myers provided a brief overview of the recently released U.S. News rankings of national universities, where American University ranked #77.

In the business portion of the agenda, the board ratified the Executive Committee resolution authorizing the sale of WRAU, a small public radio station in Ocean City, Maryland, acquired by WAMU in 2005. This will allow WAMU to focus on its core strengths of delivering local news and digital content to audiences in the Washington, DC, region. We also approved revisions to board policies on closed sessions and Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Nondiscrimination. These updates are part of an annual review to ensure that the board’s bylaws and policies are consistent with DC law and are following best practices.

We are pleased to announce that the board elected Michael W. Kempner (SPA/BS ‘81) as a new trustee and named Benjamin M. Holtzman (SIS/BA ’22) as student trustee-elect. Michael is the founder and CEO of MWWPR, one of the world’s leading public relations firms and will be a member of the Class of 2022. A graduate of the School of Public Affairs, he is a member of the SOC Dean’s Advisory Committee and is married to alumna Jacqueline Steinberg-Kempner (SOC/BA ’84). Ben is a native of Los Angeles; as a student member of the board of the Los Angeles Unified School District, he co-authored a number of resolutions focusing on school safety, gun violence prevention, and sexual misconduct. He is a sophomore in the School of International Service, majoring in International Affairs, with a focus on the Global Economy and Middle East.

Following the business agenda, the board had a robust discussion with Catherine Bond Hill, managing director of Ithaka S+R and formerly the tenth president of Vassar University, about the changing nature of higher education and the need to serve the public good. Dr. Hill is an economist whose work focuses on affordability and access, as well as advising institutions of higher education on efforts to improve student outcomes.

Upon returning from the KPU event, the board heard from Anita McBride, executive in residence at the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies in the School of Public Affairs, and a board member of the White House Historical Association (WHHA). Thanks to an incredible ongoing partnership between WHHA and American University, 15 alumni work at or are affiliated with WHHA, including participation in a fellowship program where AU students contribute to WHHA research. The current AU fellow is supporting a planned 2020 WHHA lecture series on slavery in Washington, DC, including at the White House.

The board received two updates on key priorities. Vice President of Development and Alumni Relations Courtney Surls discussed ongoing planning for the comprehensive fundraising campaign. Board chair emeritus Jeff Sine and trustee Peter Scher, co-chairs of the campaign committee, facilitated a discussion of campaign objectives and the importance of board support for this effort. Chief of Staff Seth Grossman then briefed us on progress in the Changemakers strategic plan implementation. He explained the interconnection of the strategic plan, campaign, and campus plan and our next steps in pursuit of the expected outcomes. The day concluded with dinner and remarks by WHHA president Stewart McLaurin.

The activities provided the board and the university leadership with critical opportunities to advance our strategic priorities and chart the course for a successful academic year. The Board of Trustees will next meet on November 14-15, on East Campus.