By Nader Ramadan
American University in Cairo’s President David Arnold told a packed auditorium on Monday that its construction contractors were to blame for the delays in finishing the new $400 million campus, and promised a number of improvements over the next three weeks.
Arnold sought to explain to dozens of faculty members at a forum inside the Moustafa Core Academic Center why the move to the New Cairo campus was made, though some of its facilities are neither equipped nor ready for use.
Campus construction was 98 percent complete by April, he said, and the decision to move was based on projections that work would be completed by July.
“Clearly, something changed,” Arnold said. “The productivity of contractors on site went into a steep and precipitous decline.”
The campus is still only 99 percent complete, he said, as work continues by the contractor, a joint venture between construction giant Samsung and Samcrete, a local firm. The contract between the companies and the school is valued at LE 850 million.
Arnold also acknowledged the university’s administration considered a proposal to delay classes by three weeks. “We really debated about that,” he said.
Provost Lisa Anderson told the audience the administration is considering letting the end of the semester become possibly more flexible for faculty who feel they have not yet been able to teach their students properly.
The president agreed that much work was still needed in the buildings housing the School of Sciences and Engineering (SSE) and the School of Business, Economics and Communication (BEC). The athletic complex will not be finished until December, he added.
Arnold said by next week, the goal is to have all faculty offices clean and functioning, ensure campus washrooms are cleaned and maintained, umbrellas placed around campus and a shelter at the bus stop, wireless installed at locations around campus, and regular security foot patrols.
By October, he said, all classrooms will have functioning air conditioning and be fully wired for technology, door locks replaced and all ID locks working, curtains up where needed, and extra prayer facilities in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences building and the SSE building will be added.
“We’re in crisis management mode currently,” Arnold said, standing at the podium with a white construction helmet at his side. “Think about the kind of institution we’re trying to build.”
Some faculty members in the forum, though, stood up to complain about the difficulties they faced with limited facilities. The audience applauded complaints about parking and the safety of roadways outside the university, and concerns about security on campus.
Jehan Allam, director of the Arabic Language Intensive Program, described her dismay at the unclean and disorderly state of many classrooms and offices.
“I cannot appreciate the dirtiness of the rooms,” Allam said. “The first time I saw someone cleaning my room was this morning.”
Reaction to Arnold’s address among faculty attending the forum was guarded. Many said they did not want to openly discuss their concerns with the new campus, fearing for their jobs.
Anderson said that notion needed to be dispelled.
“Saying that it’s frustrating to teach in a classroom that isn’t ready isn’t going to cost anyone their jobs,” Anderson said. “It’s obvious to us. It is frustrating.”