SOCORRO, N.M., Dec. 22, 2003 – While most university faculty use sabbaticals or leaves of absence to catch up on research or publish scholarly papers, one New Mexico Tech faculty member is using his time away from work to launch an entirely new enterprise—an international university based in the Middle East.
Art Bukowski, a lecturer with the New Mexico Tech Department of Mathematics, currently is helping start up the Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST), a private university that was initiated last year in Kuwait.
Bukowski recently took a yearlong leave of absence from the research university in Socorro to relocate to Kuwait to become GUST’s first department coordinator for mathematics. In his appointed position, which is essentially that of a department chair, Bukowski also is tasked with teaching a full load of courses.
“GUST is the first private university granted approval by the Ministry of Higher Education in Kuwait,” Bukowski says. “The educational, administrative methods, and standards are based on the American model of higher education.”
GUST, which is owned by a consortium of educational companies in Kuwait, also is administered in partnership with the University of Missouri at St. Louis, and uses that university’s curriculum as a model for its own course offerings.
“I have been reviewing applications for full-time and part-time positions with my department,” Bukowski relates, “as well as determining which courses to offer for Spring Semester 2004 to support the programs at GUST. . . . In essence, I’m handling all the issues that a department chair would be handling at New Mexico Tech.”
Whereas the long-established Kuwait University accepts only Kuwaitis, GUST accepts students of all nationalities, resulting in large numbers of students enrolled in freshman classes at the new university.
So far, the most popular fields of study declared by GUST students have proven to be management, management information system, and computer science.
“We are fortunate in that we have the University of Missouri at St. Louis (UMSL) curriculum to implement,” Bukowski says.
“For example, adding a new course to the schedule of classes, such a calculus-based probability and statistics course, means we use UMSL’s course description, along with their selected textbooks,” he explains.
“A slight twist to this is that there will be two sections of this course offered—one for men and another for women, since they must be separated by government decree, even at the higher education level,” Bukowski adds.
Bukowski’s first faculty position was as an assistant professor at the King Fahad University of Petroleum and Minerals in Dharan, Saudi Arabia, and he also later served as a department chair at the Egyptian Air Academy in Cairo, so he was already well acquainted with the nuances of Middle Eastern culture and how some things—such as segregation of the sexes—are typically done there.
“The starting of a new university is a huge and overwhelming job,” Bukowski says. “But, it has been made easier because of the agreement with UMSL.”
Nevertheless, the fledgling university has already begun to experience unanticipated growing pains right from the start, in large part because of the tremendous first-year response from students eager to enroll at the university who hail from neighboring nations such as Lebanon, Syria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Jordan.
“There are a large number of students from Kuwait and these other countries who would have been traveling overseas to attend universities in the United States, but getting visas has been difficult for them lately,” Bukowski points out.
“Lack of laboratories and a shortage of full-time faculty, however, are the major obstacles we are currently facing at GUST,” Bukowski says.
In addition, Bukowski and other GUST faculty also have to deal with other minor problems associated with starting a new university, such as running out of textbooks, or having to wait a month or longer for textbooks to be delivered from publishers.
“Even so, education is taking place at GUST, and students are progressing into their sophomore years,” Bukowksi emphasizes. “We are offering three new math classes in Spring Semester 2004 and many more in other departments as students advance into their respective programs. . . . GUST also will be opening up its second facility next month and will call that facility ‘the men’s campus.’”
Despite all the turmoil and mayhem occurring only 100 miles away in Iraq, the quiet campus of GUST seems far removed. Students come to classes, professors teach, and life seems fairly normal.
After his one-year stint at GUST, Bukowski says he hopes to return to New Mexico Tech with renewed energy and a heightened appreciation for the high quality of students at Tech.
“My primary duty at New Mexico Tech has always been teaching,” Bukowski says. “I came to Tech with many years of experience in teaching at all levels of mathematics. After retiring as professor emeritus from the University of Alaska at Anchorage, I’ve focused solely on teaching mathematics. . . . However, I now want to help GUST get a great start, but also want to eventually return to my teaching duties at New Mexico Tech and help Tech students learn mathematics.”