Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.


Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.


Critical. Subversive. Irrepressible.


AU president search had limited student, late faculty input
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AU president search had limited student, late faculty input

President choice crucial in challenging time for universities
Neal Franklin

After months of deliberation, the American University presidential search committee finished its search for AU’s next president. The decision involved reviewing applicants for someone who is a community builder and can unify a broad range of constituents, according to the position description

Senior Jehane Djedjro was the only current AU student on the search committee, asked by the Office of the General Council, to represent AU’s student body. Djedjro said she believes in the importance of having strong leadership at universities, making the committee’s job more important.

“I think it’s very difficult for universities in terms of leadership,” Djedjro said. “Every university is going to have its problems. American University has leadership equipped with the tools and the ability to solve the issues we are having.”

Jonathan Alger was announced as AU’s 16th president on March 18 in an email from Gina Adams, chair of the AU Board of Trustees. The search committee included 16 members, primarily trustees, faculty and administration from the university. Students and staff members had some representation on the board, but some said they did not have input on the process.  

Following President Sylvia Burwell’s Aug. 8, 2023, email that said the 2023-24 academic year would be her last, the presidential search committee members, who would decide on the next president, were announced the same day in an email

The official position description for AU’s president was announced on Oct. 30, 2023, in an email from the search committee’s Chair Marc Duber and Vice Chair Janice Abraham.

According to the Aug. 8 email, AU partnered with Russell Reynolds Associates, an executive search firm specializing in CEO searches. The firm specializes in numerous industries, including education, according to its website.

Russell Reynolds Associates hosted several community listening sessions and a community survey, according to a September 2023 email from Duber and Abraham. The input received from the listening session and survey helped create the position description and the search guidelines going forward.

John Bracht, an associate professor of biology and secretary-treasurer of the American Association of University Professors at AU, said he didn’t like how the search committee was selected.

“Faculty input was extremely limited,” Bracht said. “We wanted elected representation for people to represent us, that’s a democratic principle.”

Faculty members signed a petition in September 2023 calling for changes to faculty representation on the committee, according to the November 2023 faculty engagement report. The petition garnered 234 signatures. 

Following this petition, the faculty senate recommended that an additional faculty member was added to the committee and a separate faculty advisory committee was created, according to an Oct. 4, 2023, faculty senate resolution.

Adams thanked the faculty committee in the March 18 email that announced Alger as president.

However, Bracht said he and other faculty members felt the advisory committee was not enough.

“I know a lot of us faculty felt that the trustees were pretty unresponsive to our concerns,” Bracht said.

The new faculty advisory committee was involved in the end of the process, specifically interviewing finalists, according to the faculty senate resolution.

“They come in at the end of the process once you’re interviewing finalists, but you need faculty input when you are selecting finalists,” Bracht said.

Bracht said he believes the issue surrounding faculty voices is representative of a larger issue of shared governance at AU.

“Faculty are not involved in the decision making by the university,” Bracht said. “The decisions get made from the top. These kinds of decisions are the problem and they affect everything.”

A 2022 faculty climate survey found that only 34% of AU faculty believe AU leadership listens to faculty, a decrease from 45% in 2019, according to the 2023 faculty engagement report.

Thomas Merill, an associate professor of government and the current chair of the Faculty Senate, said he thinks the search process didn’t fully reflect the issue of faculty governance following the board’s changes.

“I am very grateful that the board added the advisory committee,” Merill said. “There is more good in the institution than sometimes it seems.”

Merill said he believes his feelings are shared with many of the faculty.

“Lots of faculty feel managed—not listened to,” he said. “A feeling that has been afoot in the culture at AU for some time.”

Like Bracht, he said he believes that the governance of AU should involve faculty.

“I think faculty do need to be more engaged in the governance of the university,” Merill said.

Djedro said she believes the committee had a solid grasp of the opinions of the general students and political tension on campus. 

“A lot of students think that the board doesn’t necessarily know what’s going on, but they are very much aware of what’s going on because we bring it up every single board meeting,” Djedro said.

According to its website, the Brandeis Center is a non-profit organization that focuses on human rights protections for Jewish people. On Jan. 17, it announced that a federal complaint had been filed against the university because of alleged civil rights violations. The complaint accused AU of failing to do enough to prevent anti-Semitism on campus and selectively enforcing its student conduct code. Additionally, numerous student-led protests have occurred at AU protesting university policy.

Courtesy of American University Internal Communications.

On April 10, Alger visited AU for the first time since the announcement. He was met with student protests organized in part by AU’s student government. One of many issues these protests hoped to resolve was the Jan. 25 ban on indoor protests at AU.

Protests at the George Washington University targeted the outgoing President Burwell during their calls for divestment, according to a May 5 DMV SJP Coalition post

Alger will depart James Madison University, where he has served as president for 12 years. Prior to that, he held administrative positions at Rutgers University and the University of Michigan, according to his staff biography.

While serving as the assistant general counsel at the University of Michigan, he was credited with helping lead James Madison University’s effort on two Supreme Court cases involving diversity and admissions, according to his staff biography.

Alger will take over as president on July 1 marking the start of a new beginning at AU. 

In the Aug. 8 email, AU’s President, Burwell, said the 2023-24 academic year would be her last.

“It’s been six years since I first became an Eagle,” Burwell said. “It’s been quite a journey, and in these six years we as a community – and a team – have taken this university to new levels.”

Djedjro said Burwell’s departure left her sad as both a student and a trustee member.

“I was sad,” Djedjro said. “I’ve interacted with her many times, and every conversation, I’ve left inspired and surprised by all the things she has done to get to where she is now.”

Burwell came to AU six years ago, becoming the university’s first female president. As president, Burwell made AU the first carbon neutral university in the country, according to her staff biography

“For every farewell on our campus, you can find a new beginning,” Burwell said in a 2017 commencement speech.

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About the Contributor
Jacob Mittleman
Jacob Mittleman, Staff Writer
Jacob Mittleman (He/Him) is a freshman pursuing a major in journalism. Mittleman is originally from Rhode Island and loves baseball, cats, and music.