President Ricciardone’s Interview with The Insider AUC (FULL Transcript)

President Ricciardone gives The Insider an opportunity to speak with him in the midst of the Egyptian economic crisis and the AUC strike. For the brief article, grab a copy of our latest issue.

Nada: What is your reaction to the list of demands proposed by the students?

President Ricciardone: My reaction to this sort of experience here was how did we get to the point of making demands sort of back and forth where I would say students have in some way are not feeling they are of the university and it’s something that’s sort of ours altogether. I like conversations where people are saying we see a problem we wanna solve and here’s how we think we go about it, then you can really go somewhere. The demands were natural enough. So people can make demands and that’s okay to start conversations, but if all you keep doing is making demands, the communication isn’t necessarily going somewhere, then you get maybe at best you get into a negotiation, and it’s not the kind of negotiation that’s between partners working for a common purpose. Just to pose demands is not necessarily to get anywhere. You’ve got your demands, and basically you want more money; you want lower tuition. But we’re facing the real world where costs are high, the pound has been devalued and the national economy is under stress. We’re an organization that imports brains; we bring in people and we try to get the top talent from around the world that is willing to come to Egypt, not all are willing to come and that’s expensive and you can’t pay for it in Egyptian pounds, unfortunately. If you want to bring an automobile in to Egypt from outside, you can pay Egyptian pound at the black market rate when there was one. Now hopefully there will be no black market, you will pay at whatever the market rate is. Brains work sort of the same way. So we have to deal with reality, and I thought the demands, although natural enough and understandable, didn’t lead to the next step in a conversation, which is university responds. We are more than sympathetic, but the demands are unrealistic. Let’s work together on a realistic solution to make sure we keep everybody here from the outset, from my first words in this university. The goal is: Lose no student. Make sure every student who’s enrolled now is able to finish through this term, through this year and through her or his graduation. Let’s make that our goal that we share, then work back from that. How do we take care of every student on the short term, immediate term? The first challenge was to get past the November 20th due date, for those who hadn’t paid when tuition was due, we offered extended time. And then the second challenge was to get through the term, and the rest of the year, which I believe we will do. If you want to talk about all that, I’ll be glad to do it. But your question is specific, what do I think of the demands? Natural enough to start, disappointing in that we didn’t get beyond demands as if there was some kind of negotiation going on, instead of a collaboration.

N: So in summary, you see that there shouldn’t be specific demands from one side, it should be a let’s-hear-the-two-sides-out and come up with a combined solution that pleases everyone?

R: Not even quite as simple as that, so. Why did I come to Egypt? That’s a whole other question, but I’ll come back to this one. I came because Egypt is rich in problems that are important in the world today. And I like working with people who want to work on problems together. It’s a matter of service, that’s the keyword. I was in public service, government service before. I left it behind. When this opportunity came up, I knew it would be hard because I knew Egypt was in a stressful situation, I knew AUC was a good institution with a good history and legacy, and I was yearning to go into a new century not just good, but great. This is exacting, I want to be part of that. So having posed the demands, what I would’ve hoped was and I still hope, and I think we’re getting there, I think we’re moving beyond simple demands, I hope so to a statement of the problem that all of us wanna work on. Remember we are a diverse community, with different perspectives on ‘the problem’. I put ‘the problem’ in quotation marks because it is a complex bundle of problems. How do we, as a community; students, faculty, other staff, parents (another fundamental perspective), alumni who care about the continuing value of their diplomas, as well as the reputation of AUC. How do all of us capture the problem and see that we get through this stress. I think of it almost as a bank stress-test, that’s really useful for our community to come together. And if we stay stuck on demands, that can polarize and divide us, where as a stress test can help us come together. So I think that’s the next step, if the students stop at demands and then other elements of the university say ‘Thank you, we get it’. It’s a stressful time, it’s a national crisis, the university is facing issues. We don’t get beyond the demands ‘I want this, this is my right’, and the university says ‘Sorry we cannot accommodate it’ then the conversation ends nowhere. The challenge for me is to take that conversation to a problem-solving approach and that’s where I think students, parents, administration and faculty can come together and some people have the toe of the elephant, some have the ear of the elephant, some have the trunk of the elephant, together we’re going to figure out that elephant.

N: Why are there no student representatives on the panel during forums?

R: I don’t know about the principles of things when you say forums, so maybe you mean forum with a capital ‘F’ and it’s a set piece understood format. For me, you set up formats of meetings for communication purposes. Whatever you do in that sort of a , any possible public event, you want to have effective communication. Right? So you choose who will sit on a panel, will it be a larger audience or a smaller one, is it on the record or is it off the record, is it recorded, is it media, what’s the agenda and how’s it work? I’m not sure of the particular one you’re referring to, we’ve had a couple of larger ones. Honestly, I don’t think they were that successful because they were disrupted. And as a communication event, I didn’t think we got to problem solving. Maybe it advanced the conversation, maybe it was a necessary stage in a conversation but it didn’t get quickly enough to where I wanted it to be in terms of a community conversation. This is academia, so it ought to be where people respect each other and respect different viewpoints, it’s not a place where shouting and drums and megaphones are useful. We can tolerate them, they’re okay, but they only get you to a certain point. They’re not good for conversations, they’re good for shouting at people, and shouting at people, in my experience might be good at a party or something if you’re trying to get bunches of people spun up for your football team, but that’s not academia. Academia is full of complicated challenges, problems, and ideas. That’s my view on forums; you set up a forum, choose the audience, choose the speakers, understand the ground rules and then you can have an effective communications event, and the ones that were disrupted weren’t effective in communicating.

Amaal: I think she means the meeting where the president of the student union, Amr El Alfy, said that he got a call before the meeting that he was not allowed to moderate it, as agreed.

R: Thinking back to that particular one, so maybe there was some misunderstanding or other, it was becoming clear to me that that event was going to be a catastrophe; that it was going to be disrupted and turned into a rally of some kind and not a conversation. I was ready to call it off, actually, and the student union leadership persuaded me that calling it off wouldn’t be a good idea and that we should go forward with it and we set up the format that we did. My view is that the students and the student union should have a role in speaking there, it certainly wasn’t my view that it should be moderated by the student union so maybe there was a misunderstanding so that’s interesting but as long as it passed, especially for your format that’ll be so stale in the past. Seems to me it’s more useful talking about where we go from here, what’s next. I don’t find that interesting, I find it interesting where we’re going together.

N: That’s about to come as well, but this is also an opportunity for you to clear up some of the misconceptions that the students have about the backstage or behind the scenes of the previous forums and meeting, and some of the things that you have said.

R: We can talk about the past if you want, but I hope there are no misconceptions about where I think we need to go. I think we need to speak more about ‘we’ than about me. You’ll choose your own headline, but for me it’s about ‘we’, not me. We should go from a ‘me’ to a ‘we’ culture at AUC, so whatever has happened in the past, at each stage where I’ve attempted to communicate, I like do it on a basis of ‘Us’, ‘we’. In our different components, in our diversity, where we are in life, whether we’re employed and drawing our salaries from the university or whether we’re paying into the university as parents, or whether we are being paid in a sense as students and drawing out the education that we are all here for. Each of these groups has a different perspective, but none of us can exist as the university without the other, so the sooner we get in this mindset of collaborating on shared problems the better. The sooner we stop banging on drums, we can bang drums, there’s a time and a place to bang drums but there’s never a time and a place to throw desks out the window, never a time to bully other people, not in academia, not in AUC. So these are things that disappointed me, but they’re only distractions, they do not define us and they’re a distraction. I think AUC is a place to motivate, really great people who can solve any problem if we (underlining we, double underlining we) get our act together.

A: About the throwing chairs out of the window part, do you mean it literally that students…

R: You haven’t seen that video?

A: No. I was actually there.

N: I saw it as well.

R: So what did you think when you saw that, Amaal?

A: I didn’t think it would be really efficient, but at the same time, we students, we kind of reached a point where we just want a solution regarding the tuition because…I’m actually one of the participants of the strike, previously, and what I’ve seen there’s been some mismanagement from the administration when I talk with for example staff and they tell me that they haven’t been getting raises for a while.

R: That is a great question. You say efficient, maybe you mean effective. I don’t know whether it was efficient or effective depending on what the point was. What was the objective?

A: The point was getting the attention of the administration because the students felt like they weren’t heard, so they wanted the administration to address them and their concerns so it wasn’t used as a mean of bullying others because as a matter of fact students helped at the end of the day to return the chairs back and the tables and so yeah.

R: I’ll tell you from my perspective, students, parents and faculty already had my attention in the effort that I’ve been doing since the beginning from the administration’s side to get us together to pay respectful attention to each other, and to get past the demands the demands the demands and misreading of history and culture. People here say ‘Oh 2012 was wonderful; we got attention when students were strong enough and you closed the university. We got what we wanted!’ Whereas, from the bigger world perspective, the perspective of the people who look at AUC from the outside and see if they wanna donate (parents pay 60%, other people pay 40%), it doesn’t look good. And it looks as though the university is not succeeding, and from the outside perspective, 2012 was a catastrophe because it looked like negotiation. It looked like a mob making demands. From the perspective of, say trustees and administration, we couldn’t go there again. What happened there was suffocated in a way and led to contraction and hurting of the culture, and we wanted it to turn out differently. I think there is a serious misconception that if you scream louder your demands will be heard, but I think what it did was put us closer to the edge of a real problem rather than getting us closer to the solution. I asked student leaders, ‘Ok so, I get it about the strike. Go ahead, bang the drums. There are rules in the US, I don’t know any country in the world with more freedom of expression under the constitution, but in the US at universities where we really are jealous about our freedom of expression, it’s been tested in our courts. There are stipulations about time, manner and place so that everybody’s rights are protected. By bullying people, that exceeds time, manner and place stipulations then they intrude on the rights of others. Blocking access to classrooms, breaking furniture (or threaten to), dangerous behavior that intimidates others. People with different points of view here, not everybody believes that that is the way to go, being bullied. The time stipulation is 1-2pm, these aren’t rules I made up -I’ve only been her 3 months. The rules are already here, and I find that apparently the students don’t believe in the rules, or don’t think they’re good rules. It’s okay to make loud noises and disrupt classes (that are very expensive, by the way) because they wish to do so, if you’re inside those classes, it’s not so nice. Manner; being loud and using megaphones and drums and all that, that’s permitted from 1-2pm, but it’s not permitted in other time. It’s certainly not permitted inside the administration building. Place; outdoors, as opposed to indoors. So all those restrictions are tested under US law. I thought there were a lot of exceeding the rules that really amounted to violations to freedom of expression. Not an exercise of freedom of expression, but a violation of it. I don’t think that’s the kind of university that we wanna be, and so I asked student leaders ‘Ok, I think I get your message. You’re angry, check!’ You’re angry at what you see as tuition increases, and I understand why because you live in Egyptian pounds. From a donor’s perspective, tuition’s about held steady since 2012 in US dollars. Held steady in 5 years, although the dollar has had inflation too. So I get that, but what next? Then what? Where do we go from here together? If you wanna keep going that way, you’re going to go (and I see where that’s headed, it’s headed nowhere, it’s headed towards losing the term). People say ‘We’re gonna burn it down; we’re gonna close it down. It’s gonna be 2012!’ Except 2012 turned out one way, this is 2016. I was determined to not close it down. What we have invested in each other, what this university has invested in the students is too precious to lose. I really didn’t wanna lose this term. Had it been closed, it would have been over. Your months and your tuition for this term would have been gone. And then what? That was a dangerous thing to do, and thank god people understood that we really meant it that we didn’t want to lose any students –and still don’t. So we got through this term, I think. I hope so. Then the challenge is: we are all in this boat together. The Egyptian pound value used to be set by the central bank. Now it’s described by the central bank, the market sets the rate, and the central bank says we buy at this rate or we sell at this rate for this hour or this day –I don’t know how often they say it, but at least once or twice a day. AUC is not bigger than the central bank of Egypt, so when students say over and over and over again 8.88, the central bank stopped saying that on November 3rd. So where do we go? What do we do? We went back to the trustees who recognized that this is a national emergency for Egypt, and most of our students here are Egyptians. By the way, almost all of our employees are Egyptians; we have some international faculty and some international staff. If you’re paid (or if you’re paying in Egyptian pounds) it’s a serious problem. Inflation. Before I even arrived this summer, students were really upset about the 7% or even 6% increase. If you say ‘Well this place doesn’t have the quality it had before’, well, quality costs money. You don’t wanna put money in it, you want foreigners to pay, foreigners to come who pay 3 times what Egyptians pay. Foreigners have stopped coming because they’re frightened about what happens here in Egypt. Why are they frightened? Because of people throwing desks outside of doors of universities. This is a university of very intelligent, highly selected people. I think together, if we put the perspectives together we can find a way.

Last night, a group of us and several parents, a lot of us from the administration and a trustee, we were here until midnight working on this. And the parents’ demands are sort of close to the students, but I think we sort of got beyond the demands, I hope to a problem solving approach. You may have heard about it, I think, we have an emergency scholarship. We have decided not to use the word ‘grant’ because it sounds too much like financial aid and apparently there’s a cultural thing [against it].

N: How long will the changes (the emergency scholarship) last?

R: Through the emergency, this year. The Spring 2017 semester.

N: Are you looking into a more long term solution?

R: It won’t be one long term solution. That’s another thing about the demands, ‘we demand a solution! 3ayzeen 7al!’ Ladies and gentlemen come on, let’s all work together as real adults with true sophistication. This is a university, let’s take sophisticated approach. Let’s realize there’s no 7al. There’s going to be a complex set of things that we need to do. We need to save some money here, we need to raise more money there. What are our objectives?: Excellence in education at an affordable price for our clientele. Our clientele, this is another thing I wanna change, is the perception that AUC is all rich princes and princesses. You and I know that’s not true. This is the bedrock of the future here, this is the middle class. Pretty well educated secondary students come here if they qualify (we are highly selective, we take about one student in three who applies) and then almost all who get accepted here do come in, about 78% or 77% of those accepted. We need to take things to the next level. In the US higher education, the goal is not only needs-based financial assistance, it’s needs-blind admission. So you look at the students applying, and you try to select the very best, and the first decision you make is that, and the second is that the student says ‘oh my goodness, I can’t afford.’ Then the university if it has the resources whether it’s Harvard or yale or pirnceton or Stanford or rice, you can guarantee that almost every student who applies, no matter their financial circumstances that you can help. That’s where I want AUC to go, I wanna get us there.

N: I’m sorry; I think we keep straying away from the question. I think what the students want to know is how, going forward, is the board looking at solutions?

R: Yes yes yes yes. Sorry, yes indeed we are, with the parents, not only the board. Please agaim, think ‘we’. When you say ‘the board’, think the board is us. When you say ‘the administration’, think the administration is us. From the perspective of the administration, when I say the students, I think of the students as us. Or at the very least ‘ours…it’s our success’.

Rehab (President’s media coordinator): I’m sorry, as far as the meeting of yesterday, it was written as a story in the news of AUC Today with all the details, and all the discussions that went on.

R: But so here’s the important thing, we are looking at a wide menu of things we must do. We must control costs; we must somehow especially control costs that are expressed in dollars, that’s a huge challenge. Our biggest chunks of costs are salaries and compensation for everybody from drivers and gardeners to the president. We have to control them. We especially have to control the portion of that that’s in dollars. A lot of that talent, including myself, were imported from the US. One of the happy results of the floatation of the pound is it’s going to make the pound a convertible currency so that should help us to go a long way to control the availability of dollars. But we wanna do more than that. The challenge, how do we do that and still be able to recruit professors back to Egypt whether they’re Egyptians who wanna come back, or Egyptian-Americans, or Egyptian-Canadians, or Egyptian-German. How do we do that? So controlling costs, raising money that’s the primary job of the presidents in universities in the US, public universities, private universities, the presidents don’t get as involved in day-to-day managements as has been the tradition here at AUC. I hope to be able to make more time, I’ve done a couple of fundraising trips, I think we have a terrific story here to tell. I think this is such a bankable proposition that anybody who cares about the future of Egypt, the future of the region, this is the best investment that you can make and I’m going to be pushing that hard. So controlling costs, raising more funds, not controlling costs by going down market, we have to hold excellence up in everything that we do.

N: Which brings me to my next question: how will the salaries or wages of AUC staff and faculty be affected with the floatation of the pound and controlling costs? Specifically Egyptian faculty and staff.

R: We want to retain the faculty and staff we need, the high quality faculty and staff so people can live at a dignified level. So we have got to increase compensation especially at the lowest levels, I’m particularly concerned about our employees who are not paid in dollars. Our faculty are paid in part in dollars, some of our administration…did you know that?

N: Yeah, I believe non-Egyptian are paid in dollars and Egyptians are…

R: …paid in dollars. Did you know that?

N: Adjunct faculties are being paid in dollars?

R: No, I’m talking about our tenured, full-time…sort of a complex thing, but basically our tenured, permanent faculty are paid a portion in dollars. That’s where a big chunk of..along with some of the administration.

N: But a lot of faculty nowadays are adjunct. Only a small portion of faculty are full time.

R: Right. And why do you think that happened? Guess.

A: The financial deficit?

R: Right. And where did the financial deficit come from? From 2012, because with inflation in Egypt running 15% or better every year, we could only increase 2% a year for several years and something has to give and that happened only a few years after we moved here and the move was a very expensive thing. We moved and expanded at the same time, and that was a very example thing. We’re still finding our equilibrium and there have been those stresses. We have only 4% staff turnover, that’s a very low turnover across the board. When any organization our size only lose 4% of its people each year through retirement or resignation to take a better job, it means we’re probably at a competitive place in the market and the end of the day we have to compete for talent, for me that’s not good enough. For me, we need to take care…I mean it’s good enough at the top areas, it’s not good enough for the people who are close to the bottom of society who have to…I was having lunch with some of our workers the other day, a couple of weeks ago and they told me that some of them come from El Sharqiya, some of them come from El Manofiya.

A: Upper Egypt

R: I’m talking about daily commutes. Sure sure, many come from aslan y3ny, but I’m talking daily commutes yawmeyan, they take a four hour bus ride, or a three hour bus ride. Maybe 7 hours a day on the bus. What does that tell me? It tells me that one) these jobs are precious, and they’re glad to have them and two) their lives don’t…they don’t have enough time to be with their families. So they are suffering in a difficult economic environment. How can we take care of those people? Our people? They’re us. I come from humble origins. My grandparents were immigrants on both sides. My grandmother was a cook and a washerwoman on one side, her husband my grandfather was a…worked in a cigar factory. On my father’s side, he was a laborer then a business man, a very small business man. So these people, they’re me. And I really…I think we need to take care of them.

N: So of course our concern is the entire AUC community; faculty, students, administration and whatnot, but of course being a student newspaper we’re trying to cater to the students. So I think this question, the coming questions will be very important to clear up some of the misconceptions.

R: Sure.

N: Students have openly expressed their distrust for you and for the board of trustees. In turn you have called the student ‘hooligans’ and implied that they spend their money on drugs (or at least that is the impression that they have). What do you think this means for your relationship with the student body going forward?

R: Well first of all, let me say…I don’t know how to put a nice word on it, they’re just lies. I would love to know the source of them. There are wonderful things about social media and the times we’re in now, this is a great time to be alive; it’s exciting. But now what social media enables is lies to spread and inflammatory things to spread without check. There are all kinds of nonsense. In the US, not only Egypt. It’s everywhere in the world. Those were particularly distressing lies; I’ve never used those words. Now, I did use the words vandalism. When you remove property, throwing it out windows, that’s breaking property that doesn’t belong to you, that’s vandalism. You can quote me on that. That’s wrong, it’s against the rules and it’s not tolerable. You have that on the record. ‘Hooligan’ is not an American word, it’s a 1930s kind of word, wouldn’t come naturally to use it so whoever made it up is a non-native speaker, a non-American. It’s a British word, and you don’t hear it often in the US. About students spending there money on drugs…what?

A: I think there has been sayings that you said there’s a drug problem on campus or something like that.

R: No. I said there will be zero-tolerance for drugs. That comment came up at a university senate with like 40 or 50 witnesses or something like that. Whoever interpreted that to mean the students are all drug addicts or something was just…I never said any such thing or anything remotely like it.

A: What prompted you to say there is zero-tolerance?

N: What was the context?

R: There was a question about student discipline and the kinds of things that were going on, you know, abuse of ID cards. I am concerned to protect our people against unauthorized people gaining access so there was discussion about the use and abuse of ID cards and it was in that context that things are not good. And we did have a case, a discipline case. I don’t wanna name any names, I didn’t wanna name any names. Somebody was suggestion we were being harsh and people were confusing an ID case for a drug case. We have no choice on drugs, that’s Egyptian law.

A: There’s a drug case here?

R: I’d rather not go too into it because I’d like to protect confidentiality and privacy. I want to be very open and transparent, but I also want to protect people’s privacy.

N: This happened just yesterday. There was a meeting with the parents, I’m not sure if you know this but there was a headline that popped up that parents of students are resorting to court. Do you have any comment about that?

R: It was very open, there’s a parent movement. They threatened a lawsuit, it’s a free country and people can go to courts if they want. I’d rather not have to deal with such a thing, I’d rather not have groups of parents feel that they’re somehow a group that identify their interests as separate from the interests of the university’s interest or who see the university as an adversary, because if you go to court there’s an adversarial relationship. I don’t feel an adversarial relationship with parents or students. I’m saddened that some parents evidently do. I would be saddened if they really press this lawsuit, but if they do, there are Egyptian courts and we have to work through the Egyptian courts. It’s a state of law, it would I think waste a lot of energy and money. Parents’ money and university money that I’d rather put to education. It would waste the parents’ money even though that group of parents who want to do that it will bleed a lot of energy and could be kind of polarizing and adversarial at a time when I spent those 3 or 4 hours last night with parents working with parents not against them arguing, no not arguing, not really even negotiating, although some parents wanted to negotiate. I think we went from making demands to finding a way forward to that goal of keeping everybody here, I felt like we came out that way.

A: There has been actually some student suggestions that you take more money from the endowment and stuff like that. How do you comment on that? Is that possible? What are the restrictions?

R: So in the not-for-profit world, it’s all about raising funds, and you raise funds particularly from big donors who looks hard at your governance. They wanna see two things, your success stories and your future, your mission, your success in achieving that and your governance. There’s lots of needy and worthy causes. If you’re a well-to-do person, you want to put your philanthropy where it will count the most, you don’t wanna throw it away. Particularly in higher education, there’s a wide range of choices. Why do you think Harvard and Stanford and Rice and these places get so much money? Do they need it the most? I argue not. My personal philanthropy, I don’t give as much to them. I went to Dartmouth, I love Dartmouth…these are success stories, they attract it because they are successful. They look permanent, they manage well. They’re going to be there, they’ve been there for a long time. Their quality standards are unshakable, they’ll never go down the market. Everyday, you hear about that Harvard student or professor, this group, this center or this athletic thing, this art thing, it’s…success builds on success. So governance really matters. If you tap into your endowment, you’re consuming your seed-corn. If you’re not looking to the next year, and the year after and a 100 years out, and you’re only looking to today with people saying ‘but…but…but it’s an emergency, you’ve gotta spend everything now.’ And you do that one year, the revolution in 2011, emergency. 2012, gates close, emergency. 2013 replacement government, emergency. 14, 15, emergency, emergency. At a certain point…and we’re drawing down 5%, it’s no longer best practice to draw down at that amount in not-for-profits not just higher education. The needle sort of moves on that,  there are certain formulas that you use. It’s complicated. The average is moving down towards the 3% or 4% range. We had pushed it up to the 5% range so we’re already sort of on the higher edge. You can only do with emergencies on that higher edge so long with an endowment that is considered small by American standards.

A: What do you consider an emergency situation?

R: This. I consider this a real emergency.

N: Allow me to jump in, do you think this is an emergency situation because of the floatation of the pound or because of the strike and student demands?

R: Because of the floatation of the pound and its impact on the Egyptian families who send their kids here. Again, if you get back to the question if the demonstrations or strike an effective way to go. It’s okay, but if it stops there, if it doesn’t get beyond making noise and expressing anger and demands then the institution’s in trouble and you’re not getting communication. This institution is not in trouble. On the contrary, this institution is healthy. Noisily expressing demands is ok but it’s only ok if that’s as far as we get. I wanna do better than okay. I want us to be even stronger and be able to make sure we are able to attain that and focus on the middle class of Egypt that finds this a real sacrifice. At the end of the day, a sacrifice is one thing, an impossibility is another and I want to keep this at the level where families…I don’t know your families…but I’ll say like yours are able to afford it even if it’s a sacrifice and believe that’s it’s worth the sacrifice. That’s what I wanna do.

N: My last question is about.

A: Hold on just one sec.

N: Ok, not our last question.

Rehab: No, it’s your last question. (Time)

N: How do you address the concerns of many students who see the increasing tuition fees while witnessing the downsizing of departments like the theater and ARIC one and the lack of faculty members in some departments for example the CSE department?

R: Sadly that’s what happens if we go down that path of reducing and cutting costs without raising funds and always insisting on sustaining high quality. We’ll be eating our seed-corn, we’ll be eating into our product and we can’t do that. Here’s the keyword I guess, it’s sustainability. I mean I don’t know if you saw my inauguration speech or anything like that, I said there are three big strategic focuses here for me, I didn’t make them up, I drew them from consulting faculty, students, parents board, alumni before coming. Number 1 is identity as Egypt’s global university, that’s taken a hit since the revolution. Foreigners have stopped coming to Egypt, look at the tourism industry, look what happened to businesses not just AUC. We’re Egypt’s global university, we have got to maintain that really special place, we’re the only ones really…I’m glad there are competing English language things now, but we’re the only ones who have a US accredited portal to the world for Egyptians and just as importantly a portal to Egypt for Americans and Europeans and all kinds of other people who want to learn about the Arab world, the Muslim world and all the richness of Egypt, we’ve got to get back to that. I believe Egypt can bounce back and bring tourists and business people back and I think AUC will be a key to doing that, it’s bigger than us and we’ll be able to do it so number one is our global identity, I believe we can invigorate it. We haven’t lost it. Two, sustainability, we cannot continue on the path we’re on. Exactly the question you raised, Nada, we can’t cut here, cut there, we can’t cut into flesh. There is fat, and we will find that fat and we will cut the fat. A stress-test is a great way to find the fat and to cut the fat and build an athletic strong organization but we cannot keep going the way we are going. We need to raise the income we need to sustain the third point, control costs and raise the income to sustain the third point and that is excellence. If we become less than excellent we will go down. And I don’t want any part of it, and I don’t think you do either. I think the students who are here and the parents who are here are making sacrifices because they think this is special and excellent and students and parents have every right to complain and on this please don’t be shy. If you see places where it is not excellent, I wanna know because I want excellence here, no I won’t say I, we want excellence here.

A: That is true.

R: Yeah, don’t stop demanding, this is where demands are. Don’t stop demanding excellence. Don’t stop demanding strong management. But don’t stop at demanding. That’s maybe the issue. Pose the demands but then let’s collaborate here and identify how we get there in real world terms. That’s the challenge I think, how do we together get beyond the demands to get a kind of community action that is the only way forward. We’re all in this boat together.

A: If a student wants to reach you, how can they do that?

R: Lots of ways. You just have. Truly, my favorite thing here is meeting the students and faculty. I love it when it’s impromptu. I went to the Sharjah gallery, I went the other night, the design show opening and that was thrilling. I like going to the folklore things and seeing the students backstage and preparing for it and seeing them so dedicated and excited by it. I love going to the theater and seeing the performances there and seeing them when they go.

N: I believe you also went to the Hamaki concert…and met when of our Insiders.

R: I went to the Hamaki concert! That’s a perfect example. Pure pure student organized event. Four thousand people, young people, come in perfectly secure and everyone has a great time. They’re dancing, they’re participating and they’re having a good time. They raised the funds to do it, they organized they dealt with professional level entertainers. I took videos of that and sent it to all my family and friends in the US. This is AUC! I go to the pool and I see people swimming there early in the morning, working out.

*Ends with casual chitchat*