Re-imagining the AUC Experience: What It Takes

Video: Kamal Adham Center for Television and Digital Journalism


“We need to concentrate on us as a community. We need to rethink, re-imagine what we are and how we make our everyday lives fulfilling and how we complete our mission of education.”

With these words, President Francis J. Ricciardone welcomed students, faculty, staff, parents and members of the community to last Thursday’s forum, Re-Imagining the AUC Experience: Student Enrollment and Campus Life.

The goal of this forum — the first in a series of conversations about re-imagining the AUC experience—  was to broadly re-examine student enrollment, campus life, and the various organizational structures and processes that affect them, resulting in a University-wide integration effort. As President Ricciardone noted, this forum serves as only the beginning of an “ongoing conversation about re-imagining our lives together.”

Notably, the creation and appointment of three new positions were also announced at Thursday's forum: George Marquis as dean of students, Ahmed Tolba as associate provost for strategic enrollment management and Noel Knille as associate vice president for campus services. All will serve as vital components of this integration effort.

While Thursday’s forum decisively centered on student livelihood, one particularly important member of this conversation is, of course, parents. “We want to build this around parents –– parents’ insights,” noted Ricciardone. “They are the first ones to hear the students’ complaints. They are the primary stakeholders in enabling this University to exist.”

Exemplifying the importance of parents in this mission, President of the Parents Association Aliaa Abdel Ghaffar ’90 described several ongoing projects by the organization, including a smoking awareness campaign and safe driving project. More generally, she highlighted that, for the first time, there is a full-time office delegated to the Parents Association that will “make it more approachable and closer.”

Focusing on the role of campus services in creating a living campus, Executive Vice President for Administration and Finance Brian MacDougall addressed how AUC could increase the utilization of its impressive New Cairo campus. “It’s an asset that we’re very proud of and that we can use more than we have over the past eight years,” he said.

To accomplish this goal of creating more “life” on campus, MacDougall referred to a broad restructuring, with Knille as the new vice associate vice president for campus services, that will allow the University to collaborate more effectively, think differently about how it delivers its various services and, most importantly, support students more. He noted that effective and efficient provision and integration of quality services would entail collaboration with all academic programs and services, thinking about how services link together in systems and engaging in dialogue with the users of all campus services.

Looking ahead, Provost Sherif Sedky gave a detailed presentation on how the University can fulfill its strategic vision. He emphasized several primary goals including diversifying the student body (both nationally and internationally), rethinking the intellectual character of the University and enhancing its community engagement.

Currently, 94.5 percent of the student body is Egyptian and 5.5 percent is international, Sedky pointed out, adding that the University’s goal is to restore the number of international students to 15 percent by its centennial. “In terms of international students, we need to restore ourselves to enrollment numbers from before the revolution,” he explained.

Sedky also emphasized the importance of diversifying AUC’s population of Egyptian students. “We need to expand the number of students coming from other governorates beyond Cairo and Giza,” he said.

This diversification represents much more than just numbers. Rather, a more geographically diverse student body will encourage greater diversity of perspective and a more stimulating intellectual environment. As Marquis noted, “One of the main reasons that this is such an import venture is because companies around the word have admitted that the future is a diverse work force. We need to train AUC students to be able to leave campus and be more comfortable with diverse perspectives, religions and backgrounds. What we are doing enhances the professional experiences of AUC students.”    

In terms of achieving this diversity, Sedky stated that “we’d like to have a more holistic approach to admissions. We need to have a more rigorous process and not only base our process on high school grades.” The provost also noted the possibility of creating a unit solely responsible for creating and maintaining a diverse student body.

Making It Happen

As the conversation continued with conversation of how to best implement these important and significant goals, the question of how to network strategically and still allow other students from other areas to be interested in AUC was raised. Addressing this concern, Sedky highlighted the importance of increasing scholarships, as well as more intensive English courses. He further noted that the university needs to consider other factors besides language and have a system that understands these challenges.

Addressing fundraising, a crucial component of implementation, Ricciardone said, “I’m hoping that our structure of deans, department chairs and service providers will be so empowered that I’ll have more time to be out there as a chief fundraiser.”

Tolba also emphasized that although the University leadership has a broad vision, “the starting point [of implementation] will be data driven. We don’t want to base it on intuition,” he said. “We have had ideas for a long time, but we want to refine the ideas based on research, as well as internal and external understanding of the data.”

AUC’s Identity

“What’s our brand? What’s our kind of education? Why are we having these conversations about the business school versus liberal arts?” These are the questions facing much of the AUC community, as articulated by President Ricciardone.

At Thursday’s forum, the conversation highlighted many topics: student enrollment, campus life, recruitment, organizational restructuring and diversity, among many others. Yet one common thread carried throughout: What is AUC’s core identity?

The AUC mission statement highlights the importance of a “diversity of perspectives.” As Marquis noted, “The liberal arts mission fulfills that statement by generating discussion.” In a liberal arts educational institution, such as AUC, “a classroom is sort of a ‘safe space,’ in the sense that students can test out ideas and have a respectful discussion, whether they agree or disagree,” added Marquis.

Since a high-quality and internationally competitive education is an integral part of AUC’s identity, Sedky, among others, stressed that, above all else, “we need to first make sure that we are serving the existing student body at the highest quality possible.”

No matter how AUC evolves in the coming years, Thursday’s passionate forum exemplifies the pride and dedication that students, faculty, staff and parents alike have for the University. As educational systems around the world experience dramatic transformation, AUC, with its plethora of talented community members, is situated perfectly to build on its extraordinary history. 

As President Ricciardone concluded at the forum, “This is an exciting place and time in history. I believe that the AUC community has everything it takes. As a nearly 100-year-old brand, we have such resources to work with. We have such wonderful assets here that we ought to be even better than we already are.”