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Former US ambassador Francis Ricciardone named new AUC president

Former United States Ambassador to Egypt Francis Ricciardone has been named the 13th president of the American University in Cairo (AUC), to start on July 1, the university’s administration declared in an official statement on Wednesday.

Ricciardone, who is currently the vice president and director of the US-based Atlantic Council’s Rafik al-Hariri Center for the Middle East, served as US ambassador to Egypt from 2005-2008, as well as US ambassador to Turkey, the Philippines and Palau, and charge d’affaires and deputy ambassador to Afghanistan.

Protocol stipulates that the president of AUC must be a US citizen. Ricciardone is a diplomat and administrator, as opposed to a practicing academic, as his predecessor Lisa Anderson was. 

“Frank’s diplomatic career gives him a deep and nuanced understanding of Egypt and the region — its history, its culture and its ambitions. He also knows the transformative impact that an American liberal arts education can have on people and societies around the world. AUC is Egypt’s global university, and Frank’s international perspective will strengthen the university’s role as a link between Egypt, the region and the world,” chair of AUC’s board of trustees Richard Bartlett said.

AUC launched an international campaign to identify potential candidates for the prestigious position in July 2015, establishing a 13-member presidential search committee comprised of 10 trustees and three AUC faculty representatives. Over 30,000 AUC community members, including students, alumni, faculty and staff, were asked to submit nominations for the post.

Ricciardone’s appointment comes at “an exciting time for AUC,” as the university braces for its 100th anniversary in 2019, Bartlett said. “The nature of learning and academic institutions is evolving, but education has never been as important as it is today,” he added. “In this environment, AUC is well positioned to enhance its role in the social, political and cultural life of Egypt and the region. Frank is well suited to lead us in this mission.”

Ricciardone also inherits an institution experiencing a number of complex challenges. His predecessor Anderson, who left office in December 2015, led the university through an increasing budget deficit, which prompted budget and program cuts, salary cuts, tuition fee hikes, staff layoffs, the sale of university property, cuts to workers’ benefits and the end of merit-based scholarships for undergraduate students. 

The university’s austerity measures provoked a protest movement led by students, faculty and workers, which resulted in a student-organized referendum in which 2,500 members of the AUC community voted to impeach Anderson’s administration.

Such economic challenges, coupled with a political climate in which students and staff have been arrested, sentenced and faced travel bans, pose a tough challenge for any incoming president. 

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