The newly opened American University of Iraq–Baghdad, the country’s first American-style, liberal arts-focused institution of higher education outside the Kurdish region, aspires to train the next generation of Iraqi leaders.
Established by leaders of business, industry and government in Iraq and the United States, the private, nonprofit university opened in February.
The university’s president, Michael Mulnix, has more than 35 years of experience in higher-education leadership, 10 of them at institutions in the Gulf countries, and he was founding president of the American University of Kurdistan, in Duhok.
“We will fill the education gaps in many ways, mainly by offering an American model of education focusing on the liberal arts,” Mulnix said in an interview.
“This model is new to most Iraqis, as they used to directly start their majors,” he added. At the American University of Iraq–Baghdad, “they will spend two years studying psychology, sociology, philosophy, world history and other topics before starting their major.”
A ‘Brand’ Education
Of the 14 colleges planned, three have begun offering courses. They are the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Business and the College of International Studies. Five more, including Colleges of Health Sciences and Law, are planned for the fall.
“Most of our students are taking English classes at our English Language Academy,” Mulnix said.
The Arts and Sciences college was among the easiest to open because its biology, chemistry, and physics laboratories were already established, he said.
“We are doing our best to offer brand education and liberal arts in Iraq,” he said.
The new university is the latest in a series of American-style educational ventures in the country. Baghdad College, an elite high school for boys, was set up by Jesuit priests in 1932. Twenty years later, the Jesuits established Al-Hikmah University in Baghdad, but in 1969 the Ba’athist government nationalized all private schools.
After the American-led invasion in 2003, two “American” universities were founded in Iraqi Kurdistan, one in Sulaymaniyah. in 2007, the other in Duhok in 2014. (See a related article, “Gender Studies Center in Iraqi Kurdistan Challenges Traditional Ideas.”)
Looking to Civilization’s Roots
David Putnam, an associate professor of history at the American University of Iraq–Baghdad, said his courses would show how the ancient civilization in Iraq contributed to European and American culture.