Reimagining AUC

Reham El-Adawi , Tuesday 30 Nov 2021

The new president of the American University in Cairo discusses his vision for the future of the university at a media roundtable discussion attended by Reham El-Adawi

Reimagining AUC

For the first time since assuming his position five weeks ago, the 13th president of the American University in Cairo (AUC) Ahmed Dallal met with members of the Egyptian press in a media roundtable discussion on 28 November.

Dallal stressed the importance of working with the AUC community to jointly and collectively develop the ideas he shares. “I feel proud to be part of this community, and I understand what it means to be the first Arab president of the university and to serve the AUC, Egypt, and the region — a responsibility that I accept with pleasure,” Dallal said.

Dallal related how higher education institutions worldwide are rethinking their models and how AUC, in return, is currently reimagining and developing its academic programmes. “New social and technical needs demand continuous development and improvement in the higher education field,” he said. Dallal also highlighted AUC’s historical role in developing academic curricula and studies to meet the current needs of Egyptian society.

“AUC is one of the first universities that has had a significant role in Egypt. It was one of the oldest universities in the Arab world when there were only 50 universities in the region. Despite being a relatively small institution, AUC maintains a high global ranking, and two AUC professors are among the best 10 professors internationally.” Dallal added that the university does not replace prominent Egyptian public universities but rather stands proudly among such historical universities. “AUC has a remarkable history and heritage and plays an important role through its quality contributions in various fields and the joint impact of our institutions to serve the community better.

“We will not be able to be proactive in all fields, but we will identify specific areas in which we have had a strong input and we will increase our contributions and excel in them. Our goal is to develop our programmes and provide quality scientific research as an integral part of this system.”

He said the university is adamant about providing programmes that serve the community, using urban studies, data science and artificial intelligence that entail working on community-based research to catch up with the continuous development in Egypt.

Dallal also said that the university will work on a strategy to attract highly qualified students and faculty from various scientific fields.

“AUC allocates around $23 million for scholarships and financial aid annually, and we are in contact with international institutions to increase the allocated budget for scholarships to attract distinguished students from all of Egypt’s governorates.”

Dallal talked about the significance of AUC’s liberal education and its role in developing students’ critical thinking and enhancing their skills. “We will have to reimagine what a liberal arts education means to us, but not in principle, for AUC’s longstanding liberal arts tradition has enabled us to contribute to higher education in Egypt and the region meaningfully. It also distinguishes AUC from other universities and we shouldn’t forgo it.”

Regarding AUC’s plan to protect its community from COVID-19, Dallal recounted that AUC’s health measures on campus are in accordance with WHO international guidelines. He said AUC had decided to gradually return to normal life and provide vaccination for its community, in cooperation with the Egyptian Ministry of Health, and that the university will continue to safeguard its community.

Despite the successful use of digital learning tools during the lockdown, Dallal stressed that online education is no substitute for face-to-face instruction, highlighting the importance of social communication in the educational process.

Dallal brings academic and administrative experience to his new role at AUC. He is a prominent scholar of Islamic studies. He has taught at the American University in Beirut (AUB), Stanford University, Yale University, Smith College and Georgetown University, where he also served as chair of the Department of Arabic and Islamic Studies. Dallal is the former dean of Georgetown University in Qatar and previously served as provost at AUB from 2009 to 2015.

The first Arab-American to lead AUC, Dallal is an accomplished academic leader and renowned scholar with US and regional higher education expertise. He was born and raised in Beirut. He studied engineering at AUB and worked as an engineer before moving to the United States where he spent 25 years studying and teaching, giving him an insider’s perspective both on the region and US-style American liberal arts universities.

At the roundtable, the possibility of increasing cultural and artistic events offered by AUC was discussed. “I will be present two days a week at the Tahrir Cultural Centre in downtown to follow up the increase in the artistic and cultural activities in the next stage.”

Dallal also received suggestions to work on making the university’s cultural and artistic activity more accessible to young people in Cairo and other governorates of Egypt.

Founded in 1919, AUC is a leading English-language, American-accredited institution of higher education and centre of the intellectual, social, and cultural life of the Arab world. It is a vital bridge between East and West, linking Egypt and the region to the world through scholarly research, partnerships with academic and research institutions and study abroad programmes.

The university offers 40 undergraduate diplomas, 52 master’s degrees and two PhD programmes rooted in a liberal arts education that encourages students to think critically and find creative solutions to conflicts and challenges facing both the region and the world.

An independent, non-profit, politically non-partisan, non-sectarian and equal opportunity institution, AUC is fully accredited in Egypt and the United States.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 2 December, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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