Happy 2019! And to our students who were away on break, welcome back to campus! Clawed missed you, as did Wonk Cat (and yes, the Clawed video may be a couple of years old, but trust me, the quiet campus is hard on him every year).
You might have heard that Wonk Cat, Clawed, and the entire AU community had the chance to welcome more than 500 of our nation’s public servants to campus last week. The federal government shutdown left many of these career civil servants furloughed, which meant they were unable to work and unable to receive their paychecks.
As part of our commitment to connect with all the dimensions of the Washington region and support those who serve the public, we offered what we could—world-class teachers and cutting-edge classes. Our School of Public Affairs got to work. With partners across the university, we organized a full day of free networking and workshops to these furloughed feds. You can read a great Washington Post piece on the “Classes Without Quizzes,” and some coverage by our very own This Week at AU.
One of the furloughed federal employees interviewed in the Washington Post captured well the spirit of service that I so often see reflected in our community. “On our days off, even when we’re not getting paid, we’re still here improving our work skills to better serve the American public. I think that’s a beautiful American thing.”
It’s a beautiful American University thing, too.
We were proud to welcome over 500 federal workers for a day of networking and learning.
But today, I want to tie this great opportunity to something else that we rolled out this week—our new, five-year strategic plan, called “Changemakers for a Changing World.” This new strategic plan was built from the ground up, with insights and input from our community, and it leverages key parts of AU’s DNA to help us reach for the future.
The plan centers around few key concepts, like how we can advance scholarship by investing in research and promoting areas of strategic focus; how we can explore new frontiers of learning by providing a first-rate student experience, promoting lifelong learning, and preparing our undergraduate, graduate, and professional students to engage in the world; and finally, strengthening our community—both internally here at AU and externally—through leading and modeling inclusive excellence, being a responsive partner to the Washington community, forming and expanding partnerships to expand our reach, and improving how AU works to cultivate an environment that enables our faculty and staff to thrive.
Every one of these concepts was at work in the classrooms and lecture halls at SPA as we welcomed those many folks who serve our nation every day. The fact is, this new strategy we rolled out this week builds on our strengths—it draws on who we are and what we do, and it channels all of that into what we’re going to accomplish over the next five years, and what kind of university we’ll become.
You may have also heard of another piece of news just before the break. After a thorough and exhaustive search, we officially announced that Dan Myers would join the AU community as our new provost! This is his first week on the job.
Provost Myers joins us from Marquette University, where he served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs, and served as a professor in the Department of Social and Cultural Science. He oversaw the budget, focused on strong faculty relations and student life, and helped the campus achieve some significant accomplishments in diversity and inclusion. Before that, he served as vice president and associate provost for faculty affairs at Notre Dame. He’s eager to further the university’s commitment to integrate scholarship, teaching, and student life as the defining goal of a university, and to play a crucial role in implementing our new strategy, building on the promising signs of progress around inclusive excellence, and helping us grow in our role in DC and the world. I hope you’ll take a moment to welcome him to AU if you see him on campus (and on Twitter @myersdanielj)!
I also hope you’ll take a moment to join me in thanking Mary Clark for her service as interim provost over the past few months. Mary has helped us keep up our momentum during a crucial time for this university as we developed our strategic plan and our budget. She’s been a partner to our Deans, the faculty, and all of her colleagues—including this particularly grateful colleague. Mary, thank you.
Part of building on our strengths and embracing the future is our new Sine Institute of Policy and Politics, where we’re working toward a future where policymaking and implementation are informed by more sectors, where higher education connects with more sectors to inform our scholarship, and promote learning.
The Sine Institute harnesses our location and our expertise in academics, teaching, and research. And its goal is to bring together leaders from different sectors with our scholars and students to foster collaboration and conversations that contribute to policymaking, scholarship, and inspiring the leaders of tomorrow. The Sine Institute is about who we are, and that’s why I’m thrilled to share the inaugural class of fellows for the Sine Institute of Policy and Politics.
- Abdul El-Sayed, Former Executive Director of the Detroit Health Department and Former Candidate for Governor of Michigan
- Bill Haslam, Outgoing Governor of Tennessee, former Mayor of Knoxville, and business executive
- William Kristol, Political Analyst and Founder of The Weekly Standard
- Ruth Marcus, Political Commentator and Columnist for The Washington Post
- Karen Zacarías, Playwright, Founder of Young Playwrights’ Theater and Latinx Theater Commons
The Sine Institute will also welcome, as a Distinguished Lecturer, Wes Bush, Chairman and Former CEO of the Northrop Grumman Corporation.
This list of fellows speaks to the depth and breadth of expertise that our Sine Institute was launched to convene. It includes leaders in federal, state, and local politics and policy; people of all different ideological stripes and perspectives; and leaders in journalism, arts, business, and culture. I can’t wait to see the fascinating discussions, conversations, and impact that will result from our Spring 2019 Fellows’ presence on campus. Registration is now open for one of the first seminars, and I hope you’ll follow along with @AUSineInstitute on Twitter.
American University cannot be excellent if we’re not inclusive—we must be a community where people feel a sense of belonging. We have been on a journey toward inclusive excellence—and inclusive excellence is both a strategic imperative in our new strategy, as well as woven throughout it. Soon, we’ll arrive at the one-year milestone of the launch of AU’s Plan for Inclusive Excellence. Stay tuned for an update on this plan. As a learning organization, we have learned much along the way. We have seen promising signs around the retention of underrepresented students, the commitment of leadership in developing intercultural competence, and the momentum building across campus through our mini grants. I’m pleased at the foundation we’re laying, knowing that we still have much farther to go to become the campus we know we can be—the campus we must be.
Relatedly, a part of our community’s foundation is in our Methodist roots. That’s why I was encouraged that leaders of United Methodist colleges and universities across the country signed a joint statement calling for full and fair access for everyone, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation. I’m proud that AU is affirming and supporting that joint statement.
AU Board of Trustees Chairman Jack Cassell, Susan Zirinsky, and SOC Dean Jeff Rutenbeck at SOC's 25th Anniversary Celebration.
Finally, I want to briefly share a few stories of the impact that the AU family is making:
- The past month has brought some great news for AU alumni—and on one day in particular. On January 6, CBS News named SOC alumna Susan Zirinsky president, marking the first time a woman will lead the network’s news division, and SOC alumnus Darryl Frank took home a Golden Globe for Best Drama Series later that night. Wonderful news for our colleagues at SOC!
- Our faculty was also hard at work before classes started (and before our first snow day of the year). On Friday, January 11, more than 400 AU faculty members gathered for the 30th annual Ann Ferren Conference on teaching, learning, and research. Their focus this year was on the “Scholar-Teacher Ideal”, and how our community can continue to excel at both. I moderated a panel of faculty experts including Professor Laura DeNardis from SOC, Professor Angela Davis from WCL, and Psychology Professor Anthony Riley and World Languages and Cultures Professor Núria Vilanova from CAS. The Scholar-Teacher ideal has long been a hallmark of AU's identity as a student-centered research university and making sure our entire community contributes to strive toward that success is at the center of the new strategic plan.
At the 30th Annual Ann Ferren Conference, I moderated a panel with Laura DeNardis, Anthony Riley, Núria Vilanova, and Angela Davis.
I want to leave you with a reminder that next Monday, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, is always “a day on, not a day off.” And if you don’t know exactly how you want to serve on this national day of service, I want to invite you to join us for the MLK Day of Service 2019, organized by our very own Center for Community Engagement and Service. We’ll gather at Mary Graydon Center in the Tavern at 9 am for a welcome, some breakfast, and then we’ll get to work! I look forward to seeing you there.