The American University in Cairo was founded in 1919 by some American evangelical missionaries and was added to a long string of other foreign-based universities (American Universities of Beirut, Paris, and Rome all exist – there are probably more too…I don’t have Google right now). They eventually dropped the religious aspect of their educational goals and became plain ol’ American universities abroad.
The founders of AUC leased/purchased an old Ottoman palace right in downtown Cairo, off of Midan Tahrir (across from the Egyptian Museum), intending to establish a temporary campus until they could set up a permanent base elsewhere in the city. That was in 1919. It’s 2008. Not very temporary...
In the meantime AUC bought several other buildings in the area. The old AUC campus is spread across the neighborhood in three general sections: the main campus, the Greek campus, and the Falaki campus. To get to the library from the administrative building you have to walk 3ish blocks. Some offices are even in totally separate buildings; the Arabic Language Institute offices are above a Cilantro café across from the main campus.
From what I’ve seen in my past week of orientation and general errand running on the old campus, AUC outgrew its facilities like 20 years ago. A normal, single person sized office has 6-7 offices crammed inside. The student visa office is an addition on the roof of the administrative building; the only way to get there is to go up a fire escape stairwell. Also up on the roof, across from the big A/C spinny thingies, is the department of international purchasing, faculty housing, and risk management (ironic that they’re only accessible via fire escape).
So, 89 years after AUC was started, the founders’ dream can finally be realized. For the past ten years AUC has been building a brand new $400 million campus on a huge 260 acre piece of land in a suburb of Cairo named Qatamiyya, nicknamed New Cairo. Well, it’s kind of a suburb. It takes 30 minutes to drive there from Maadi and there is absolutely nothing out there. It’s really truly in the middle of the desert. They don’t even get cell phone coverage out there in New Cairo (and our cell phones had full bars at Petra!)
According to a speech given to the faculty by the AUC president in June, the new campus was 99% complete and would be completely ready for school to start in September. At orientation last week the president again said that the new campus was 99% complete. Neat how the percentage hadn’t changed in 3 months...
Orientation was originally scheduled to be held entirely at the new campus but they changed their minds at the last minute and moved everything to the old campus. All department and faculty offices are currently stuck in transition to the new campus. This made orientation very exciting. I couldn’t really get anything done because all the offices I needed to see didn’t really exist; they weren’t at the old campus anymore and they weren’t at the new campus yet. They were stuck in the realm of office limbo.
Since New Cairo is so far out there, AUC has set up a complicated bus system with perfectly timed private bus routes scattered through the main neighborhoods of Cairo. In order to ride the busses you have to sign up for a bus pass and choose your route and scheduled time. Everything is set up on a nicely designed website and in theory the entire bus system should work flawlessly. However, this is still the Middle East; they don’t believe in schedules here. At all. Even better, though, is the fact that in order to get the physical bus pass I have to visit an office. Guess where that office is? In office limbo! Yep. Once the office is set up on the new campus I somehow have to take a bus out there to get my bus pass.
Classes start on Sunday at the new campus. My Arabic class starts at 8 AM. I have to take the first bus to run from Maadi to Qatamiyya in the history of AUC. I don’t even know where exactly to get on the bus. This will be awesome!