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February 13, 2002

Afghan expatriates, Purdue discuss rebuilding Kabul University

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. – Afghanistan's minister of higher education signed an agreement today (Wednesday, 2/13) to work with Purdue University in rebuilding his nation's beleaguered Kabul University, which has been ravaged by years of war and Taliban rule.

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"This is really a big day, a good day, for Kabul University," Sherief A. Fayez, the Afghan minister, said during a news conference at Purdue. "We are starting a new renaissance for our country, for Afghanistan."

The agreement, which marked the conclusion of three days of talks that began Monday, will give Purdue the authority to seek funding from federal and international agencies. Purdue faculty met with Fayez and former high-ranking Afghan government officials in a series of workshops to begin developing a plan for rebuilding Kabul University.

During a meeting on Tuesday, Fayez told Purdue faculty and Afghan expatriates attending the meetings that they would prove to be valuable assets in his nation's efforts to resurrect Kabul University.

"This university is going to be reborn," Fayez said.

Rebuilding the university is not only critical to improving the quality of life in Afghanistan but also to reducing terrorism, said Wallace Tyner, head of Purdue's Department of Agricultural Economics.

"Two main root causes of terrorism are poverty and deprivation of opportunity," Tyner said. "We hope we will provide some basis for helping reduce poverty and certainly for reducing deprivation of opportunity.

"Secretary of State Colin Powell has said this. World leaders have said this loud and clear: You can't fight terrorism unless you engage in poverty reduction and engage in developing opportunity for poor people."

The meetings represented the first step in an effort that could take a decade to achieve. Part of that effort will include sending a Purdue delegation to Afghanistan, possibly as early as March, Tyner said.

"Our objective at these meetings was to begin learning as much as we can from these Afghan expatriates about the current situation in Afghanistan and to answer the questions: If you were going to rebuild Kabul University, how would you go about it? Where would you start? What would your priorities be?" Tyner said.

The list of about a dozen people who attended the three-day conference included Mir A. Raza, former minister of agriculture and water resources; A. Tawab Assifi, former minister of mines and industries; and Joma M. Mohamadi, former minister of water and power.

Purdue has a long history of "institution building," or creating educational institutions from scratch, in Africa and South America. Purdue faculty and their peers at several other American universities were instrumental in developing the engineering program at Kabul University during the 1960s and 1970s. Purdue also was a major player in rebuilding Taiwan's Cheng Kung University after World War II. Cheng Kung is now a leading engineering university in Taiwan.

Shortly after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979, engineering education at Kabul University was abolished, said Afghan native Zarjon Baha, a professor in the Department of Building Construction Management in Purdue's School of Technology. Baha was the last dean of engineering at Kabul University. He left Afghanistan in 1982, when he joined the Purdue faculty.

Baha said he had directly benefited from the influence of American universities during the 1960s, when he and other talented young students were brought to the United States to pursue advanced degrees. Baha earned master's and doctoral degrees in civil engineering from American institutions. He returned to Afghanistan to teach at Kabul University.

"Afghanistan became like my religion," Baha said. "I didn't care for my health. I didn't care for my welfare or anything. All I cared about was helping that country. Then the Russians came and destroyed everything, our dreams and the dreams of the Afghan people."

Many college-age men were recruited into the military, and the majority of Kabul University's students were women simply because few men were free to attend school.

"They would grab anybody on the street and send them to fight," Baha said. "You might be walking to the university to go to class and a soldier might grab you and send you off to fight."

After the Russians left Afghanistan, Kabul University was gutted to house barracks for soldiers fighting a civil war. Women were forbidden by the Taliban from attending the university or from teaching there.

Now, for the first time since Taliban rule began, women are taking entrance exams for the coming semester, said Tom Sparrow, a Purdue industrial engineering professor. Fayez told workshop participants that about 4,000 students have taken the entrance exams, and roughly 500 were women.

Information about present conditions at Kabul University is sketchy, which was one of the reasons for the workshop. Purdue faculty learned during the meetings that the university has a few hundred teachers and teaching assistants, nearly all of whom have only bachelor's degrees. Facilities are in serious need of repair and they lack even basic services, such as sewage. Fayez does not have access to a phone, and for that reason it was difficult for Purdue faculty to arrange his attendance at the meetings.

"We've been told that they are holding classes under trees, literally," Tyner said. "We need more current information. We need to tap the brains of some people who know the situation better than we do in order to get enough information to develop a credible plan."

In January, Baha and Sparrow met with Afghan officials, including Fayez, in Washington, D.C.

"In talking with the minister in Washington, he made it clear that he is counting on the Afghan expatriates in the United States to help him decide how to rebuild the university," Sparrow said.

Purdue is planning to submit a formal proposal by the summer to the United States Agency for International Development, the principal federal agency that extends assistance to countries recovering from disaster, trying to escape poverty and engaging in democratic reforms. The rebuilding plan will focus on three schools within the university: agriculture, engineering and technology.

"Engineering is needed for transportation, electricity, communication and other essentials," Tyner said. "Agriculture is critical for food production, and technology is all the things that make the pieces work."

Rebuilding these schools within the university will take five to 10 years and cost millions of dollars, he said.

"We have Purdue faculty in agriculture, engineering and technology who are ready to go, live there and work there, as soon as we get approval," Tyner said. "This is a huge undertaking.

"Think about how long it takes to earn a doctoral degree. When people come here from Afghanistan to study, they might not return to Kabul for four years. You've got to rebuild the buildings, you've got to develop the curricula."

Purdue officials are planning to submit two proposals. The first proposal will be to set up a fact-finding program in which Purdue faculty travel to Afghanistan to learn exactly what the situation is and to develop collaborative arrangements with Kabul University.

"Then we will submit the big proposal to rebuild these three schools in the university," Tyner said.

The workshop was split into three main segments: The first day concentrated on learning about the current conditions at Kabul University and identifying the most critical issues. Meetings during the second day focused on developing strategies for addressing those issues. The third day concentrated on ways to carry out the strategies.

The Kabul University project would have four parts: rebuilding campus facilities; work related to institutional development, which would include curriculum development and creating units or centers within the agricultural and engineering schools; faculty enhancement, which would include short- and long-term training programs in the United States for Kabul University teachers and advanced students; and extension education, which would include training for Afghan faculty who will serve as staff to lead extension courses for training people throughout Afghanistan in applied agriculture and engineering.

Sources: Wallace Tyner, (765) 494-4205, wtyner@purdue.edu

Zarjon Baha, (765) 494-2470, zbaha@tech.purdue.edu

Tom Sparrow, (765) 494-7043, fts@purdue.edu

Writer: Emil Venere, (765) 494-4709, venere@purdue.edu

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: Broadcast-quality audio clips from the news conference are available online.

PHOTO CAPTION:
Sherief A. Fayez, Afghanistan's minister of higher education, answers questions today (Wednesday, 2/13) during a news conference at Purdue University, as Wallace Tyner, head of Purdue University's Department of Agricultural Economics, looks on. Fayez signed an agreement today to work with Purdue in rebuilding his nation's beleaguered Kabul University, which has been ravaged by years of war and Taliban rule. (Purdue University News Service photo by Dave Umberger)

A publication-quality photograph is available at ftp://ftp.purdue.edu/pub/uns/tyner.afghanistan.jpeg.

Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; purduenews@purdue.edu


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