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American University of Kuwait gets Dartmouth expertise

New university based on liberal arts model

Just over a year ago, Dartmouth entered into an agreement with the American University of Kuwait (AUK) to provide experience and advice for what would become that country's first private, coeducational liberal arts university based on the American collegiate model. The new institution recently welcomed its first class of students for the 2004-05 academic year.


Ralph and Richard Lazarus Professor of Anthropology and Human Relations Dale Eickelman (left), and President of the American University of Kuwait Shafeeq Ghabra (right). (photo courtesy of American University of Kuwait)

The consulting agreement between AUK and Dartmouth is being administered through the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding.

"Supporting the development of liberal education values and the spirit of free inquiry and study is in keeping with President Dickey's vision of an internationally engaged Dartmouth," said Dickey Center Director Kenneth Yalowitz at the time the agreement was announced last year. Dartmouth continues to provide consultation on curriculum, administration, libraries and communications, and a lively exchange between the two institutions continues to take place.

Shafeeq Ghabra, AUK's first president, was recently on campus to meet with President James Wright and the team of Dartmouth faculty members and administrators who consult on the project.

"Setting up a new university is like being on a roller coaster," said Ghabra. "It's a journey of discovery that's put me in touch with individuals who have made that journey possible." Ralph and Richard Lazarus Professor of Anthropology and Human Relations Dale Eickelman has played a particularly prominent role in Dartmouth's relationship with AUK. An expert on Islam who frequently travels to the Middle East, Eickelman has been involved with the project since its inception.

Eickelman and Ghabra have known each other for many years. "I called [Dale] in February 2003 and said I was starting a university-that I wanted to learn from the Dartmouth experience," Ghabra said. "Since we began our formal consultations in September 2003, we've built an enormous amount of trust between our two institutions."

The author of four books, including Palestinians in Kuwait: The Family and the Politics of Survival (1989) and Israel and the Arabs: From the Conflict of Issues to the Peace of Interests (1997), Ghabra is outspoken on the pressing issues that confront young people in Kuwait and elsewhere in the Middle East. "The decision to become AUK's first president is a logical extension of my personal beliefs," he said during his November visit to Hanover. "We should have a university in the Middle East that is able to promote critical thinking and add enlightenment."

For Dartmouth, the consulting agreement could lead to new programs in international study, exchange and dialogue. "Having new opportunities for study and research in this part of the world is an important benefit for the College," said Yalowitz. "At the same time, we are contributing to the process of modernization and reform which is so important there."

Late in December, Eickelman was on the AUK campus in Salmiya, Kuwait to attend a meeting of the new university's board of trustees. On Dartmouth's behalf, he presented an inscribed silver platter to Ghabra. "The ceremony focused on how universities create tradition," said Eickelman. "A token of our community's good wishes for AUK, the silver platter is reminiscent of the Wentworth Bowl, a gift Eleazar Wheelock received at Dartmouth's first commencement in 1771."

The finely wrought piece presented to Dartmouth by Governor John Wentworth expressed confidence that the young college would endure and flourish. Its presentation at the inauguration of each new president is one of Dartmouth's oldest traditions.

"Dartmouth is indeed an old college," observed Ghabra, "but it has a very young heart. By visiting this place and learning from it," he added, "I can see that our young university will definitely evolve into an institution committed to its students, committed to learning and committed to the development of ideas."

By LAUREL STAVIS

Questions or comments about this article? We welcome your feedback.

Last Updated: 12/17/08