Staff Editorial: Change can’t wait another year: This is President Burwell’s last chance
Though Burwell made progress, students still want more from her
President Sylvia Burwell has acted as American University’s figurehead since 2017. In her first year, Burwell was praised by students and faculty for her increased visibility as compared to her predecessor and her comprehensive fundraising plan. Her time as president created positive change throughout campus, as AU became the first university to achieve carbon neutrality, built the new Hall of Science and vastly increased its endowment.
With these accomplishments, however, many have rightfully criticized certain university policies and reactions. These issues concern the relationship between students and administration, which is plagued by distrust and a lack of communication.
Current University coronavirus guidelines, for example, do not seem to keep students’ safety in mind or provide clear guidance for students who test positive for COVID-19. The University created a Community Working Group on Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment and Violence to review AU’s sexual assault response, yet student activists felt the administration belittled and ignored their views, rather than taking suggestions into serious consideration. The once-praised inclusive excellence plan has not succeeded in creating a diverse faculty.
Instead of focusing on these issues, however, the Eagle Editorial Board formed a list of actions we hope to see from President Burwell in her final year at AU.
- More presence on campus
While President Burwell is occasionally seen on campus at larger events she hosts, we feel there are many more opportunities for her to attend. A great example of campus visibility is Fanta Aw, the former vice president for undergraduate enrollment, campus life and inclusive excellence. While Aw no longer works at AU, her presence was widely felt by the AU community, making her a much more trusted leader among students. While President Burwell was originally praised for a greater campus presence than her predecessor, the bar was monumentally low and Aw raised it far beyond Burwell.
2. Provide more convenient ways for students to provide feedback
Students have expressed frustration with providing feedback to administration. While President Burwell occasionally hosts breakfasts to discuss campus life with student leadership, these meetings are infrequent, exclusive and unknown to most students. There should be a simpler way to share concerns with the administration. It often feels that the only way to get AU to notice a problem is to hold a massive protest. Students should not have to go to these lengths.
3. Improve commonly-used resources
Countless students have complained about the living conditions on campus as well as the quality of many classrooms. For instance, students identified mold throughout different residence halls, which went largely unresolved and ignored. 2Fix responds to around 50,000 requests annually, showing how frequently the community needs repairs. The budget should focus more on improvements for current students rather than things that will attract prospective students.
4. Uplift faculty members
Faculty contribute to a majority of student experiences at AU whereas the administration doesn’t. The lack of administrative respect for faculty, however, is apparent through last year’s massive strike. These strikes centered around low wages and unfair workloads that contributed to high staff turnover. President Burwell must work not only to regain the trust of students, but also the faculty that shape our time here.
President Burwell may be leaving at the end of it, but there is a full school year of time to implement these changes. If this proves impossible, perhaps the next president can push for them instead. In the meantime, we look forward to seeing what President Burwell does to connect with students in her final year.
Correction: A previous version of this article had the wrong numbers in the list. The article has been updated with the correct numbers.
This article was written by Alexis Bernstein and edited by Abigail Pritchard. Copy editing done by Isabelle Kravis.