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Last modified: Wednesday, April 13, 2005

IU to use $15 million grant to establish endowment for American University of Central Asia


IU President Adam W. Herbert greets Ellen Hurwitz, president of the American University of Central Asia, during her recent visit to the Bloomington campus.

Print-Quality Photo

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The recent pro-democracy revolution in Kyrgyzstan turned world attention on this Central Asian nation. One institution is already in place in the capital city of Bishkek that is certain to improve the nation's chances of making a successful transition to democracy -- the American University of Central Asia.

AUCA, which currently enrolls some 1,100 students, has been closely involved in scholarly exchanges with Indiana University since it was founded in 1997. Today (April 13), that relationship was strengthed with the announcement that IU will receive a $15 million grant to establish an endowment fund for AUCA. The United States Agency for International Development will provide $10 million, and the Open Society Institute, founded by philanthropist George Soros, will provide the balance. The endowment's financial assets will be managed by the Indiana University Foundation and will help to underwrite AUCA's operational costs.

Housed in a building that once was the home of the Communist Party of Kyrgyzstan, AUCA students are studying business administration, economics, journalism, and Western legal and political systems. Some are working toward master's degrees in business administration.

Just a short walk from the Parliament building where throngs of democracy supporters last month forced the ouster of President Askar Akayev, these students are learning everything they will need to establish democratic government, rule of law and a free-market economy.

Patrick O'Meara, dean of international programs at IU, said AUCA is unlike any other university in Central Asia.

"It is the first and only institution of higher education in the region that operates according to the American model with a credit-hour system, an American-style curriculum, and a commitment to academic integrity and honesty," O'Meara said. "If IU wants to have an impact on the world, we have to be ready to support such efforts."

O'Meara pointed out that many AUCA faculty and students are actively contributing to the democratic transformation taking place in Kyrgyzstan as journalists and political activists and through work in non-governmental organizations.

He said the grant will enable IU to help AUCA promote diversity and transparency in their operations and improve the quality of their academic programs. He added that more than 40 Indiana faculty and staff, who otherwise might never have had the opportunity, will be able to teach, consult and conduct research in Central Asia.

AUCA courses are taught in English by professors who have studied in the United States or who have benefited from exchange visits by American educators. Over the past five years, more than 35 AUCA faculty and administrators have visited IU's Bloomington campus or other higher education institutions in the state. Nearly 40 faculty members from IU and other institutions have spent time with their counterparts in Bishkek.

The IU banner hanging in the main entranceway to AUCA signifies the close collaboration between the two institutions. AUCA President Ellen Hurwitz underscored the importance of this relationship to her university.

"Recent events in Kyrgyzstan motvate us to charge ahead aggressively in developing long-term financial independence," Hurwitz said. "We are profoundly grateful to our partners who recognze our strategic value and who champion our cause."

AUCA got its start in 1993 as the Kyrgyz-American Faculty with just 42 students. Former Vice President Al Gore visited the fledgling school in December of that year and proposed that the school be developed as a model institution of higher learning for the region. Subsequently, the government of Kyrgyzstan, the U.S. Department of State and the Open Society Institute signed a memorandum of understanding agreeing to provide various kinds of support for the young university.

In recent years, the university's distinguished visitors have included Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, former Secretary of the Treasury Paul O'Neill and George Soros. Soros attended AUCA's commencement in May 2003, at which time he committed funding for the AUCA endowment as well as matching funds for a new dormitory.

IU's involvement with AUCA began in 1999 when the university's Office of International Programs was awarded a $1.9 million grant from the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The project included IU and member colleges and universities of the Indiana Consortium for International Programs. ECA awarded IU and ICIP a $650,000 follow-on grant in 2003.

In the last few years, 19 AUCA junior faculty have received master's degrees at IU Bloomington, IUPUI and Ball State University. DePauw University in Greencastle, Ind., has provided much of the administrative training for AUCA administrative staff.

In 2002, USAID approached IU with a request to manage an endowment for AUCA. Having made substantial investments in AUCA, USAID and OSI wanted to institutionalize their commitments through the endowment. Today's agreements will establish the legal, administrative and financial components of the endowment for a period of five years, with the possibility of a renewal for an additional five years.

AUCA expects to establish its own foundation in the United States and assume responsibility for management of funds from the newly established endowment. Until then, an advisory board will guide the distribution of funds. The board includes John O'Keefe, former U.S. ambassador to Kyrgyzstan; William Newton-Smith, chair of the OSI subcommittee on education; Cliff Brown, USAID country representative to Kyrgyzstan; AUCA's Ellen Hurwitz; two at-large members; and representatives from IU.