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Baylor helps Iraqi universities

Jan. 30, 2004

By Sandi Villarreal, reporter

In an attempt to help rebuild Iraq's higher education system, a group of 20 Baylor professors and two graduate students journeyed to the war-torn country over Christmas break to conduct a two-day conference for area university faculty members.

They traveled to Dohuk University in the northern Kurdish region of Iraq in December.

In August three professors - Dr. Bill Mitchell, director of the Center for International Education; Dr. Mark Long, director of the Middle East Studies Program; and Bill Baker, Arabic language professor - took a preliminary trip to Dohuk and Mosul Universities to assess the needs of the educational facilities.

'The biggest difference [between Iraqi universities and American universities] is that they have been unable to obtain contemporary materials,' Mitchell said. 'For instance, they couldn't get chemicals they needed for labs [or] new books and journals [and] were restricted from traveling and working within the international community because Saddam isolated them. In most cases, he cut off funds for higher education schools.'

The group, joined by Dr. Jimmie Burrell and Dr. Carolyn Bishop from the Consortium of Global Education, left for Iraq on Dec. 14 - the same day Hussein was captured.

They conducted workshops at Dohuk for a group ranging from 55-150 attendees composed of professors, university presidents, politicians, military officials and community leaders, Mitchell said.

'What we were trying to do was to go in and help people who have been suffering as a result of Saddam Hussein for many years by establishing relationships with colleagues and assisting them in improving their methodological techniques and teaching content,' Mitchell said.

Dr. Walter Wilcox, a physics professor, instructed workshops related to physics education with Dr. John Vasut, a physics lecturer. Wilcox introduced the Open-Text concept, which allows anyone in the world to have access to downloadable physics texts.

'Things [in Iraq] are forced upon them, and they haven't had access to textbooks,' Wilcox said. 'They are very interested in the technical fields, and there is a real need for engineering and physics teachers to help build up the structure of that region.'

The group plans to continue in their communication with the Iraqi universities and in their effort to help restore the higher education system.

'It's going to take time, but there is no doubt that the key to moving toward a civil society and justice is dependent on developing a higher education system,' Mitchell said.