Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Monday, September 24, 2018

Staff Editorial: With Burwell’s honeymoon stage over, administrators stand at a fork in the road

Burwell must continue engaging directly with students beyond her first year

Staff Editorial: With Burwell’s honeymoon stage over, administrators stand at a fork in the road

AU President Sylvia Burwell during an interview with The Eagle. 

A little more than a year ago, our editorial board considered what we’d like to see from Sylvia Burwell as our next University president. Chiefly among our hopes, we requested that Burwell maintain an open line of communication with the student body. We also emphasized the importance of listening broadly and including the voices of underrepresented communities. We hoped she’d shape her own vision for the school based on conversations with members of the AU community itself.

As Burwell nears the end of her first year leading the University, she has largely met this expectation.

Burwell’s jovial outlook on the future of the community signify an overwhelmingly welcome change to the trajectory of the University. Burwell has managed a relatively public profile in the campus community. Examples include expressing support for our record-setting women’s basketball team, attending a campus-wide cultural fair, communicating via Twitter and more. Students have expressed gratitude at the increased facetime and outcome-focused approach that Burwell has provided.

The Eagle urges President Burwell to continue being present on campus and not slide back into the opaque, elusive practices of the previous administration. 

However, perspectives continue to divide along lines of identity. If you’re one of the students specifically affected by lapses in University support or targeted by racism, then your perspective is admittedly different and personal. These pockets of communities, specifically African-American students, overwhelmingly report lacking a sense of belonging to the campus community and overall dissatisfaction with their undergraduate experience. Burwell has made an effort to close the gap with her Plan for Inclusive Excellence, the school’s two-year diversity and inclusion strategy.

The Eagle urges President Burwell to continue being present on campus and not slide back into the opaque, elusive practices of the previous administration. This would be an injustice to the faculty and generations of students who advocated and fought to get our community to the point of Burwell’s openness.

In the coming years, Burwell also has opportunities to shape the University’s leaders to fit her own vision. As of late March, the school has openings for a new provost and deans for the School of International Service and School of Professional and Extended Studies. Even though Burwell does not have the final say on all hiring decisions, we urge the University to follow Burwell’s example and hire leaders who will be transparent and willing to engage directly with students. 

We can no longer accept administrators accused of discrimination and racism. The campus community deserves administrators that represent and perpetuate our community’s values. This includes hiring more faculty and administrators of color, a request students have made for decades.

With Burwell as our leader, the University should continue with outcome-focused approaches to the issues facing our campus community. She should continue engaging directly with students beyond her first year.

-E

This story was originally published in the April print edition of The Eagle.

opinion@theeagleonline.com


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