News & Politics

American University President Neil Kerwin to Step Down in 2017

Photograph courtesy American University.American University President Neil Kerwin announced Monday that he intends to leave the position after the 2016-17 academic year. Kerwin will step down at the end of his current contract following more than a decade in the university’s top job, although he plans to remain affiliated with the school, where he’s been for nearly his entire adult life.

“My years in this role have been enormously rewarding, but now the time is right for the university, and for me, to begin the process of transition,” Kerwin wrote in a school-wide memo.

Kerwin, 66, was the first American University president who was also an alumnus. He took the role on an acting basis in 2005 following the resignation of Benjamin Ladner, who was ousted amid scrutiny into his lavish personal expenses and extensive travel budget. Kerwin, who had previously been American’s provost and a professor and dean of its School of Public Affairs, was given the president’s job on a permanent basis in 2007. He was well-compensated for the promotion, earning $935,000 in 2013, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education.

In a lengthy press release, American University credits Kerwin’s 12-year run with boosting the school’s research prowess, keeping alumni involved philanthropically, expanding the use of renewable energy on campus, and reducing the average debt faced by students. The average debt for students graduating in 2014 was $32,500, compared to a national average of about $33,000, and a 21 percent decrease from 2009, when the school’s average graduate debt was $40,966.

But Kerwin’s tenure was not entirely rosy. In 2014, American became the site of protests when more than 70 pages of emails from an off-campus fraternity describing rape, drugging women, and other violent acts were made public. Kerwin promised “swift and deliberate action” against the fraternity after a protest march ended on his front lawn. The following year, American was added to a list of more than 100 colleges and universities under investigation by the Department of Education over its handling of sexual-assault cases. In his memo, Kerwin writes he plans to finish out his time as president by continuing to implement “our plan for greater diversity and inclusion and ensuring that our campus is safe and responsive to complaints of sexual assault.”

After he leaves office, Kerwin writes, he plans to take a sabbatical leave before returning to American’s faculty. In the meantime, the school’s board of trustees will start planning the search for his successor at its meeting next week.

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Staff Writer

Benjamin Freed joined Washingtonian in August 2013 and covers politics, business, and media. He was previously the editor of DCist and has also written for Washington City Paper, the New York Times, the New Republic, Slate, and BuzzFeed. He lives in Adams Morgan.