What a great idea. Wouldn’t that gargantuan US embassy in Iraq make a great university?
These excerpts are most of the article, but not the whole thing. The author is Adil E. Shamoo, a professor at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Here’s a bold proposal for President-elect Barack Obama: Issue an order to convert the controversial U.S. Embassy in Baghdad into a university for the Iraqi people. This powerful message from our new leader would convey to the Iraqi people a new direction for U.S. policy.
The sprawling embassy reminds Iraqis of their occupation by an alien nation. It reminds them of the power and wealth of the United States while they live in squalid conditions, in part as a result of this occupation.
Even after U.S. troops leave Iraq, the embassy, in its current form, could remain a source of indignity to the Iraqi people. It could easily become the focus for all those who hate America for any reason and remain a target of violence.
Transforming it into a university, however, would be a striking symbol of American good will toward Iraq.
The embassy’s outsized dimensions make it ideal for a university campus in a downtown urban area. It’s located in the heart of Baghdad on the banks of the Tigris River, among Saddam Hussein’s former palaces. The embassy complex sits on 104 acres with 27 buildings and facilities, costing more than $700 million. It can house about 5,000 staff. The Romanesque structure and fortress-like compound constitute the largest U.S. Embassy in the world. It’s more like a small town than a diplomatic outpost. It’s self-contained with water, electricity, power, a food court, a swimming pool, a gym and other forms of recreation – amenities well suited to school the next generation of Iraqis.
The university could draw hundreds of faculty volunteers from the United States and Europe, including many of the thousands of expatriate Iraqi professors now residing in those countries, as well as Iraqi professors.
This transformation would signal a drastic change. More important, this new university would annually train thousands of Iraqis in all disciplines essential to rebuilding the Iraqi infrastructure.
The university could be modeled after the outstanding American universities in Beirut and Cairo, as well as the one under construction in Iraq’s Kurdish region. It could be called the American University in Iraq.
These universities are primarily grant-funded and the recipients of donations from individuals. They’re accredited in similar fashion to American universities. This accreditation would give the graduates access to further education anywhere in the world. This advantage would make the university very attractive to Iraqi students. The payment for the building cost could be negotiated between the U.S. and Iraq, and the Iraqi government could shoulder some of the operating costs. The U.S. could then build a far smaller Embassy that would be more appropriate for a country Iraq’s size. And the Iraqi government, as in any other country, would take responsibility for protecting it.