Academic Freedom at the American
University of Iraq: A Response by Michael Rubin
By Michael Rubin
May 4, 2010
Mr. Agresto is less than candid.
He considers me a one-time friend. He recalls
meeting; I do not, but will take his word for it. If
we did meet, it was once and fleeting. Regardless,
Mr. Agresto is aware that he has declined
opportunities to meet and talk for several years.
The idea that, after having taught for a year in
Iraqi Kurdistan, my concern about the potential of
political interference equates to having “it in so
badly for the American University of Iraq” is
thin-skinned and wrong-headed.
Mr. Agresto should get his facts straight: The
American University in Iraq has defined the Board of
Regents and Trustees as “the official policy making
group for The American University of Iraq –
Sulaimaniyah,” and added, “It is charged to provide
overall direction for the University.”
Mr. Agresto notes the impressive
c.v.’s of the trustees. I concur and have counted
many as friends from a time before Mr. Agesto’s
introduction to Iraq. Many of them are more involved
in fundraising, however, than in academic support.
The issue, however, is the presence of career
politicians: Jalal Talabani, Adil Abdul-Mahdi, Ayad
Allawi, and Nechirvan Barzani. Talabani and
Nechirvan Barzani have histories of political
interference in universities, one of the reasons why
the American University in Iraq became necessary.
Old habits die hard. There certainly are political
pressures in Iraq and Iraqi Kurdistan, and it pays
to have friends in high places. However, Iraqi
Kurdistan is not alone. The same might be said for
Egypt and Lebanon. But in those places, the
administrators minimized the potential for influence
by limiting the role of politicians.
The American University of Iraq is still growing. In
its formative years, it is necessary that it develop
as a truly independent body. If it is to have the
confidence of ordinary Iraqis who understand Iraqi
politicians and their efforts to permeate and co-opt
every institution, then it is necessary Mr. Agresto
take a firm stand and remove any affiliation and
appearance of influence that Iraqi political leaders
have at the American University of Iraq. Every year,
it becomes more difficult to make that change.
Mr. Agresto certainly knows the history of
universities in Iraqi Kurdistan. Universities have
been founded for negative, not positive reasons: At
first, political parties refused to cooperate with
each other and so founded their own universities.
Then, political patronage compromised universities
to the point where the government recognized the
need for reform. But rather than undercut patronage,www.ekurd.netthey
simply founded new universities. These, soon, began
to suffer the same political interference.
Meanwhile, they spread expertise too thin. If the
Kurdish universities were combined or consolidated,
not only could Iraqi Kurdistan diminish the negative
impact of its own internal regionalism, but the
resulting university would be able to compete to the
The American University of Iraq, of course, is
different. But if it is to set an example for the
rest of Iraq and also continue to the same standards
as other American Universities overseas, Mr. Agresto
should just say no to currently serving politicians.
If Mr. Agresto cares to discuss, he is welcome any
time in my office even if he has made clear for
years, alas, that those who question or possibly
disagree are not welcome in his.
Michael Rubin's major research area is the Middle
East, with special focus on Iran, Iraq, Turkey, and
Kurdish society. He also writes frequently on
transformative diplomacy and governance issues. At
AEI, Mr. Rubin chaired the "Dissent and Reform in
the Arab World" conference series. He was the lead
drafter of the Bipartisan Policy Center's 2008
report on Iran. In addition to his work at AEI,
several times each month, Mr. Rubin travels to
military bases across the United States and Europe
to instruct senior U.S. Army and Marine officers
deploying to Iraq and Afghanistan on issues relating
to regional state history and politics, Shiism, the
theological basis of extremism, and strategy.
The views expressed are the author's alone.
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