An American – university – in Kosovo
Chris Hall is president of a three-year-old college that hopes to instill values of free exchange and civil society.
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AUK is "a success story in a part of the world with few success stories at this point," says Louis Sell, a former US diplomat and an AUK board member who helped bring Hall to the school. Mr. Sell feels that after Kosovo's declaration of independence, a school of public service at AUK will make a contribution. The school is seeking $3 million in scholarships as part of a larger Kosovo package now before Congress. Kosovo "is a part of Europe that is nominally Islamic, but overwhelmingly pro-American. The US has been quite cautious in the money it gives. But we hope that is changing," Sell adds.Skip to next paragraph
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After Hall lost his senate seat in 2004, he ran into Sell, who lives nearby. Sell knew that Hall, a Briton turned naturalized American, had a longstanding interest in the Balkans. Hall was in one of the first tour groups to enter Albania in 1990 after it had been closed for decades. Sell, with other US diplomats, had worked with the Fund for the Reconstruction of Kosovo, made up of Albanians, to establish a nonprofit college in Pristina with $4 million left over from the monies collected from the diaspora.
Hall, who was going to be in Belgrade, agreed to pop down to Pristina. While the college was "this overstuffed house on a hill," as Hall recalls, he was "deeply impressed" with students. "They don't have the worldliness you find in so many American kids of this generation," he says.
Before 1999, Kosovar students lived in a virtual police state under the Serbs. After NATO intervention, they were going to schools that "suffered every conceivable form of setback. But Hall found "a degree of idealism and passion for learning that I had not expected.... [We] don't have the drugs and crime you would expect, either."
Hall taught public policy courses for two years, then agreed to be president in the summer of 2007. That meant living away from his wife, Jackie Wardell, who heads a staff of 80 at a community bank on the Maine coast that does a small business lending to women and minorities.
"We thought about it long and hard. It took a lot of searching," Hall says, adding that his administration's motto in working out knots and kinks in a highly sensitive locale is "to be diplomats – friends with everybody and allies of nobody."
"Kosovo has a population of incredible talent and energy; I wouldn't be here if I weren't optimistic," he says. Some of his biggest battles in what he calls "management by walking around" is raising faculty expectations of students: "I don't want to hear that we have to go easy because these are poor Kosovars. They have the talent to be every bit as good as RIT students."
Robert McCloud, an IT professor here on a Fulbright from Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, describes Kosovo youths as a bright and innovative generation who haven't been exposed to enough differing ways of thinking. But being isolated, he says, "They are much too self-taught." he says. In his graphics classes he tries to get them to expand into different types of software. "Everything is done in Photoshop. They buy the software for $1.50. So finally I tell them, don't show me any more Photoshop!"
For Hall, AUK's success is measured by the help it offers the new state. With a pedigree name (American University) and English fluency requirement, in gritty Pristina the school has a reputation as elite. Only about 20 percent of students are on scholarship, and the tuition is $4,000 a year, hefty by Kosovo standards. Still, an AUK degree is not "a passport out of town," Hall says.
Hall, who deeply loves Maine and its people, says he is giving AUK "three years, about right for this kind of commitment."