Friday, April 16, 2010



An inspiration for the founding of American University was a letter written by George Washington in which he expressed a desire for a "national university" to be located in the nation's capital. The university was established in the District of Columbia by an Act of Congress on February 24, 1893, primarily due to the efforts of Methodist Bishop John Fletcher Hurst. It, like most of the universities in the District of Columbia (Georgetown University, The George Washington University, Howard University, Gallaudet University, and The Catholic University of America,among others), was chartered by an act of Congress, and thus has the seal of Congress appear on its diplomas. Bishop Hurst and his colleagues were concerned with building an institution that would meld the strengths of the best German universities with the strengths of the existing university system in America. As their plans developed during the early years, they began to conceive of American University as an institution that would be:

* A privately supported university financed principally by the membership of the churches, particularly the Methodist Episcopal Church, which had been the founders of many of the colleges and universities in the early years of American history.
* An internationally minded institution where scholars from across the nation and from throughout the world would gather to dedicate their combined efforts to the advancement and dissemination of knowledge.
* A center of higher education and research activities that, while independent of the government, would draw freely on the intellectual and scientific resources of the Nation's Capital to supplement and to extend its own capabilities.
* An institution that would contribute to the general cultural life and development of the capital in much the same manner that state-supported universities in other world capitals contributed to their communities.


After more than three decades devoted principally to securing financial support, the university was officially dedicated on May 15, 1914. The first instruction began on October 6 of that year, when 28 students were enrolled (19 of them graduate students, nine of them special students who were not candidates for a degree). The First Commencement, at which no degrees were awarded, was held on June 2, 1915. The Second Annual Commencement was held on June 2, 1916 where the first degrees (one master's degree and two doctor's degrees) were awarded.Shortly after these early commencement ceremonies, classes were interrupted by war. During World War I, the university allowed the U.S. military to use some of its grounds for testing. In 1917, the U.S. military divided American University into two segments, Camp American University and Camp Leach. Camp American University became the birthplace of the United States' chemical weapons program, and chemical weapons were tested on the grounds; this required a major cleanup effort in the 1990s. Camp Leach was home to advanced research, development and testing of modern camouflage techniques. As of 2007, the Army Corps of Engineers is still removing ordnance including mustard gas and mortar shells.

During the next ten years, instruction was offered at the graduate level only, in accordance with the original plan of the founders. In the fall of 1925, the College of Liberal Arts (subsequently named the College of Arts and Sciences) was established. Since that date, the University has offered both undergraduate and graduate degrees and programs. In 1934, the School of Public Affairs was foundedDuring World War II, the campus again offered its services to the U.S. government and became home to the U.S. Navy Bomb Disposal School and a WAVE barracks. For AU's role in these wartime efforts, the Victory ship SS American Victory was named in honor of the university.


The present structure of the university began to emerge in 1949. The Washington College of Law became part of the University in that year, having begun in 1896 as the first coeducational institution for the professional study of law in the District of Columbia. Shortly thereafter, three departments were reorganized as schools: the School of Business Administration in 1955 (subsequently named the Robert P. and Arlene R. Kogod College of Business Administration and in 1999 renamed the Kogod School of Business); the School of Government and Public Administration in 1957; and the School of International Service in 1958.

In the early 1960s, the Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency operated a think tank under the guise of Operation Camelot at American University. The government abandoned the think tank after the operation came to public attention. AU's political intertwinement was furthered by President John F. Kennedy's Spring 1963 commencement address.In the speech, Kennedy called on the Soviet Union to work with the United States to achieve a nuclear test ban treaty and help reduce the considerable international tensions and the specter of nuclear war during that juncture of the Cold War.

From 1965 to 1977, the College of Continuing Education existed as a degree-granting college with responsibility for on- and off-campus adult education programs. The Lucy Webb Hayes School of Nursing provided undergraduate study in Nursing from 1965 until 1988. In 1972, the School of Government and Public Administration, the School of International Service, the Center for Technology and Administration, and the Center for the Administration of Justice (subsequently named the School of Justice) were incorporated into the College of Public and International Affairs.

In October 1984, President Richard Berendzen announced that the University would purchase the Immaculata Campus in 1986 to help alleviate space problems. This investment would later become the Tenley Campus.

In 1986, construction on the Adnan Khashoggi Sports and Convocation Center began. Financed with $5 million from and named for Saudi Arabian Trustee Adnan Khashoggi, the building was intended to update athletics facilities and provide a new arena, as well as a parking garage and office space for administrative services. Costing an estimated $19 million, the building represented the largest construction project to date, but met protest by both faculty and students to the University's use of Khashoggi's name on the building due to his involvement in international arms trade.

In 1988, the College of Public and International Affairs was reorganized to create two free-standing schools: the School of International Service and the School of Public Affairs, incorporating the School of Government and Public Administration and the School of Justice. That same year, construction on the Adnan Khashoggi Sports Center completed while the Iran-Contra Affair controversy was at its height although his name was not removed from the building until after Khashoggi defaulted on his donation obligation in the mid to late 90's.


In 1991, Richard E. Berendzen stepped down as President after admitting to making obscene phone calls. He sought immediate medical treatment and remained a full-time member of the American University faculty until his retirement in 2006.
Berendzen was succeeded by Joseph Duffy, who left after one year to become the head of the United States Information Agency under President Clinton.

The School of Communication became independent from the College of Arts and Sciences in 1993.

In 1997 American University of Sharjah, the only coeducational, liberal arts university in the United Arab Emirates, signed a two year contract with AU to provide academic management, a contract which has since been extended multiple times through August 2009. A team of senior AU administrators relocated to Sharjah to assist in the establishment of the university and guide it through the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation process.

In 2003, American launched the largest fund raising campaign in its history. The program, ANewAU, has a goal of raising $200 million dollars. As of October, 2009, the University has raised $189.6 million dollars. When the campaign is completed, the University's website states that it "will help to attract and retain the finest faculty, increase scholarship support, create and endow research and policy centers, ensure state-of-the-art resources in all of our schools and colleges, expand global programs, and secure the long-term financial health of the university by boosting the endowment."

In the fall of 2005, the much anticipated Katzen Arts Center opened.

Benjamin Ladner was suspended from his position as president of the university on August 24, 2005, pending an investigation into possible misuse of university funds for his personal expenses. University faculty passed votes of no confidence in President Ladner on September 26 . On October 10, 2005, the Board of Trustees of American University decided that Ladner would not return to American University as its president.Dr. Cornelius M. Kerwin, a long-time AU administrator, served as interim president and was appointed to the position permanently on September 1, 2007, after two outsiders declined an offer from the Board of Trustees.. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, Ladner received a total compensation of $4,270,665 in his final year of service, the second highest of any university president in the United States.

Ground was broken for the new School of International Service building on November 14, 2007. A speech was given by Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-HI). Construction began in early April 2008, and is expected to last for two years.


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