October 13, 2016, Cairo – The president of The American University in Cairo (AUC), Francis Ricciardone, met yesterday with members of the Egyptian press in a media roundtable discussion titled, “AUC’s 12th President Francis Ricciardone: A Vision for Excellence”, to discuss his priorities, plans and vision for the University as it approaches its 100th anniversary. In his first semester on campus, Ricciardone’s first priority has been to meet and get to know the AUC community: students, faculty, staff and parents. “Our community can’t exist without the participation and interdependence of these four constituencies here on the ground, plus two critically important sets of stakeholders dispersed globally: our alumni and trustees,” he said, adding that it is a huge privilege to serve as the 12th president in this line of powerful tradition of service.
Ricciardone believes that AUC is a uniquely worthy place to support for its positive impact on a deeply troubled yet rich, pivotally important and dynamic region of the world. “AUC is unique in bringing together the best of East and West. The University’s location in Cairo –– “Mother of the World” –– and our American liberal arts education, with its emphasis on critical thinking and inquiry-based thought, give AUC its distinctive identity.” He explained that AUC has always been Egypt’s global University, serving as a portal for Egyptians from all walks of life to not only learn English, but also to learn how the outside world works: its science, literature, music, art, comparative religions, economy, business, ideas and innovation.
He stressed that his main focus as president is to strengthen the sense of community at AUC. “If there is one thing that is a priority for me, what brought me here, it is our community: its health, its vibrancy and its impact on the world. “Three pillars that have been important throughout our first century, and which we must carry into our second century: identity, continuity and excellence.”
Focusing on excellence, Ricciardone explains that this is the word that best describes AUC and what the University will always strive to become. “Excellence demands personal and community discipline and effort, and very substantial fiscal resources. It is rare, and it is not cheap. That’s what we offer at AUC. Excellence also means a focus on the whole person –– training students to be globally qualified, competitive, innovative and giving –– demanding in the first instance of himself or herself, not of others.”
Ricciardone explained that his job as AUC president –– as with presidents of all U.S. nonprofits –– is to keep raising funds from people who believe that each generation bears a shared responsibility toward the next, and that supporting high-quality education is the best and most impactful way to discharge that responsibility of the “intergenerational compact.”
Prior to becoming the president of AUC, Ricciardone was the vice president and director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the US-based Atlantic Council. He served as the US ambassador to Turkey from 2011 to 2014, chargé d’ affaires and deputy ambassador to Afghanistan from 2009 to 2010 and the U.S. ambassador to Egypt from 2005 to 2008. He also served as US ambassador to the Philippines and Palau from 2002 to 2005.
Spending three years as U.S. ambassador to Egypt, Ricciardone expressed how he now feels at home, back to Egypt. “It has an incredible history and is one of the oldest civilizations that humanity knows. It’s not only a place to study the past, but also to develop science for the future. Egypt is all about continuity, durability and sustainability. It’s been through ups and downs — foreign occupations, wars, revolutions, collapse of empires, new dynasties, great periods of building, art, science, growth and advancement. The story of humankind is right here on the Nile.”
Ricciardone discussed the main challenges he foresees in the near future, in maintaining AUC’s international perspective by attracting international students back to Egypt, amidst other states and societies violently falling apart in the region. He explained that keeping AUC’s resources replenished and ensuring the University is sustainable, is a priority. “Compared to other private universities in the United Sates,” he said, “AUC is healthy, but not wealthy, and above all perhaps, the struggle for excellence vs. the universal pressures for mediocrity and conformity with the herd. This means, for example, hiring top-notch faculty in all fields –– from the sciences to the arts –– who perform at global standards and accept no less. Continuously raising funds for scholarships.”
He noted that currently, every student at AUC is enjoying a subsidy. “No student pays more than 60 percent of the cost of his or her education, and in addition, 60 percent of students receive full or partial scholarships to study at the University. We need to increase scholarships while keeping the cost of tuition down as much as possible,” he said.
Despite the challenges Ricciardone highlighted the opportunities within AUC, “we have strong assets in our people –– expert faculty; dedicated staff; bright and ambitious students; parents who care, are forward-looking and ready to sacrifice for their children; and alumni who are making a difference in the world –– and who see that AUC helped launch their careers and enrich their lives,” he said, “we have a fabulous new campus, and our reputation at home and abroad is very special and precious. This reputation means everything to AUC. Without it, we cannot build and strengthen our identity and cannot sustain our continuity. But we can never take our reputation for granted amidst the global competition. We must live up to this reputation for excellence, and we can only do that as one, solid community.”
Ricciardone stressed that “the four defining traits at AUC are under one good acronym: G.I.V.E –– Giving, Integrity, Vitality and Excellence. That’s who we are.”
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