Egypt: American University in Cairo’s New Campus Sparks Debate

Date posted: November 20, 2008


Designed to accommodate 5,500 full-time students and 1,500 faculty and staff, the American University in Cairo's new $400 million, 260-acre campus is technologically advanced and environmentally friendly. Students say that it was a premature move as they suffer sexual harassment and expensive food, among many other issues.

Chronicling Cairo wrote in a very sad post:

Since we moved to Heliopolis we've been dealing with an incredible amount of sexual harassment. Keep in mind that the entire time we've been living in the hotel so far has been during the month of Ramadan, the holiest month of the year for Muslims and the time in which all Muslims make extra effort to worship God and live in a pure and holy way.

As such, all sexual thoughts and acts during the fasting hours are technically forbidden. However, we cannot walk down the street in Heliopolis (in daylight or after sundown) without catcalls, honking cars, constant hissing, and what i'm sure are likely extremely lewd expressions in colloquial Egyptian being tossed our way. I was warned to expect the harassment, I can take the verbal abuse.

What I have difficulty accepting, however, is the physical component of the problem. Two weeks ago this sequence of events happened:

The fact that we're foreigners has no bearing on the level of harassment we're receiving–our Egyptian and Arab dorm-mates are harassed at an equal level. Surveys conducted of Egyptian women indicate that veiled women experience only 10% less harassment than unveiled women. My Palestinian suitemate told me that it will get even worse once Ramadan ends.

By deciding to house us in a completely isolated area full of military compounds that is hostile to outsiders in general, AUC put their female students in a terrible situation where there is absolutely nothing we can do to stop men from touching us inappropriately. And that makes me angry.

Scene and heard published the following letter from a foreign exchange student at AUC

Dear S&H,

I am currently doing a semester abroad here at AUC at the new campus and am unfortunately really disappointed. My friends recommended the program after spending a summer studying Arabic at the downtown AUC campus and told me how amazing it was to be right smack dab in the middle of the city and cultural festivities. I had heard about the new campus but was told it wasn't "that far" from downtown and figured I had nothing to lose. I'm sure you can imagine my surprise when I arrived at the new campus and realized I was in the middle of a number of developing upscale communities surrounded by desert…not exactly the cultural experience I was looking for. I have to take a bus or Cairo Cab downtown to be able to experience the streets and true culture of Cairo. I wish I was able to walk down the streets near Tahrir square and eat koshari and falafel sandwiches between my gaps like my friends had told me about…and although Cilantro's not bad, that's not exactly what I flew thousands of miles to experience.

I recently read an article in the Daily News that really hit home and I thought that this was the best place to voice my opinion and maybe open a discussion forum. In the article, the reporter recommended: "For the sake of its foreign students, AUC’s Arabic Language Institute should seriously consider returning to the university’s old location in the heart of downtown Cairo."

YES PLEASE.

Will Ward wrote a post titled AUC: Food fight at the new campus

On my first day at the AUC new campus I waited in line over half an hour to buy a cardboardy bagel from one of the three chain food outlets that were up and running.

This was because the university had sold a concession to Delicious Inc, a company that operates chain franchises like Cinnabon, McDonalds, Cilantro, etc, to be the sole foodservice provider on campus.  A cup of coffee at one of these places runs 12-15 pounds, and a sandwich or salad would set you back at least 20.

For Ramadan this was not a huge deal because most people weren’t eating on campus anyway, but after Eid all hell broke loose.   With fasting over, no one was prepared to wait forever in a line to overpay for meh food.

After a few days, something fantastic happened.  Instead of complaining (my default response), a group of students set up small stands around campus and began selling snacks, apples and little packages of homemade pasta with roasted veggies.  These were cheaper and more delicious than Delicious Inc’s products, so naturally, the company tried to shut them down.

I am told that, after being closed initially, the students appealed the decision to the AUC president and were given permission to continue operating.  But then yesterday I noticed that Delicious had set up their own kiosk and had dispatched two Cilantro employees to hand out cookies to the passersby.

Getting warmer….but I’m not sold yet.  When they start delivering free double macchiatos to my office, then we’ll talk.  That may even earn them a coveted Friday in Cairo endorsement.

But in the end, even the student food is priced head and shoulders above the cheap filling lunch you can get for a few pounds at the downtown places.  The real scandal is that, with November almost here, there is no sign of fuul, tamiyya or koshary on the new campus as promised.

Meanwhile, I continue to spend a great deal of time at the old campus.  The wireless internet is still up and running, the cheaper, better coffee shop is still open, the bank is open with no lines.  There are trees, birds chirping, no desert rats, you get the picture.

Angry students got an apology from AUC's President

The head of The American University in Cairo apologized to attendees at a raucous and at times angry student forum today meant to address concerns about the new campus, which continued even as a blackout hit the university.

Flanked by two armed bodyguards, President David Arnold asked for the audience’s understanding and forgiveness for the problems the university has experienced this semester.

“I want to express my deep personal apology about the problems and suffering that we have encountered at the past two months,” he said.

The forum was hastily organized in response to a sit-in held by dozens of student protesters last week outside the administration building.

The group organizing the protest asked the school provide the details of its contract with food consortium Delicious Inc. and publicize all of its financial records, provide cheaper food alternatives, guarantee the campus is finished by spring, a reimbursement of four weeks of tuition, and a cap on tuition hikes.

During his address at the Motaz El Alfy Hall in the newly opened section of campus, Arnold acknowledged student frustration with the problems AUC has experienced in the move to Kattameya.

Arnold defended the move as the “right decision,” though he was immediately heckled for the comment.

He did not give a definitive answer about when the campus would be fully completed, but said he expected student housing would be ready for tenants at the end of the semester. An updated construction schedule is expected next week, AUC said in a statement.

To address student concerns about food on campus, the university has created a Food Services Committee, and will provide a summary of its agreement with Delicious Inc, the university said.

At the forum, Arnold announced that students would also receive a food coupon worth 200 LE.

He also agreed with the concerns that staff and students have raised about the bus service provided by Family Transport. Drivers for the Heliopolis-based firm have been in at least two accidents since the beginning of the semester.

“Bus service was not that good for the first two weeks of this semester, as many problems were taking place, such as the bus was sometimes full or it wasn’t on time,” Arnold said.

The bus services rebate will be worth 500 LE to each student, a third of the value of the bus pass.

But he said he was not entertaining a tuition refund of any kind. In its release, the university stated tuition covers 70 percent of education costs, the remainder covered by donations and AUC’s endowment funds.

“We have made a commitment towards offering higher education programs for you, so a reduction of tuition is unnecessary,” Arnold said.

In previous remarks to the Caravan, university officials said AUC has suffered a decline of almost $100 million in the market value of its securities investments, which were largely made with endowment funds.

On Facebook, several groups were created by students venting their frustration: Petition to return to the old campus, We hate the new campus, and Don't sell the old campus

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