$300 million just doesn’t buy what it used to

12 Sep

School started this past Sunday on the new AUC campus. The beginning of a new school year is always a bit frantic and confusing — even more so in Egypt — but this year had the particular twist of having the entire university move to a new campus on the edge of civilization (using the term loosely) 30 kilometers out in the desert. The added bonus is that the campus isn’t finished.

AUC has been working on this new campus for several years now. When I was hired in March 2007, it was “almost done.” When I got to Egypt last fall, it was “over 95% done.” When I left Egypt at the end of the school year in May, it was “99% done.” I’m not real good with the metric system, so maybe percentages mean something different over here. Because when I showed up to my office last week, there was no internet, no electricity, no phone, and no air conditioning (a minor detail on the edge of the Sahara in early September). To be fair, all of these things (except the phone) have been rectified (although the A/C is a little moody), meaning that I have it considerably better than most of the rest of the campus.

A few highlights:
– Approximately a third of the campus, including the sports facilities and student housing, is still a major construction site.

– Faculty members in the schools of business, economics, science, and engineering can’t get into their offices, which don’t have furniture let alone anything else. All the lab equipment for the science classes is still boxed up, and some of it is reportedly in a mysterious “storage facility” that nobody quite knows the location of. So science students are having to do their work without labs. And the classrooms aren’t even equipped yet for PowerPoint or slide projectors. So maybe the professors are pantomiming what chemical reactions and dissected fruit flies look like?

– Every department is supposed to have two bathrooms (one men’s, one women’s), plus a kitchenette. When we arrived in the history department, we discovered three bathrooms. Maybe we can put a mini-fridge and microwave in the third bathroom. Or maybe someone in the department has issues I don’t want to know about.

– When the administrative assistant for American Studies went to the office on the new campus for the first time, he discovered about two inches of standing water on the floor (soaking through all the cardboard boxes) and a hole where an exterior window was supposed to be. Nothing like the combination of sand dunes and malarial water in your office.

– None of the classrooms were going to be fully ready for the start of the semester, some not even having desks or chairs. Maybe the university is trying to go local and get us to sit on the floor Bedouin-style. In fact, in the days prior to the first day of class, all faculty got an e-mail from the provost saying that if we don’t have chairs, we should just find a place outside (in the nice balmy Cairo summer sunshine) to meet. Oh, and by the way, she recommended, don’t teach anything substantial the first week, since things will be a little hectic. Don’t cancel classes — but don’t teach anything either. As if AUC students needed another reason not to take school seriously.

And the list could go on.

To illustrate, I have prepared an amateur photographic essay below, so that you can get a taste of the glories of the new campus. Actually, I absolutely love the architecture and general design and layout of the campus, and in a couple of months when they actually do finish it, it will be a fantastic and beautiful place to work and teach, a real credit to the university and a great addition to the city (although it is only in the loosest sense “in” Cairo).

We’ll take a little stroll on campus, going from the good to the bad to the absurd.


The library. Along with the administration building, the only place that is pretty much finished. I think the whole construction fiasco was a conspiracy by those shifty librarians (you can’t trust them) to take over campus while they’re the only ones with A/C and internet.


The main portal to campus. You can see how they’ve used arches and stone in the style of local Islamic architecture. Really nice stuff.


The main boulevard heading from the portal to the heart of campus.


The view from my office window of a nice courtyard and the administration — not the golden dome, but it will do.


The main entrance to the Humanities and Social Sciences building, where I have my office. I really like all the free-standing stone arches they used throughout the campus.

So the building exteriors are really nice, but some of the details haven’t quite been worked out.


Here’s a staircase. And there’s a pile of debris. It’s good exercise trying to jump over all the construction materials.

And this next little series I call “Signs of AUC”:


$300 million bucks later, and this is how we have to find our way around campus.


Lots of people have said that history is a dead-end career, but I never knew it was so literal. Yes, the arrow is pointing to…the wall.


And last but not least, when they have bothered to put up real signs, you can see how helpful they are. Either the people who created the sign don’t really understand the concept of what a directional sign is supposed to accomplish, or it’s a cruel trick played on the rest of us by those philosophy guys who are trying to get inside our heads and mess with our minds. A symbol of man’s existential dilemma, perhaps. Or maybe it’s just Cairo.

Hope you’ve enjoyed your little tour. I know I enjoy my daily adventure.

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7 Responses to “$300 million just doesn’t buy what it used to”

  1. Dre September 13, 2008 at 5:40 am #

    Shame on you. You were paid a month’s extra salary in hush money to keep your mouth shut. Or should this fall under the “Constructive Criticism” category?

  2. Renee Chambers September 13, 2008 at 6:30 am #

    Kafka. So absurd that it’s really quite funny.

    I have to admit to much chuckling and snorting over this, but I feel quite bad for you that this is the truth of things. Nothing like moving in before the workers leave.

    The Chambers are considering (it’s about 92% decided) an option to spend about 18 months in French Polynesia/Tahiti so that Eric can do cutting edge Gates Foundation kind of research; i.e. poke around in crab holes for mosquitos and try to get rid of them in some kind of svelte scientific way. So we say to ourselves two things, “Hey, look the Masons are managing to do this kind of thing–live abroad with small children” and “Well, so maybe we’ll be on a little dot of land in the Pacific surrounded by a LOT of the Pacific, but at least it’s not the middle of the desert…”

    Thanks for giving us something to go on…

    Anybody know any expats in Tahiti?

  3. Javi (not the brother) September 13, 2008 at 8:34 am #

    I talked to a guy I know who has some connections in Cairo: Dr. Jones, I forget his first name.

    He says that he’s got “top men” working on it. So I expect there will be a quick solution.

    (Am I the only one who gets this joke?)

  4. Melissa DM September 13, 2008 at 1:43 pm #

    Tahiti! We’re coming to visit!

  5. mom September 13, 2008 at 6:37 pm #

    Patrick, the campus looks gorgeous. Sorry it’s not quite finished but inshallah it should be soon. If not, as we say here in S. Tex., I know a guy who knows a guy who knows a guy……oh wait, that’s a different topic. Better look up Dr. Jones instead.

  6. Aprillee and Mark September 14, 2008 at 11:17 pm #

    Oh the memories of Cairo! Hope that Ramadan is treating you well and classes are working to some degree. Good luck with the belly dancing Melissa. We do miss you all and the branch!

  7. E.B. September 15, 2008 at 4:37 pm #

    Great post! Love hearing about all the details. Seriously, class outside? Do they have the clinic up and running for all the students who will no doubt pass out from the heat. Hope you’re having fun with Sammy. Wish I was there! (OK, not “there” in the sense of “on campus” rather “with you all in a really beautiful air conditioned room with a great view.”)

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