You are here: American University President Announcements July 30, 2020

AU Memo Letterhead

Dear AU Community,

COVID-19 continues to affect our community and the nation in many ways. Throughout it all, you adapted and helped us effectively prepare for a fall like no other. We continue to deliver on our mission of an exceptional AU education and support the health and safety of our AU community amidst changing national and local conditions and substantial developments since we launched the AU Forward fall plan. The nationwide COVID-19 case count now exceeds 4 million with nearly 70,000 new cases per day. The strained testing system is causing challenges for the public health response. DC area K–12 schools are planning online classes which impacts our faculty and staff. The District of Columbia recently implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people from 27 states. These evolving health conditions and government requirements now compel us to adjust our plan and offer fall semester undergraduate and graduate courses online with no residential experience. This difficult decision is not what any of us hoped for, and we know you are as disappointed as we are. But we also know that the strength of our community ensures the discourse and relationships that make the American University experience unique will continue to thrive. 

Updating our fall operating approach due to the changing conditions is based on our steadfast commitment to the values that have guided us throughout the pandemic–safeguard the health and well-being of our community, advance our educational and research mission, and contribute to the overall response in the DC region. We have an initial set of frequently asked questions (FAQ) on the COVID-19 webpage. We will be updating the FAQ and providing additional details going forward. We appreciate your flexibility, understanding, and faith in us through these ever-changing times.

Thank you to everyone in our community who worked so hard on the AU Forward plan and its implementation. Your exceptional efforts prepared us for a wide range of possibilities, and we will continue to use many of the plan’s components as we move ahead. This is an evolution in our approach, not a setback. Our vibrant AU community is ready for a fall semester that is invigorating, dynamic, and meets the needs of our students, faculty, and staff.

Making the Tough, but Best Decision

The external developments create a situation where pursuing this revised fall approach is the best path. We want to provide important context about how these factors informed our decision and then outline the next steps for the fall semester.

The rising number of COVID-19 cases in the nation and the DC metro area indicates that transmission of the virus remains a constant threat and community spread continues throughout the country. New cases nationwide are up from approximately 20,000 per day in June to almost 70,000 per day now. More than 2,000 new COVID-19 cases have been confirmed in DC in that time. Younger people comprise an increasingly large number of new cases and we have seen outbreaks at universities across the country as students return to campuses. While our safety preparations can effectively manage a significant number of confirmed cases within our campus, the external health environment will affect our community regardless of our precautions. We must also consider the potential impact thousands of people on our campus will have on the DC region. 

Second, COVID-19 testing capacity and delays in reporting results remain a challenge. The ability to test and support contact tracing is critical to reducing community spread of COVID-19, and the ambiguity in this area presents a significant hurdle for all.

Third, many DC-area K12 schools are now planning for online instruction and we are sensitive to the challenges this creates for our faculty and staff. We are committed to supporting our teams so they can meet their family needs and provide the very best service to our students. 

Finally, the DC mandate that all travelers–including all university studentsfrom 27 high-risk states are required to quarantine for 14 days upon their arrival in the city potentially requires hundreds of students to remain in their residence hall rooms or off-campus housing as classes commence. With the next version of DC’s list of high-risk states scheduled for August 10, students and families will not have updated quarantine information until right before our scheduled move-in period. This measure could have a negative effect on students, particularly our first-year Eagles.

Supporting Our Community and the AU Experience

This decision impacts our community in many ways, and our focus is to support our students and families, faculty, and staff as we deliver on our educational and research mission.

For our students, we are committed to providing a world-class education and the best possible experience regardless of location or course modality. Expanded fall online classes featuring our expert faculty will deliver the high-quality American University instruction and learning that students seek and expect. The extensive preparations for the AU Forward blended instruction model will apply directly to the primarily online learning environment. We learned from what worked well in our spring online classes and the areas that needed improvement. The faculty worked tirelessly over the summer to design courses that will engage students no matter where they are, and our technology investments will bolster connections and collaborations. 

We know COVID-19 causes economic hardship on top of health concerns. We will assist students and families during this uncertain time and help keep students on track academically. In recognition of challenges caused by the pandemic: 

  • We are providing undergraduate and graduate students with an AU Community Care Fall Discount equivalent to 10 percent of fall tuition
  • We previously committed an additional $13 million in financial aid for this academic year above last year’s total.
  • We are waiving the Sports Center fee for the fall. This is in addition to the previously announced reductions in Student Activity Fees and the ability to waive the U·Pass program fee for students residing outside the WMATA transit region or who meet other criteria. 

The academic calendar will remain in place, with online classes beginning August 24 (WCL on August 21) and concluding with finals the week of December 7. Existing online graduate programs will continue in their traditional format. Departments and academic advisors will work with students preparing to graduate in this academic year to address specific needs that may require in-person instruction. Select research-based or experiential courses that cannot occur online may be made available in a very limited manner. Bender Library and WCL’s Pence Law Library have online services and students in the DC area can access study spaces on a limited basis, with all visitors required to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing.

Our support for students living in the DC region and around the world will be comprehensive and accessible. Student services and academic support will be available remotely, and further information about accessing these services will be provided. Faculty will offer online office hours and opportunities for engagement outside of class. We will focus on equity throughout our services and work diligently to address challenges that we know will arise. This includes supporting students with accessing the hardware and software needed for online learning and providing enhanced accessibility support for students for whom online learning is challenging. For student workers, additional information about how we will manage employment matters will be forthcoming from Human Resources.

Students assigned on-campus housing and off-campus AU-leased housing will automatically have the assignments cancelled for fall and student accounts will be adjusted accordingly. We will provide emergency housing to a very limited number of students who face extraordinary circumstances, with the application process available soon. 

For our faculty, ongoing support from the Center for Teaching, Research, and Learning (CTRL) and other resources will be available to finalize courses for online instruction. The faculty’s incredible work throughout the summer has prepared us for a successful semester regardless of course modality. We will seek to continue critical on-campus faculty research under the Return to Research protocol, which will be updated to reflect the new quarantine requirement and other safety measures. Further guidance will be coming from the Office of the Provost and the deans.

For our staff, we will continue the pre-August 1 workforce categorizations (e.g., full telework, full or partial physical presence, etc.) for the time being. Human Resources will work with each of the units on revising their staffing plans and communicating updates to the workforce. We are committed to delivering the highest-quality service to our community and will ensure our staff is well-positioned to execute on this priority. We are also exploring the impact of this decision on our contract workers and will provide updates regarding these important members of our community. 

While this modified approach will further reduce density on campus, it is important that we all continue following health and safety guidance at all times. Wear a face covering. Practice physical distancing. Wash your hands. These are the critical steps that will help slow the spread of COVID-19 and we all must do our part. COVID-19 testing will be available for students in the DC region at the Student Health Center and any AU community members who comes to campus this fall will take a required health and safety training.

Moving to primarily online classes for the fall will have an additional impact on our finances. We previously discussed the potential for $100 million in lost revenue and increased costs for this academic year and our extensive efforts to effectively address this challenge. Our updated economic forecasts show that this estimate may rise due to these ongoing changes and additional measures are likely necessary to address the financial shortfalls. We understand this news will create concerns about possible impact on the workforce. Please know we will still strive to minimize that possibility, and we ask for your patience and support as we work through this situation.

This is a fluid situation, and we made the decision to communicate the broader framework as quickly as possible to help the community prepare for the fall. We encourage you to review the FAQ, and additional information, such as supplemental health and safety guidance, will be published soon as we incorporate these changes.

Looking Forward

These are challenging days, but this revised approach is the best option for the current situation and the safety of our community. It will position us to quickly accelerate on-campus activity in the future. We are hopeful that the AU Forward plan for a residential experience and blended class instruction may be possible in the spring as conditions improve. All operating decisions will continue to be based on the best available information about the trajectory of the pandemic, the safety of our community, updated scientific and medical guidance, directives from local governments, COVID-19 testing capacity, and the ability to effectively support community health through preventative measures. We will provide updates about our ongoing planning throughout the fall semester. 

COVID-19 offers no easy answers, and we all must take difficult steps to navigate these times. While it is disappointing that we are unable to be on campus this fall, we will not be deterred from our work or our purpose. We will deliver an outstanding educational experience, thanks to the dedication of our faculty and staff and the spirit and ingenuity of our amazing students. Your commitment throughout this time has been extraordinary. Please continue to support each other and our entire community; our strength and compassion as Eagles will help see us through to the time when we can be together in person in the community that is so important to all of us.

Be safe and be well.


Sylvia M. Burwell

Peter Starr
Acting Provost and Chief Academic Officer

Fanta Aw
Vice President of Campus Life and Inclusive Excellence

Matt Bennett
Vice President and Chief Communications Officer

Traevena Byrd
Vice President, General Counsel, and Board Secretary

Seth Grossman
Vice President, People and External Affairs & Chief of Staff and Counselor to the President

Doug Kudravetz
Chief Financial Officer, Vice President, and Treasurer

Steve Munson
Vice President and Chief Information Officer

Courtney Surls
Vice President, Development and Alumni Relations

Billy Walker
Director, Athletics and Recreation