Remarks for the Installation of Dr. Dawn Dekle, American University of Nigeria’s Fourth President - May 20, 2018
A very good morning to H.E. the AUN Founder, Chairman, and Fellow Members of the Board of Trustees, Students, Faculty, Staff, Ladies and Gentlemen, and all the families and friends of the American University of Nigeria.
Since [AUN] founding in 2004, there may be no more important event than the installation of Dr. Dawn Dekle as the fourth president of the American University of Nigeria.
This is a historic moment in AUN...established as Africa’s first Development University with the mission of pioneering service learning and building entrepreneurial leaders who will be well prepared to tackle today and tomorrow’s societal concerns.
It is my privilege to say a few words about Dawn Dekle and why she is superbly qualified to lead this remarkable university at this time.
Trained at Texas A&M University, with a Ph.D. from Dartmouth and a J.D. from Stanford, Dawn is an international educator who has spent most of her career working in higher education first in Asia, then in the Middle East, and now in Africa.
I first met Dawn in 2011, when she was Provost at the American University of Afghanistan, where I was serving on that Board of Trustees. We both attended AUAF’s first inauguration and watched with great pride that pioneering class walk across the stage, including five female students. That moment was very emotional for everyone since the Taliban strived so hard to prevent girls and young women from having access to any education, especially higher education.
Following that graduation, a few members of the Board and the senior leaders of AUAF traveled to Herat, a historic city on the Afghan-Iran border where Alexander the Great built a fort in the third century BC. During that trip, Dawn, Bob Pastor (who played such an important role in AUN) and I talked incessantly about the power of education to change lives, the importance of institutions like AUN and their potential to contribute to community, countries, and regions.
As former Peace Corps Volunteers, Bob and I also talked about the Peace Corps. That conversation led to the establishment of the Harris Wofford Global Service Award, for which the Founder is the first awardee. This annual Award recognizes global leaders whose interaction with Peace Corps Volunteers inspired them of lives of service to community and country. Indeed, as we heard from the Founder last night, it was because of the Founder’s experience with Peace Corps teachers that he developed his vision for AUN.
While it is a long and winding road from Herat to Yola, Dawn had many milestone accomplishments along the way. Dawn was:
The first female provost at AUAF, who increased female enrollment from 20% to 50% of the entering class;
The leader shepherding the university during a complex Haqqani-network attack in Kabul, including lockdown and evacuation of the entire campus community, calmly and peacefully and without injuries;
The steward for the first MBA program and also inaugurated a law program in partnership with Stanford Law School.
Later, Dawn was:
The first female president of a university in Iraq’s history; was in Iraq when ISIS came across the border and attacked several universities, using Mosul University residence halls as barracks for ISIS soldiers.
She displayed her tech-savvy while at AUIS (American University of Iraq-Sulaimani) by having AUIS develop a global top 20 university Facebook presence, alongside Harvard, Oxford and just behind Stanford at #13 with 704,282 likes.
(Dawn has promised to do something similar here, she has told me about a Facebook Force she will be forming this coming year on campus.)
The first non-Mongolian to be a president of a university in that country.
Perhaps, the most impressive thing Dawn did was to adopt a kitten in Afghanistan, brought it with her to Iraq, then Mongolia, and now to Japan; so Dawn’s cat has some interesting passport stamps in its pet passport! At this time, don’t you all agree that this globe-trotting cat should have a Nigerian stamp in its pet passport?
Here at AUN:
Dawn understands well that the Founder’s great gift to Nigeria is AUN; her gift to the Founder and the AUN community would be a sustainable AUN, recognized as the leading development university in Africa with a global reputation for preparing its students to contribute to community and country.
As has been often said, AUN is Nigeria’s best-kept secret. Dawn wants to change that to make AUN the top-of-mind university in Nigeria and beyond, known for development and entrepreneurship and graduating the next generation of leaders and engaged citizens. As I understand it, she has three strategic objectives: 1) improve academics, 2) enhance sustainability, and 3) build out the campus master plan.
This is an ambitious and very appropriate agenda, which we all should support.
Bob Pastor, for those of you who knew him, was a consummate networker who connected people who shared values and wanted to get things done. He was close to our Founder; Bob and I connected through shared Peace Corps experiences, and at the American University of Afghanistan, we connected to Dawn. I am sure that Bob is smiling down on us today and is pleased and confident that his beloved AUN is in Dawn’s very good hands.
Dr. Dawn Dekle can’t succeed in this ambitious agenda without support from all of us. So, I ask that as part of today’s inauguration we all pledge to support Dawn in her presidency so that this remarkable AUN can realize its amazing potential.
In Dawn’s efforts to accomplish this, at this special moment, and on behalf of all of us here, I urge Dawn to have the courage to take bold steps, be steadfast in her principles, stay focused on student success, and recognize that all of us want her success, which will be all of our success for AUN, Nigeria, Africa, and, indeed, all of us.