Thursday,25 April, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1430, (14 - 20 February 2019)
Thursday,25 April, 2019
Issue 1430, (14 - 20 February 2019)

Ahram Weekly

AUC president to stay

AUC president weathers the storm that followed US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech on the university’s campus, reports Nesma Nowar

AUC president to stay
Francis J Ricciardone

On Monday the Board of Trustees of the American University in Cairo (AUC)  unanimously affirmed its continued confidence in the university’s President Francis J Ricciardone. It commended the president’s leadership and decision-making which it said was “essential to AUC’s present and future success”.

The board’s statement came days after the university’s Senate voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion of no confidence in Ricciardone during a special session on 5 February, and called on the university’s Board of Trustees to appoint a replacement.

The vote was a response to AUC’s hosting last month of US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Pompeo used the occasion to deliver a speech in which he described the US as “a force for good in the Middle East”, and lambasted former president Barack Obama’s Middle East policy, accusing Obama of sowing chaos by leaving the Middle East prey to Islamist militants and Iranian influence.

Pompeo did not take questions following the controversial speech.

Some former US officials and analysts accused Pompeo of misrepresenting history and camouflaging US President Donald Trump’s desire to reduce US commitments in the region, according to Reuters. 

The Senate is the representative council of university faculty, and includes student and administrative staff representatives. Its votes are not binding but are transmitted to the president and board of trustees for consideration and appropriate action.

Teaching staff were enraged by the secrecy surrounding the event and the fact that the American Embassy was in charge of the guest list, meaning only selected faculty members could attend.  

In a letter to Ricciardone, Pascal Ghazaleh, chair of AUC’s history department, criticised the fact that members of the AUC community were not consulted as to whether “it was a good idea to bring a former CIA director who has spoken in favour of torture to AUC”.

In a Facebook post she also criticised the fact the event was kept quiet and invitations were at the discretion of the US Embassy.

In response to Ghazaleh, Ricciardone said that AUC serving as the venue for Pompeo’s address on American foreign policy in the Middle East, and the administrative processes through which the decision was taken, were in the best interests and highest traditions of the university. 

He affirmed AUC’s commitment to the fundamental principle of freedom of expression, adding that throughout AUC’s history speakers of international standing have stimulated reflection and free debate on campus and beyond.

Commenting on the response, Ghazaleh said that honouring free expression should have ensured that the US Embassy did not impose Pompeo’s visit on AUC and that members of the AUC community should have been consulted as to whether they wanted Pompeo to visit their campus to speak on Washington’s Middle East policy. 

“It’s not the first time for AUC to host a political figure,” Rehab Saad, head of media relations at AUC, told Al-Ahram Weekly.

She said the university’s role was to give students the opportunity to listen to different viewpoints. 

Saad said the university had hosted former US secretaries of state Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton and a host of other distinguished international figures, adding that speakers’ viewpoints are not those of the university.

“We are not a political university. We listen to the speakers’ views but we don’t embrace them,” Saad said.

Pompeo’s speech, she added, was not followed by a question and answer session due to time limitations. 

Though the Senate vote was triggered mainly by Pompeo’s speech on campus, other grievances against the president were aired, including his declaration that the Faculty Handbook is not binding, unhappiness with new security measures being implemented on campus and the abandoning of shared governance practices.

In its statement on Monday the Board of Trustees said it expects the university administration to clarify any ambiguities over governance. It directed the president to complete consultations and submit a final draft of the Faculty Handbook by 15 April.

Ghazaleh was quoted by AUC’s student journal Caravan as saying it was unfortunate the board has chosen not to address the legitimate grievances of faculty, students and staff.

She said faculty were surprised the Board of Trustees had forgone dialogue and issued “what can only be read as a refusal to engage with our dissatisfaction”.

The statement by the board means that Ricciardone will remain as president of AUC as the university celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding.

Ricciardone is a former US diplomat and served as ambassador in Egypt, Turkey and the Philippines.

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