In an exclusive interview with The Caravan, newly appointed President Lisa Anderson discusses staff rights, the revolution, AUC’s political nuances and its role in a changing Egypt.
The following is the first of a two-part interview.
How do you see AUC’s role in post-revolution Egypt?
Well I think in some respects the environment we’re going to be operating in is easier and more congenial to the kinds of things that AUC cares about. The notion of critical thinking, the notion of civic engagement, those are the kinds of things we’ve advocated and fostered for years and years and now there seems to be real enthusiasm and excitement about that in the general population in Egypt. This is going to be good for us. I think it is a real opportunity for us.
What plans do you as president have for the upcoming period?
As the first female president of AUC, do you feel there are certain expectations of you, as a woman in position of leadership?
It’s a difficult question to answer actually because as I have remarked before I am the first woman in every position I’ve ever had and I don’t know what else it would be like. In that sense, there are two lessons in that, one of which is this is not unique to Egypt. This was true in my career in the United States. I was the first Dean of the school. I was the first Chair of my department, I mean all the way through. It’s a generation, a time in history where women are having access to positions of public moment that my mother didn’t have. I think things are really different around the world. […] I do think it is important that women take seriously opportunities like this that all of you, young women everywhere should think of themselves as these are the kinds of jobs women have, these are the kinds of things that they do, this is the kind of influence that they can exercise. I do think in that sense it makes a difference. I am delighted in that regard.
AUC’s stance has always been apolitical, however prominent figures in the previous regime, such as Gamal and Suzanne Mubarak, are AUC alumni who have been involved with the AUC community. How do you see AUC’s role adapting to the changing political situation in Egypt?
I think it is important we do not admit students on the basis of their political affiliations, and therefore we have alumni who have a variety of political affiliations. I think that’s appropriate, that would be the case in anywhere around the world.In some respects, I think, the fact that we have alumni who were associated with the previous regime, we have alumni who were in Tahrir Square, we have alumni virtually across the political spectrum in Egypt is actually a credit to us, a credit to the kind of institution we are. We want people to think for themselves. We don’t have to agree with them, they don’t have to agree with us, and as a result of that we will typically and desirably have people all over the place. Then, those Alumni ought to be arguing with each other, ought to be debating, so forth and so on, but it’s not for us to say that we only want a certain kind of alumni. That would be inconsistent with the mission of an educational institution like AUC.”
Disregarding the fact that Suzanne Mubarak is an alumna, her presence during the New Campus inauguration and her official support or endorsement for AUC sends a political message. How do you respond?
I don’t fully agree with that. I do think that like any university anywhere, we sit in a regulatory environment. We sit in an institutional environment in Egypt, which would be the case if we were in the United States we would sit in that institutional environment. Say we would have an occasion to inaugurate a new campus, I promise you if that were to happen in New York, the Governor of the State and the Mayor of the city would come, it would be a civic occasion, and I think that’s appropriateFrom my point of view, the fact that we sit within this political, social, economic environment is something that we have been doing for ninety-years, and we will continue to do that for ninety-years. We want the local authorities to be pleased that we’re here, just as want everyone to be pleased that we’re here.
On that note, some political figures have been accepted on campus, while others have been discouraged from speaking. Both Ayman Noor and Mohammed El Baradei were not accepted by the Office of Student Development as speakers for a Model United Nations event. How do you explain AUC’s position on this?
Actually both of those individuals, Mohamed El Baradei is a Trustee of our University, so we permit our Trustees to speak on campus, and Ayman Noor did speak on campus. In fact, although in many national universities in Egypt, there are much more draconian, prohibitions, and so forth and so on. We have taken advantage of the fact that we do have connections through our Alumni, through our parents, through our Trustees across the political spectrum to bring those kinds of figures to campus so that students can be exposed to them and debate with them and discuss with them and I think that is something that universities should do.
However when the university brings in speakers who carry certain political meaning, such as Gamal or Suzanne Mubarak, you can’t compare that to the Governor of New York City because there’s not as much controversy…
Sure you can. I don’t think it is completely different, and in that respect you have to recognize that there are expectations. The legitimate part of your concern is not that some people come; it’s that some people don’t come. As far as I’m concerned, we want to have a campus where everybody comes. So if you have people who were in government that some members of society would oppose, then fine you can have them come, but you also have other people come. I do think that there were periods at AUC where there was an anxiety about having certain figures come. I agree with you there has been sensitivity or an anxiety that this would concern certain people in positions of political power, and we didn’t want to do that. First of all, we managed that reasonably well, and it’s over.
A year ago AUC held a celebration on campus in honor of Police Memorial Day on January 25. There were objections from the student body saying that AUC as an educational institution should not be involved in a holiday specifically to glorify police forces. How do you perceive AUC’s decision to hold that celebration?
Many of these things are debatable decisions, and I guess at this point I think, in that instance, that the logic that the then president presented was a perfectly reasonable one. Everybody had that day off. If people didn’t want to honor the police who were being memorialized that day, they could have gone to work, but they didn’t. In a sense everyone could say that we were implicated in that, or you could say that this is a respectable holiday, we honor the holiday, and therefore we were honoring purpose of the holiday. At this juncture, I think that was a decision which could have been debated at the time, but I can certainly understand why the University thought this was an appropriate thing to do.
However AUC does not choose to celebrate every national holiday. Since the police forces are viewed in Egypt with some kind of trepidation, it seems like a peculiar decision to go forth with the celebration…
I don’t think that there is going to be another police day, so I’m not that worried about it going forward.
TO BE CONTINUED NEXT ISSUE....