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17 USC 102

Three Long Answer Questions for Daniel J. Meyers, Burwell's Provost-appoint

December 18, 2018

 

Dear Mr. Meyers,

 

Congratulations on your recent appointment to provost of American University. However, now is not the time for celebration—now is the time for work. Before your term officially begins on January 15 of next year, I want to bring up the following concerns, which I believe should be areas of focus during your time as provost.

 

Question One: The Adjunct Salary

 

The 2016-2017 annual report states that $182,002,000 was spent on “instruction”. Data from the AU website reports that 42 percent of the instructional staff are adjunct (621 “adjunct faculty” divided by 1,500 “full-time staff”).

 

If we assume each adjunct teaches one class a semester (adjunct professors are only allowed to teach 3 classes per year and get paid $3,750 per class) that means that only three percent of all instructional expenditures went to adjunct professors in the 2017 academic year; $4,657,500/$182,002,000.

 

If we assume that every adjunct teaches the maximum classes they are allowed, total earnings fall just below $7 million—or 3.8 percent of the indicated spending on "instruction". In other words, according to data from AU financial reports, adjunct professors make up over 40 percent of the instructional staff and receive less than 4 percent of the pay. 

 

Does this sound like an issue to you?

 

Question Two: Stigma Within On-Campus Mental Health Resources

 

I recently watched a 2016 video by the Center for Teaching, Research & Learning (CTRL)—a program/initiative you will be overseeing—in which a number of administrators discussed the state of mental health on campus, decrying “substance abuse” and “unprotected sex.” It would be easier to “[plan] to study,” the Director of the Counseling Center at the time said during the video, if it were not for “friends and screens beckoning and throwing the plan to study out the window.”

 

The video, with its outdated substance and oversimplified understanding of student anxiety, is still attached to the AU web-page entitled “FAQ on Dealing with Student Problems.” President Sylvia Burwell’s article in Foreign Affairs magazine carries a much more nuanced understanding (although, it has spots of its own), which is why I now bring up the subject to you, Mr. Meyers. Simply because I believe in the post-Kerwin administration.

 

Substance abuse is, and has been for decades, a present issue on campus that contributes to anxiety among the student body—not just in behavioral terms, but also medical ones. The mental health resources on campus, including the Counseling Center and the Health Center, need to shift their focus in understanding students’ minds. Further, they need to start treating mental health as a medical issue (or maybe even a crisis) so that a student who is scared to walk into the Counseling Center, out of fear they’ll be referred off campus, may hear the thoughtful rhetoric of an administrative figure like yourself and feel heard. Then, that student might finally relieve themselves of their “distractions” from “friends” and/or “screens” and commence studying

 

What will your role be?

 

Question Three: Financial Aid and Growing the Endowment

 

You once expressed through a news release, according to the Eagle, that, “I look forward to raising our research profile to enhance our scholarly impact and benefit the student experience." AU has an unusually high dependency on student tuition dollars for operating funds, which constricts the amount of financial aid the university can shell out per student.

 

Raising the university’s research profile would grow the endowment—and with more research grants for individual projects, more donation money to play with, and more money to invest, would you support a plan guaranteeing that financial aid rates (more specifically, the tuition discount rate) will grow alongside the endowment?

 

In general: will financial aid be a strategic financial priority of the university? And if so—how?

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