President Neil Kerwin declared he would be creating an advisory committee to evaluate the ethical practices of AU’s business partners at the beginning of next semester at an open forum Nov. 17.
This announcement followed a Nov. 10 email to the University community regarding AU’s principles of social responsibility for its business partners.
“One of the many things we do that has an impact on our record of our accomplishment is who we do business with in a variety of areas where the University requires help from the outside, whether it’s purchasing equipment or whether it’s contracting for various professional activities that we don’t provide ourselves,” Kerwin said.
The Social Responsibility Code states AU’s business partners must have a commitment to protecting the environment and practicing business ethically. The businesses must also follow D.C. and federal law.
The code requires business partners to follow AU employment policies, including meeting AU’s wage policy for employees when the contract exceeds $500,000 and limiting an employee’s work week to 48 hours per week and 12 hours of overtime.
This commitment was originally discussed in AU’s 2009 strategic plan, “American University in the Next Decade: Leadership for a Changing World.”
The main purpose of the committee will be to ensure AU’s business partners are following the University’s strategic plan in regards to social responsibility, Kerwin said.
He said he sees the University’s commitment to social responsibility as an evolving process that needs to reflect the diversity of the campus community.
“We need input from people that are working with these issues in real time, and I’m really quite serious, people take a wide variety of views on how best to promote the values,” Kerwin said.
Members of the committee will include student representatives, as solicited through Student Government, the Graduate Student Leadership Council and the Student Bar Association, as well as faculty representation and staff representation, according to Kerwin.
“I’ll start there since they have the legitimacy of election,” he said.
Kerwin said he also hopes to include alumni on the committee.
“Not all companies share the same values as we do,” Kerwin he said. “We think it needs to be a living document so that we are working with these issues.”
AU Student Worker Alliance demands more details
The Student Worker Alliance, a student organization that promotes workers’ rights at AU, said they were satisfied with the formation of the committee, but more needs to be done to ensure this commitment by the University.
Hanaleah Hoberman, a junior in the College of Arts and Science and a Student Worker Alliance member, said the commitment to social responsibility doesn’t go far enough.
“It is extremely broad and extremely general, especially in terms of employees that are subcontracted,” Hoberman said. “I think the University really likes to use language that puts an emphasis on their beliefs that they think are important, but not a lot of emphasis on their actual commitment to change.”
Members of the Student Worker Alliance see discrepancies between the statement and treatment of employees, particularly shuttle bus drivers.
Mitch Ellmauer, a junior in the School of Public Affairs, said shuttle bus drivers on campus are not able to see their disciplinary code since becoming unionized.
Drivers can be fired after three infractions, according to Ellmauer.
AU Facilities Management did not respond to requests regarding infraction specifics and could not be reached for comment on this article.
Kerwin stated that he is unaware of the claims regarding infractions.
“I’d be very surprised if they couldn’t [see their disciplinary code],” Kerwin said.
Kerwin also said shuttle drivers, since becoming unionized with Teamster Local 922 in 2007, operate under a contract between the University and union leaders, noting, “I’m sure we observe that to the letter.”
Hoberman said the University is not consistent in its employee practices.
“[We found that] the stuff in the Commitment to Social Responsibility Code about commitment to living wage and such aren’t applied to subcontracted employees,” Hoberman said.
Despite the shortcomings, however, Hoberman and Ellmauer said the social responsibility developments are a positive step for AU.
“We really hope they will continue to listen to student concerns and worker concerns,” Hoberman said.
Administrators discuss student debt, tiered parking
At the Nov. 17 forum, students also asked Kerwin and Sine about:
• Resolving student debt: “We have a series of steps that we’re attempting to take so that no one comes to this institution and puts themselves in a position of financial ruin,” Kerwin said. He advocated for a more extensive debt education program for students.
• Investing money in local banks despite Capital One overtaking Chevy Chase Bank, a local bank the University invested in: “We have banking relations with small minority banks in Washington already,” Vice President of Finance Don Myers said. Kerwin said AU will use local companies in the renovations and construction of Campus Plan.
• Which aspects of the University need more student input: “I’ve heard plenty,” Kerwin said. “I’m just kidding, but maybe I’m not.” Students are well heard in all AU’s decisions, Kerwin and Sine said.
• The number of environmental science courses offered: “When you look across the University, there’s several fields emerging as priorities,” Provost Scott Bass said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if more were in the environmental area.”
• Implementing a tiered scale parking system for University employees that bases parking fees on wages: “Next time that would be on the table is next summer when we reconvene for fiscal budget,” Kerwin said.
• Eliminating bottled water: “Some steps we’re taking are retrofitting water fountains and installing quick bottle fillers in the library in the future,” Director of Sustainability Chris O’Brien said.
• McDonald’s replacement in the Tunnel: “Because of the campus location and seasonality of sales, we’re considering many options,” said Jorge Abud, assistant vice president for facilities development and real estates. “If we should do it with Bon Appétit, it would be very sustainable.”