Burwell speaks to C-SPAN about the difficulties of transitioning to an online format

Graduates’ names won’t be read aloud at Saturday’s online commencement, she says

Burwell speaks to C-SPAN about the difficulties of transitioning to an online format

University President Sylvia Burwell discusses her article on mental health on campus in an interview on Nov. 29. 

President Sylvia Burwell went on C-SPAN on Wednesday to discuss the challenges of leading a university with over 7,000 undergraduates during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Like everyone dealing with the uncertainty of the COVID-19 crisis, we have been on a steep learning curve, doing things [that] we have never done at the University [before],” Burwell said. “The main thing is our move to online learning and moving off our campuses. Those are the two largest things, as well as, we are, like everyone else, and our staff and faculty are also working from home. Those are the main areas where, like everyone else, we have been learning and acting nimble, as we never expected we could.”

Burwell spoke to C-SPAN senior executive producer Steve Scully about some of the benefits that have resulted from the switch to online classes, including how the community has united.

“A lot of learning in terms of how our community can act together, and that was across all parts of our community and that has been one of the positive learnings, and the same time, we have learned things that are challenging, things like online commencement, trying to do more commencement for May — more commencements for May and December. Those are a few things we have been learning.”

Burwell mentioned how Saturday afternoon’s online commencement will operate, which will include pre-taped statements from Burwell and AU Provost Dan Myers. PBS host and Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. will also be featured as the commencement speaker.

Despite the circulation of a petition to have the names of graduates read aloud at the ceremony, which received over 500 signatures, Burwell said that graduates’ names will be displayed on the screen.

Burwell reiterated that the University is considering various options for the fall semester.

“When we think about that decision, three principles have been guiding us in all the decisions we have been making throughout this entire process,” Burwell said. “The first is the health and safety of our community. The second is how do we best achieve our mission? As a University, our mission is scholarship and learning. And the third is, how do we, at American University, engage and serve our broader community?”

Burwell said it’s important to balance strengthening students’ education while keeping the AU community safe in the long run.


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