AU Sharjah to be accredited

Tucked away in AU's New Mexico office building is the Sharjah Liaison Office, which was designed to offer "administrative support and educational consultation services" for the American-modeled institution American University of Sharjah, in the Middle East.

Sharjah, located on the outskirts of the Arabian Gulf, is the thirdlargest of the seven federations that make up the United Arab Emirates. Within the 32 years that Sharjah has been free of British rule, His Highness Sheikh Dr. Sultan bin Mohammed Al Qassimi has transformed this once-remote village into the cultural capital of the Arab world, as designated by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization in 1998.

In 1997, Qassimi founded the nonprofit, coeducational institution AUS after signing a contract with AU President Benjamin Ladner to provide consultation and senior leadership.

Qassimi, a scholar with two Ph.D.s and an expert on Arab history and current affairs, is a member of the Supreme Council, the ruler of Sharjah, the president of AUS and chairman of the Board of Trustees. He has also written a book, "The Myth of Arab Piracy in the Gulf," and is adamant that science and education should be highly emphasized for the advancement of society.

"AUS [has] autonomy and [the] freedom needed to flourish as an independent university," according to the AUS Web site.

Currently, degree programs offered at AUS include 21 major fields in four academic divisions: College of Arts and Sciences, School of Architecture and

Design, School of Business and Management and the School of Engineering. The student body is composed of both men and women from all over the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Europe and North America, according to the AUS Web site.

Dr. Roderick French, director of the AUS Washington office, said that Qassimi "wanted to create a university for his federation that is modeled after an American university." As a result AUS has "an American curriculum, is co-educational, and meets the American standards" for a well-equipped university.

According to French, the AUS Washington office was created to be a liaison between AU and AUS.

The AUS Washington office is instrumental in recruiting North American-trained faculty for AUS.

"We advertise in the same magazines and Web sites for faculty as AU and those that are interested apply," French said. "The key thing is to have a faculty trained in North America."

According to French, there are 250 full-time faculty members at AUS, and 85 percent have doctorates from U.S. and Canadian universities

However, he said that he had never seen an AU faculty member apply for a permanent position at AUS.

Graduate student Mike Hedge, an assistant to French, is concerned that AU students lack common knowledge about AUS.

"A lot of students don't realize that AU is affiliated with AUS," Hedge said. "There would be more interest if people knew about it ... but the common idea of most students is that AUS doesn't exist."

By the end of the year, AUS is expected to be a fully credited university by the Commission on Higher Education of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools.

"It went from zero to probably accredited because Sheikh has a vision and a passion," French said.

"AUS attracts students from 60 nationalities, offers over 20 undergraduate degrees in standard American fields, and 45 percent of the students are female, which is remarkable for that area," French said.

Natalie Hand, one of two AU students currently enrolled at AUS, offered an insider's view.

"It has astounding programs for visual communications, architecture and design and engineering," Hand said. "The facilities are amazing ... most of the students here would find the American college experience really roughing it."

Hand joined the volleyball team at AUS and accompanied it on its inaugural mixed-sex trip to compete in a tournament in Egypt, which "was a load of fun," she said.

The only frustrating things at AUS, Hand said, are that "there are curfews imposed on all students ... and guys can't interact with girls in the athletic facilities."

Hand stressed that "these rules are not a reflection of society," but rather a safeguard to prevent "criticisms" since AUS is located in a strict Islamic area.

Of the affiliation between AU and AUS, French said, "One of the goals of Ladner is the globalization of AU, and this is one of the conspicuous ways that AU is working toward becoming a university that has a global impact."

On the AUS Web site, Ladner has said that the partnership between the two institutions "brings tremendous opportunities for the two institutions."

"In the current era of globalization of economies, politics and cultures, students from American University and from the American University of Sharjah will benefit from the many possibilities of exchange and exploration afforded by this joint enterprise," Ladner said on the Web site. "The faculties of both institutions will similarly be able to take advantage of the rich potential for joint research and study in two of the world's most vibrant regions."

Students interested in obtaining more information about AUS can visit or contact the AU Abroad office.

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