Vol. 5, No.2
When Cornelius (“Neil”) Kerwin earned his doctorate in political science from Johns Hopkins in 1978, he was planning on a life of teaching and research. Administration, he says, “never crossed my mind.”
Fast-forward nearly 30 years to Sept. 1, 2007, the day Kerwin assumed duties as the 14th president of American University in Washington, D.C. It was the culmination of a long career as a university administrator.
This is not to say that Kerwin abandoned scholarship. Hardly. He is a nationally recognized scholar in public policy. His book, Rulemaking: How Government Agencies Write Law and Make Policy, about how the government bypasses the executive and legislative branches in making rules, is a widely used textbook in its third edition, and Kerwin has plans for a fourth.
Kerwin began his career at AU in 1975 as an instructor in the School of Public Affairs. The move from full-time teaching to administration happened when he was named acting dean of public affairs and then was appointed on a full-time basis in 1989, a position he held until he became provost in 1997.
As provost, Kerwin led a review of master’s and doctoral programs that resulted in fewer but more distinct programs, helped create a new faculty senate, and oversaw the creation of AU’s University College Program. The program for first-year students combines coursework with residence life and lets groups of students work with senior faculty to create small learning communities.
In 2005, he became interim president when AU’s board of trustees suspended then-President Benjamin Ladner for improper use of university funds.
Kerwin, who lives with his wife in Bethesda, Md., is the first AU alumnus to be president of the university, having earned his bachelor’s degree there in 1971. He received a master’s in political science from the University of Rhode Island in 1973.
“The education at AU and Rhode Island was great, but it was the experience at Hopkins that turned me into a scholar,” he says. “I worked with J. Woodford Howard in the Department of Political Science, whose standards of scholarship were exceptionally demanding. I’ve never forgotten the experience.”
At Kerwin’s request, Howard (now professor emeritus) introduced Kerwin at his inauguration as president of AU.