Board of Trustees | The American University of Iraq Sulaimani

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Board of Trustees

Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, Vance Serchuk, and Sherri Kraham Talabany Join AUIS Board of Trustees

  The Board of Trustees of American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) today announced three new members: Sultan Sooud Al-Qassemi, Vance Serchuk, and Sherri Kraham Talabany.   Sultan Al-Qassemi is an accomplished entrepreneur and a philanthropist, facilitator and promoter of art and culture. He has spearheaded entrepreneurial, cultural and social initiatives throughout his multifaceted career. Al-Qassemi is the founder of the Barjeel Art Foundation and Managing Director and Partner at Al Saud Co.   Vance Serchuk is the Executive Director of the KKR Global Institute, responsible for geopolitical analysis at the international investment firm KKR. He also serves as an adjunct senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington, DC, and as an officer in the United States Navy Reserve. Prior to joining KKR, Serchuk served as the foreign policy advisor to Senator Joseph Lieberman (I-CT).    Sherri Kraham Talabany is an American human rights lawyer and international development and foreign policy professional with over twenty years experience working in international affairs. She is an advocate and frequent public speaker for the rights of the most vulnerable and underserved including women, children, refugees, and survivors of violence, trafficking, and persecution. Talabany is President and Executive Director of the Kurdistan-based NGO, SEED Foundation.   “The AUIS Board of Trustees is delighted to welcome these three prominent and distinguished individuals into our family of trustees” said Board Chair Dr. Jill Derby. “The Board's capacity to advance the University, which we hold in trust, is enhanced by the addition of these knowledgeable and respected individuals.”   ###   American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) is the first non-governmental, not-for-profit, American-style university in Iraq. Founded in 2007 and operated for the public benefit, it is also the first non-governmental university in the Iraqi Kurdistan Region to be accredited by both the federal Government of Iraq and the Kurdistan Regional Government. It is the only certified member in Iraq of the Association of American International Colleges and Universities (AAICU). The University welcomes students from diverse communities throughout Iraq and the Kurdistan Region.   

AUIS Board of Trustees Elects New Chair

November 6, 2016 - Sulaimani (KRG), Iraq - The Board of Trustees of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) elected Dr. Jill Derby as the new Chair at the annual Board meeting on November 1, 2016 in Washington D.C. The Board held the election as the former Chair,  Dr. Barham Salih, stepped down from the position after completing his term according to the bylaws of the University. He had held the position since the founding of the University in 2007. “Founded just ten years ago, AUIS is a remarkable success story of diversity, openness and education at its best. In an article for the New York Times, Thomas Friedman once called AUIS Iraq’s best hope, “an American university that is teaching the values of inclusiveness.” We owe this remarkable success to the visionary leadership and dedication of our founder Dr. Barham Salih. I will strive to carry forward his commitment to excellence which AUIS embodies, and his devotion to the students the University serves,” said Dr. Derby, who has been a member of the AUIS Board of Trustees since September 2012 and was previously serving as the Vice Chair. Congratulating Dr. Derby on her new appointment, AUIS President Bruce Walker Ferguson said, “Dr. Barham’s contributions to the University, as founder and as a visionary force, have been crucial to the introduction of modern liberal arts education to the region.  Dr. Jill’s long experience in American higher education will help AUIS attain the next level of high-quality, affordable undergraduate education.  I look forward to continuing to work with both of these remarkable trustees and commend their commitment and dedication to the students and faculty of AUIS.” During the meeting, the Board expressed its appreciation and gratitude to Dr. Barham Salih in a resolution: “The Board of Trustees, on behalf of the students, staff, faculty, alumni, and other members of the community at The American University of Iraq, Sulaimani, conveys to Dr. Barham Salih its deepest respect and gratitude for the inspiration, visionary leadership and tireless effort he has provided for more than a decade as our founder and Chair.” The Board also elected Dr. Bakhteyar Shamsadeen as the new Vice Chair, re-elected Azzam Alwash as the new Secretary, and elected Mr. Mohammed Ali as Treasurer. In another resolution, the Board acknowledged its gratitude and respect for the “troops in the Kurdistan’s peshmerga, Iraqi military and security forces, the U.S. armed forces, and other coalition military and security units fighting to defend a peaceful and just society in the Kurdistan region and across Iraq.” For more information about the AUIS Board of Trustees, please visit Jill Derby is a governance consultant with the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges (AGB), where she has worked for more than ten years to enhance governance effectiveness and performance among American and Canadian higher education boards. She served on two Nevada college faculties before transitioning to a policy role on the Nevada Board of Regents. She was appointed to the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity by the U.S. Senate in 2011. She received her PhD from the University of California, Davis with a concentration on the Arab Middle East. Read full profile. About the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani Established in 2007 as a not-for-profit institution, AUIS is dedicated to providing a comprehensive liberal arts education for the benefit of young men and women from Iraq, Iraqi Kurdistan, and the wider region. The University seeks to produce graduates of responsible character with the necessary knowledge and skills for professional and national leadership. The academic program, taught in the English language by international faculty, is designed to develop strength in critical thinking, the ability to communicate well, a strong work ethic, good citizenship and personal integrity. As a non-profit institution for the public good, the University and its assets are not owned by any individual or group of individuals. The growing student body at AUIS represents the region’s diverse ethnic and religious landscape as the University continues to be the destination of choice of more than 1,600 students. Reflecting Sulaimani’s location at an international crossroads, Kurds, Arabs, Turkmen, Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, Ezidis and Christians, live and study together in an open culture fostering diversity and tolerance. Academic freedom is a principle guaranteed in teaching, learning, and research in a manner identical to that found at regionally accredited colleges and universities in the United States. As a non-profit institution for the public good, the University and its assets are not owned by any individual or group of individuals. Follow AUIS on Twitter @auis_news and Facebook @auisofficial for latest information and news. For media enquiries or interview requests, please contact Mehr Zahra, director of communications, at [email protected] or 964(0)772-3399-305.

The Other Front Line: Iraqi Schools Need Our Help

"The American University of Iraq in Sulaimani (AUIS) is a bold effort to train the next generation of leaders and thinkers," Member of the AUIS Board of Trustees, John Paul Schnapper-Casteras, on the challenges of rebuilding the shattered education system in Iraq, and how universities like AUIS can play a major role in fostering good governance and stability in the future. Read the full article. 

After ISIS: Politics, Deal-Making, and the Struggle for Iraq’s Future

On July 21, 2016, the Middle East Program of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington DC  and the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) organized a panel discussion on the political and social challenges for Iraq after the defeat of the so called Islamic State (ISIS). The dynamics of the intra-Kurdish politics and Baghdad-KRG relations, challenges of governance and rehabilitation in liberated areas, poor state of the oil economy, as well as the possibilities of new political deals and power sharing were discussed at the event. The speakers on the panel included AUIS faculty and board members.  What about Mosul? Mina al Oraibi, member of the AUIS Board of Trustees and senior fellow at the Institute of State Effectiveness, discussed the humanitarian angle of the conflict, beyond counter-terrorism considerations. Oraibi, originally from Mosul herself, stressed the strategic importance of the city for Iraq, ISIS, the U.S., as well as the neighboring region. She argued that finding solutions to the political crisis will be key to ensuring lasting military success and a peaceful future of the city and its inhabitants. Highlighting the importance of strengthening state-civil society relations and citizenship, she claimed: “It is not only the Yezidis, Turkmen, Christians as minorities who are underrepresented; the Iraqi government has been failing to represent and support all of its citizens.” Oraibi also talked about the tribal links between Kurds and Arabs within the province. Building trust and reorganizing communities, Oraibi argued, is the most important factor for the long term success of the Mosul liberation operation. The other strategic dynamic is the relationship between the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) and Baghdad, and the composition and co-ordination of the military forces to retake Mosul. Regional dynamics also play into strategic planning for the Mosul operations, Oraibi stated, referring to Syria, Turkey, and Iran. Most directly, the unravelling of the war against ISIS within Iraq heavily impacts the crisis in Syria. Turkey also has historical ties to Mosul, and President Erdogan has expressed his government’s will to play a role in the liberation operation, perhaps to deflect from Turkey’s own internal problems. There is also the Iranian component, whereby some active and effective militias within Iraq are supported and guided by Tehran. Oraibi stressed the importance of reconstruction and humanitarian support following the liberation of Mosul for returning communities, “In the first hundred days there should be immediate support for the stabilization and the long-term recovery of the city. Ensuring security, creating jobs, and rebuilding trust between communities will be essential post-ISIS.”   Identity Conflicts and Narratives AUIS Professor Akeel Abbas, speaking next, presented a new narrative for the conflict. “It was a dramatic moment for the Shi’a political elite in Iraq when Mosul fell under ISIS control: an exclusively Shi’a-led Iraq would collapse.” Abbas argued that a compromise could arise out of the acknowledgement by political elite that the pre-ISIS model is no longer possible for Iraq. He also however warned that, when it comes to the actual details of the new political arrangement, “nothing concrete is currently being seriously discussed.” Abbas also shed light on the ethno-sectarian divisions within Iraq. He brought a new perspective to the discussion, saying, “the primary conflict that has organized Iraq’s political and cultural life throughout history is the urban-rural divide. It has not been the Sunni versus Shi’a divide.” This Iraqi Sunni-Shi’a dichotomy currently prevailing in discourse and analysis is in fact, according to him, a constructed concept that started to surface in the late 1950s in Islamist parties’ political literature. Following the fall of Saddam Hussein, during the aftermath of sanction years that saw the rise of religious rhetoric in mainstream politics, two forms of identities in Iraq emerged: the Iraqi identity, and the religious identity. Abbas argued, “when the debate is removed from the Sunni-Shia narrative setting, and framed in terms of state-citizen relations, one finds a different kind of dynamic; there is a lot more understanding and sympathy among Iraqis than public discourse would lead to think.” Kurdistan and post-ISIS Iraq AUIS Professor Bilal Wahab mainly focused on the role of the Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) and the dynamics of Kurdish politics in the conflict. He shed light on the economic aspect of the conflict, which he argued does not get enough attention. “Post-ISIS stability and reconciliation requires economic reforms: reducing the grip of the government on the economy, justice in oil revenue sharing schemes, and the translation of oil wealth into sustainable economic development.” The KRG followed the Gulf countries model of heavy public sector employment supported by oil revenue, argued Wahab, which seriously hindered private sector growth. “It is difficult for the private sector to hire locals. The majority of the companies hire international and imported labor because there is a higher incentive for the locals to work for the government.”  He estimates that about 75 percent of KRI labor is employed by the government, and a large portion of the budget goes into paying for those salaries. Wahab also expanded on the central role of oil revenue in the KRG’s economic development strategy. The KRG has been producing more than half a million barrels per day, and this production is expected to increase in the future. A memorandum of understanding has recently been signed between the KRG and the Iranian government for the construction of a second pipeline, through which crude oil will be flowing eastward to feed Iranian refineries. Wahab concluded his discussion with comments on alleged land grabs by Kurdish forces (Peshmerga) following the liberation of some areas from ISIS, adjacent to the KRI. The Kurds currently have de facto control over Kirkuk and its oil fields, but the city’s de jure status has yet to be determined. These situations lead to more instability and tension, which at times result in violence, among the different factions present on the ground. The big question is: how will the different political groups negotiate and settle the question of “disputed areas,” once ISIS is defeated? Localized Conflict and Iraq’s Disputed Areas IRIS Director Christine van den Toorn discussed some of the local dynamics and drivers of conflict in areas liberated from ISIS, highlighting the importance of political deal-making at the grassroots level. Social cohesion and community reconciliation will be crucial, as the work of organizations such as USIP and UNDP has recently shown, for communities to return to the liberated areas. Most importantly, she emphasized the ways through which intra-community dynamics can drive “local conflict” and impact prospects for reconciliation. She mentioned the intra-Kurdish power struggles in the disputed areas of Diyala, Sinjar, and Tuz Khurmatu, that has led to constant challenging of local authorities, in a manner that is counter-productive to stabilization. Similar patterns can also be observed among Shi’a militias, who have different allegiances and try to assert themselves as legitimate governing powers where they control territory. Van den Toorn also touched upon inter-tribal dynamics within the broader Sunni community in Iraq. Who should return, and who should authorize that return? Such contentious questions have created serious local tensions in Salahaddin, Anbar, and Diyala, for example. Finally, addressing the case of Sinjar, she discussed the danger of a security and political vacuum, which has in this instance been filled by local forces that challenge the state authority.  Foreign forces, she claimed, also fuel local conflicts in critical ways, and that is tangible in Sinjar, where both the PKK and Iran are exerting influence. Foreign actors pushing for a particular political agenda can complicate deal-making on ground between local communities. She concluded by arguing that political compromise, to be achieved through dialogue at the local level, is the best way to avoid the resurgence of violence in post-ISIS areas. Given the multitude of security actors and political groups active in the country, bottom-up, grassroot-supported agreements including cooperative efforts for stabilization and reconstruction seem to be the most effective tools in the short run. The panel was moderated by Henri Barkey, member of the AUIS Board of Trustees and director of the Wilson Center's Middle East Program.  Speakers: Akeel Abbas Professor, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani Mina al Oraibi Senior Fellow, Institute of State Effectiveness Member, AUIS Board of Trustees   Christine van den Toorn Director, Institute of Regional and International Studies American University of Iraq, Sulaimani   Bilal Wahab Professor, International Studies, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani Director, Center for Development and Natural Resources Moderator   Henri J. Barkey Director, Middle East Program, Wilson Center Member, AUIS Board of Trustees View event on Wilson Center's website.  

AUIS Panel Discussion on Future of Iraq at Wilson Center

After ISIS: Politics, Deal-Making, and the Struggle for Iraq’s Future As the Islamic State (ISIS) is rolled back and defeated in Iraq and Syria, the fight for Iraq’s political future will begin. On both a local and national level, a new political deal between the country’s parties and communities will be necessary to keep the country together. Liberated territories will need to be secured by forces acceptable to locals, populations will need to return, and towns must be rebuilt. In addition, intra-Kurdish politics and Baghdad-Erbil relations will need a new framework—whether the Kurds decide to stay or go. Underlying these dynamics is the poor state of the post-oil price decline economy of the Kurdish region. Read full discussion here.  Speakers: Akeel Abbas Professor, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani Mina al Oraibi Senior Fellow, Institute of State Effectiveness Member, AUIS Board of Trustees   Christine van den Toorn Director, Institute of Regional and International Studies American University of Iraq, Sulaimani Bilal Wahab Professor, International Studies, American University of Iraq, Sulaimani Director, Center for Development and Natural Resources   Moderator Henri J. Barkey Director, Middle East Program, Wilson Center Member, AUIS Board of Trustees View event on Wilson Center's website. 

Board of Trustees Thanks Donors and Elects New Members at Recent Meeting

Sulaimani, Iraq – March 14, 2013 – For two days last week the Board of Trustees of the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani (AUIS) met at its campus to discuss the current state of the University and to set the vision for its future.  The AUIS Board of Trustees establishes policies for, and oversees, the University and its management and operations.  It is comprised of prominent Iraqi and American leaders from across government, business, non-profit, and education sectors. The board expressed its appreciation to the donors and to the Kurdistan Regional Government's generous support since AUIS's inception. The board also appreciates the commitment and dedication of its faculty and staff. Highlights from the Board’s committees include: Presidential Search Committee The Committee has retained the services of a consultant from an international firm, AGB Search, to assist with the process of finding a new President.  Committee Chair Jill Derby reported that the search has adhered to the highest standards of regional accreditation agencies in the United States. From a pool of 56 applicants the committee interviewed four semi-finalist candidates in Sulaimani and will interview four more semi-finalists in Washington, DC by the end of the month.  Two or three finalists will be on campus in April for interviews with the board, faculty, staff, students, and alumni. Governance Committee The Committee nominated two new members to the Board of Trustees.  Mr. Shwan Taha, CEO of Rabee Securities, and Dr. Salahaldinn Saeed Ali, President of Sulaimani University, were both unanimously elected to three year terms.  The Committee also put forth a resolution to formally acknowledge and thank the original members of the University’s board for their groundbreaking service.  Finally, it asked the administration to consider a rotating schedule for board meetings which would enable members to attend commencement or the annual Sulaimani Forum. Finance Committee Major items of discussion from this Committee included appreciation for the KRG’s commitment to provide support to the University’s operating budget and the steps necessary to create and build a robust endowment. Audit Committee The Committee reviewed the audit report from the international accounting firm Ernst & Young and approved a three-year agreement with the firm.  The auditors’ report reinforced clean audits from Kurdistan-based accounting firms. Land and Buildings Committee In light of unprecedented growth in the student body, the Committee considered the addition of a new academic building consistent with the University’s master plan.  It also asked the administration to consider additional ways to use the University’s land in ways that would benefit the community. Academic and Student Affairs Committee The Committee focused on how to promote diversity within the student body and emphasized its commitment to merit-based admissions criteria.  It also recommended that the administration bring forward a proposal for a new degree program in the Department of Mathematics and Natural Science. Advancement and External Relations Committee The Committee discussed opportunities for the University to express its deep gratitude to its myriad donors and how to continue to attract new supporters, especially for key initiatives like the Iraq Legal Education Initiative, the Center for Expertise in Teaching and Learning, and the Institute of Regional and International Studies.  The committee also considered ways for the University to extend its reach throughout other parts of Kurdistan, Iraq, and the Middle East. For more information on the members of the board of trustees please visit: A complete list of the University’s donors is located here: About the American University of Iraq, Sulaimani  Founded in 2006, AUIS is Iraq’s only non-profit institution for public benefit.  The mission of the university is to provide advanced academic programs at international standards of quality in higher education for the professions and general education.  Academic programs, taught in the English language by international faculty members, are designed to meet or exceed accreditation standards set by regional accreditation organizations in the United States.  It is the objective of the University to produce graduates of responsible character with the necessary knowledge and skills for professional and national leadership.  Students are prepared for successful careers in a modern, democratic, pluralistic society and in a global environment.  The educational program of the university is designed to develop strength in critical thinking, the ability to communicate well, a strong work ethic, good citizenship and personal integrity.  Broad-based education, rooted in the American liberal arts tradition, as well as skill development is achieved at the University through teaching excellence, quality scholarship, and caring student services. The core values of the university are freedom and responsibility, democracy, free expression and inquiry, equal opportunity, individual rights, tolerance, and honorable personal and professional behavior.  These values apply equally to all members of the university community, including students, faculty and staff members, administrators, persons invited to participate at the university, and members of the board of trustees and advisory bodies.  The university is, by design, an institution that is non-governmental, non-partisan, nonsectarian, independent, not-for-profit, and guided by the highest ethical standards.  It is committed to integrity and the rule of law in all of its dealings with public officials and private interests.  Academic freedom is a principle guaranteed in teaching, learning, and research in a manner identical to that found at regionally accredited colleges and universities in the United States. The university does not discriminate on the basis of gender, age, race, ethnicity, religion, occupation, politics, economic standing, or any other common human demographic factor in its admission of students or administration of the University or its policies.
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