Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, May 26, 2018

Kerwin takes students' questions

Students voiced their concerns on issues ranging from workers’ rights to divestment from Israel in a discussion with AU President Neil Kerwin at a town hall meeting Feb. 13.

The town hall, sponsored by the Office of the President and the Office of the University Chaplain, took the form of an open forum discussion in the Kay Spiritual Life Center Lounge.

Joe Eldridge, an adjunct professor in the School of International Service, opened the event by introducing Kerwin and commenting on his history of public appearances.

“Having the president like this … undefended, subject to your passions and concerns, doesn’t happen very often,” he said.

Kerwin expressed dismay at being portrayed as unavailable to students.

“I’m not sure I would have come had I heard the introduction,” he said.

Kerwin continued by explaining the University’s three top goals right now:

ensure that the institution remains financially stable,

make sure students and faculty have access to the university and

give back to D.C.

He finished his opening statement by saying, “no one walks out of these meetings satisfied, but our obligation as an institution is to keep the conversation going.”

Students took the floor to comment on University policies and ask Kerwin questions.

Russell Warburton, representing the Student Workers Alliance, said he feels on-campus parking is too expensive for low-wage AU workers to use on a regular basis.

Warburton asked Kerwin if he would sign a commitment to devise a plan to solve the issue.

“I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to ask me to sign something that I haven’t read or studied,” Kerwin replied.

However, he said the issue will be on the agenda when the University Budget Committee meets at the end of the summer.

Tom O’Connor, a freshman in SIS, spoke in favor of the adjunct union and questioned the University’s decision to hire anti-union lawyers.

“Why stifle the democratic rights of workers?” he said.

Kerwin said it would have been irresponsible of the University not to take a position and that his main concern is that everyone involved in the issue gets a vote.

He also said that, since AU is involved in a proceeding before the National Labor Relations Board, it should be no surprise that AU sought legal help.

“We’re going to know in three days what the results are [of the vote] and we’ll move on from there,” he said.

After an hour, Eldridge brought the town hall meeting to a close.

“Some of us have heard things that we don’t agree with, but the main thing is that we heard each other,” he said.

Other issues discussed at the meeting included:

SIS student Thomas Meyer explained the Take Back the Tap initiative and asked if the elimination of bottled water from University events was on the administration’s agenda. Kerwin said yes.

Valerie Keibala, a freshman in SIS, asked if the University would divest from Israel. Kerwin said no.

Travis McKay Roberts, a junior in SIS, spoke on behalf of Empower Congo and asked the University to look into more responsible electronics procurement. Kerwin said he would look into the issue.

A group of students asked whether Kerwin would reconsider the name of the SIS atrium so it would not be associated with the royal family of Bahrain. Kerwin said no.

Margaret Weekes, the associate dean of public affairs for the School of Public Affairs asked if the University could provide scholarships and college counseling to children of Aramark workers. Kerwin said no.

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