Board to Vote on Letting Kerwin Remain at Helm

By Valerie Strauss and Susan Kinzie
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, July 19, 2007

American University trustees are planning to meet tomorrow to decide whether to name interim President Cornelius Kerwin to the position permanently or to extend the search into the 2007-08 academic year, according to sources with direct knowledge of the process.

The search committee, which has been operating since January, voted Monday to submit Kerwin's name to the trustees. Kerwin, who had been provost, has led the school since Benjamin Ladner was ousted in 2005 after an investigation of his spending habits. Ladner had been the fifth president since 1990.

Kerwin's selection, supporters say, would signal stability for the private university in Northwest Washington after years of leadership turmoil.

Some on campus and off have been hoping for an outsider who would shake things up. Kerwin's name emerged recently after other candidates withdrew from consideration or were deemed bad matches for the school, according to several sources, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of confidentiality rules governing the search.

Although some trustees supported Kerwin initially, the sources said, others wanted a fresh start for the school after the Ladner era. But as the search progressed, more of the participants reportedly began to view Kerwin as at least as qualified as the other candidates.

Until this month, the sources said, Kerwin was never fully interviewed or given a chance to articulate his vision for the school by all the campus groups that met with other candidates.

Gary Abramson, head of the search committee and chairman of the Board of Trustees, would not discuss names of candidates in a recent interview, but he said the board has not yet made an offer. He said the committee had collected more than 100 names.

Kerwin declined to comment.

David Taylor, a spokesman for the university, said that he could not discuss details of tomorrow's meeting but that it was a follow-up to a meeting late last month. The trustees had been expected to announce a president at that meeting.

Kerwin had been provost for eight years when he was named acting and then interim president in 2005. There have been five permanent and interim presidents since 1990, when Richard E. Berendzen resigned after being charged with making obscene phone calls.

Kerwin has a long association with American: He graduated from the school in 1971 and joined its faculty in 1975. He was dean of the School of Public Affairs from 1989 to 1997 and taught public administration, American government and policy implementation, specializing in the study of rulemaking.

Kerwin is said to be well-liked by students, faculty and administrators, who describe him as a quiet, steady force and a scholar.

One leading candidate was dean of the business school at a prestigious West Coast university, the sources said.

One candidate was scooped up by another institution. Marvin Krislov, general counsel and vice president at the University of Michigan, accepted a job as president of Oberlin College in Ohio after one interview at American, according to other sources with knowledge of the process.

Two other candidates who met with campus officials are presidents of lesser-known colleges in the mid-Atlantic region. Both declined to comment.

"It's a difficult situation to walk into," said Raymond D. Cotton, a lawyer who specializes in college presidential compensation. He said it would be wise for AU "to go with an insider, a known quantity. This school does not need any shaking at this point -- they've had enough for a long time."

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