Who Will Replace Kerwin

New Prez, Who Dis?

Capital Campus | William McNamara | March 29, 2016

  • Copied

Yesterday morning, Dr. Cornelius M. Kerwin announced that he will be stepping down after 12 years as President of American University at the end of next year. This was announced via a press release sent to the campus community.

Dr. Kerwin became American University’s 14th President in September of 2007. Before that he served as Provost, Dean, and a Professor in the Department of Public Administration. He has been at AU for over 40 years. That’s the entire lifespan of your average grizzly bear.

“Few people embody the phrase ‘Once an Eagle, always an Eagle’ more than Neil Kerwin” said former SG President and AU alumna Sarah McBride, “we wish him all the best in his future endeavors and thank him for his years of dedication and service to the University community.”

But while Kerwin will still be around for another year, the important question at this pivotal time for AU, as we’re building a new campus, overhauling our general education program, under Title IX investigation, and only beginning to address racial issues in our community, is who will take the reins?

There are any number of high-level administrators at AU that could in theory take over as President. But I’m going to tell you why they’re all unlikely and why we’re likely going to see an outsider as AU’s 15th President.


It’s no stretch of the imagination to put the Provost, Dr. Scott Bass, on the shortlist. As the Chief Academic Officer and second-ranking administrator, he would be well-equipped to keep the University running and functional. Also, if you haven’t heard, his eyebrow game is on point.

But it’s also worth noting that the Provost’s office is already spread thin. Vice Provost Virginia Stallings announced she was stepping down earlier this year, so the Provost’s office already has a help wanted sign at the door. They’re also in the process of overhauling the general education program, which is a big deal. This overhaul isn’t likely to ease over the next couple of months, and will require attention and upkeep into its implementation. So it doesn’t make a lot of sense to be completely shaking up the academic leadership.

If you ask me, and I’m just spitballing here, an interesting dark horse candidate in this whole thing is VP of Communications Teresa Flannery. Sure, people like to rag on the WONK campaign, but it achieved the goals it sought to accomplish, specifically more applications. She’s also won several national awards and serves as a trustee on the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education.

There are also quite a few talented professors who could conceivably climb the ranks to become President if they tried really hard. But this brings me to what will likely be a major factor in the Board’s decision: now is definitely not the time for an inexperienced President.

Sure, fresh faces are nice, but we have a lot going on right now. We have too many hurdles to overcome in the next few years to say nothing of guiding our institution into a constantly changing modern age.

SPA Professor Howard McCurdy summed it up well for The Rival, saying “Dr. Kerwin is a smart man, he understands that AU will have to change in the coming years to meet the challenges of the future.”

This considered, it is entirely possible and even likely that the Board of Trustees will elect an outsider to be AU’s President. Which is an unnerving but also refreshing concept. This is a remarkably important time in the history of AU, and a fresh face might go a long way to improving the campus climate.

The rival spoke with Roquel Crutcher, President of the NAACP chapter at AU: “This is a perfect time for the University to take real steps towards making this institution more diverse and inclusive” Crutcher said “the NAACP will continue to advocate during the next academic year that a person of color be considered as President Kerwin’s successor.”

Jack Cassell is going to tell us next week how this all is going to go down. And his memo will probably make mention of including one or two undergraduates in the discussion.

“it is entirely possible and even likely that the Board of Trustees will elect an outsider to be AU’s President. Which is an unnerving but also refreshing concept. This is a remarkably important time in the history of AU, and a fresh face might go a long way to improving the campus climate.”

SG President-elect Devontae Torriente will most certainly be one of those students in the discussion, “I look forward to sitting on the search committee, led by former board chair Jeff Sine, to make sure that we pick a President that reflects the values of AU, and will maximize the potential of our community.”

But this conversation belongs to all of us. The mountain of issues that this campus needs to improve on go beyond the discussions happening in any one room. We need to demand student input, we need to mobilize student voices, and we need to expect more from our university’s leadership.

Perhaps one of the most central issues to be discussed is compensation. With all the debate about a tuition freeze one of the most contentious issues is President Kerwin’s million dollar salary. A new presidential contract may give the Board the opportunity to show students they’re serious and negotiate better terms.

In case the Board is wondering or anything, the College and University Professional Association for Human Resources surveyed private university presidents and determined that the median salary in 2016 is $317,504. That most definitely won’t be considered, but like, it’s nice to think that’s the way the world should work. What we can do until the selection is presented at a Board meeting is to let them know that our input can and will be heard throughout this process.

I look forward to meeting AU’s next President. They’re going to have a lot of issues to address. Let’s lobby the Board to make sure they know that.