Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Burwell faces many challenges, but we are optimistic for her future

Burwell faces many challenges, but we are optimistic for her future

University President Sylvia Burwell speaks at her introduction ceremony in January. 

The Eagle is happy to welcome AU’s new president Sylvia Mathews Burwell to our campus community. As well as being AU’s first female president, Burwell holds credentials from Harvard University, Oxford University and has esteemed experience in both the public and private sector, including most recently serving as the Secretary of Health and Human Services under the Obama Administration. This vast amount of experience is representative of the high quality candidates that AU selected to lead the university in its transition of focus towards being a more researched based institution.

This transition is most prominently seen in the construction of the state-of-the-art East Campus Don Meyers Technology and Innovation Building. With the University’s push toward cultivating a research-oriented reputation for itself and Burwell’s connections to the public sector, she will likely serve as a prime medium for connections to the wider metropolitan community.

While Burwell’s fundraising abilities through positions at organizations such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is welcomed, she faces a monumental task in inserting herself into the work that President Neil Kerwin and Vice President of Campus Life Gail Hanson have spearheaded. This work has been centered in fields in which Burwell lacks experience, specifically higher education and the actual AU environment, a fact which makes us at The Eagle anxious.

We are hesitant about the fact that Burwell lacks a master’s or other advanced degree and, more importantly, any previous meaningful relations with the University or another higher education institution.

Therefore, it is our hope that as president, Burwell will maintain an open line of communication with the student campus community in her listening tour and furthermore as she assimilates to our university environment. The AU student body deserves a president whose model for improving the University stems from the very university itself, rather than an imposition of business-profit framework aimed at increasing the endowment.

In order to do this, it requires communicating with the student community as a whole rather than simply connecting with Student Government leaders. Burwell needs to reach out to those on campus who are first-generation college students, underrepresented and otherwise marginalized.

We do not want a figurehead university president. We want a president we can eat with in the Terrace Dining Room, grab coffee with at the Davenport Lounge and who is accessible and visible to the student body.

The past actions and symbolism of a closed-off, white, presidential house on a hill, disseminating ghost-written memos and serving as an elusive leader, are incompatible with the vision that AU students have for their home. And while the bar has been raised considerably for the role of the next University president and what we as students expect, we are confident and hopeful in Burwell and her journey of becoming a member of our campus home.

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