The Corner

Academic Freedom at the American University of Iraq in Sulaimani

I’m not sure I fully know why my one-time friend, Michael Rubin, has it in so badly for the American University of Iraq. Maybe he loves us and wants us to succeed. Maybe. In which case, he should get his facts straight.

The American University of Iraq in Sulaimani (AUIS) was founded a few years ago by Barham Salih, Kanan Makiya of Brandeis, Fouad Ajami of Johns Hopkins, Azzam Alwash (who has worked tirelessly to reclaim the marshes Saddam drained), and me. We, together with a British banker, a Lebanese newspaper publisher, and a gynecologist who founded the Women’s Health Center in Baghdad are, contrary to Rubin, the Trustees, the governing board, of AUIS. Other than Barham, there’s not a politician among us. Are there prominent political and business figures on our honorary Board of Regents (including a former U.S. ambassador to Iraq), yes. But they do not govern or make policy. So for Rubin to say that “Barham has placed politicians rather than academics into high positions on its policymaking body,” is simply a falsehood.

But maybe Rubin is worried that, somehow, politics will have started to intrude into academics. Well, I’m not only a founding Board member and NRO contributor, but I’m also provost and dean of the faculty at AUIS. Never, in our two and a half year history, have I ever been asked to hire or fire someone, add a course or subtract one, raise or lower an instructor’s salary — or do anything that would compromise the academic integrity of AUIS in any way. I urge all of you to go to our website and look not only at our courses and our philosophy but also at the list of professors we have — stalwarts each and all of liberal education and freedom of thought.

AUIS is one of the finest things to come out of our costly and arduous liberation of Iraq. So, why Rubin would want to sow seeds of doubt about what he himself calls “a noble enterprise” is beyond me. Indeed, it was he who first introduced me to Barham in 2003, from which meeting this grand idea developed and grew. I have no idea what happened since to make Rubin turn so badly.

John Agresto is provost of the University of Iraq in Sulaimani.

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