“My experience in the military struggle for about six years contributed to the development of my academic experience, as it taught me to delve deeper into reading events and to have a broader understanding of political movements of different ideological backgrounds and ways of interacting with reality,” said Ghabra. “It also contributed to developing a sense of asceticism in administrative or leadership positions, and a belief that the position of a professor suits my personal choices the most.”
In a phone call, Ahmad Jamil Azem, a professor of international relations at Birzeit University, said that Ghabra’s experience in armed struggle made him bold in his political and academic theses, but also modest, as “the combat experience made him belittle anything less than death.”
After obtaining a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Texas at Austin in 1987, Ghabra worked as a media officer at the Kuwaiti Embassy in Washington. Later on, he chose to work in academia and research over any other responsibilities. Thus, he returned to teach at Kuwait University.
Establishing the American University in Kuwait
In 2003, Ghabra was chosen to establish the American University of Kuwait. That was his first experience in building an academic institution from scratch, besides his academic duties.
The tasks assigned to him included supervising all details of the construction of the university, in addition to designing its academic programs for students and professors. All this had to be done in a year and a half.
“The university is like a biological organism; it is either ready to evolve or be inactive,” he said. “The factors that help such evolution include developing students’ critical writings, learning the skills of research and investigation, team working, and developing a culture of freedom on campus.”
Despite the academic cooperation agreements he concluded with Dartmouth College in humanities and arts programs and contracting American academics to teach, Ghabra was keen not to separate the university from its surrounding society, its teachings, traditions and social particularity.