AUA President Dr. Bruce Boghosian Reflects upon Path Of Higher Education


By Melania Badalyan

YEREVAN (Azg) — The current president of the American University of Armenia (AUA), Dr. Bruce M. Boghosian, assumed the post on September 1, 2010. He is the third president of the AUA since its establishment 20 years ago. He sat down for an interview with Azg recently.

His experiences in major universities and his background of scientific research represent the work of a specialist that has made valuable contributions to science, in addition as being an administrator.

Boghosian received his bachelor’s degree in physics and master’s degree in nuclear engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He received his PhD in applied science from the University of California, Davis.

For the past decade, before moving to the post at AUA, Boghosian was a professor in the Department of Mathematics at Tufts University in Massachusetts, and he served as chair of that department since 2006. He served concurrently as adjunct professor in the Departments of Computer Science and Physics. Earlier, he was employed as a senior research scientist at the Thinking Machines Corporation in Cambridge, Mass., and at the Center for Computational Science and Department of Physics, Boston University.

Boghosian’s research has been devoted to developing a fundamental understanding of the nature of turbulence in fluid dynamics, and he has used both theoretical and computational methods on some of the largest supercomputers available in the US. Pursuant to this research, he has held visiting professorships and research ositions at a number of well-known universities, such as École Normale Supérieure in Paris; Peking University; University of California, Berkeley; as well as University College London, in the UK.

Boghosian has more than 80 publications to his credit and has given upwards of 150 talks at various universities. He is a member of the editorial boards of a number of international monthly journals (Journal of Computational Science, Physica A, Computing in Science and Engineering and International Journal of Modern Physics C — Physics and Computers). He is the recipient of many awards and honors in the United States as a scholar and teacher, including Tufts University’s Distinguished Scholar Award in 2010. He has been a foreign member of the National Academy of Sciences of the Republic of Armenia since 2008. The AUA was founded in the first year of the independence of Armenia, and with its Western methods and standards of teaching, it has been a significant phenomenon in the Armenian educational system. In a short space of time, the limited programs of the university were expanded and vastly developed. This interview was conducted as part of the series of interviews with rectors of the most important universities in Armenia.

Azg: Dr. Boghosian, after seven months, what are your observations at the American University of Armenia, and what new developments are expected?

BMB: The university, which opened on Armenia’s Independence Day, September 21, had only two academic programs and 101 students. Now it has expanded and has seven colleges (Business and Management, Industrial Engineering, Computing and Information Sciences, Political Science and International Affair, Public Health, Law and English). In addition to this, each department has a research center, and there is also the Acopian Center for the Environment; every AUA student is required to take at least one course on environmental studies, considering the many serious challenges in environmental protection in Armenia. Today, the total number of AUA graduates stands at 1,900. Following meetings with many of them, I have a strong impression that there is a positive appraisal of the university’s activities. Many alumni are involved in business, banking and other areas; the university’s results are tangible in our country’s economy.

Azg: Do you think the underdeveloped economy of Armenia can provide sufficient work for all these graduates? Or do you think this will add to the incentives of these educated young people to emigrate?

BMB: Recent statistics show that 75-80 percent of our graduates remain in Armenia, while 20-25 percent move abroad. Of the ones that move abroad, a part of them do so to pursue PhDs, and we hope for their return.

Azg: Can you tell us about the university staff?

BMB: The academic staff consists of 48 people, among them foreign and local specialists, whose interaction creates a very dynamic environment. This is a great example of Armenian- American cooperation. An important part of our mission is to conduct training courses, to introduce American teaching methods and standards to the Armenian teachers and to prepare professors.

Azg: As far as I know, there is a working mechanism at the university that ensures work for the graduates.

BMB: Yes, the Alumni and Career Development Office actively works to ensure that the graduates are always connected electronically and are well informed of relevant news and job announcements. I’ve met them in person and offered advice on being well-prepared for interviews, etc. I hope the university and its alumni will have closer mutual ties to ensure that they all feel part of the university family. We also try to keep the University in contact with those students who are now abroad. A significant number of them are in New York, Washington and California, and they would also like to stay in touch with the university.

Azg: Naturally, the university has financial difficulties. We assume that the increase in tuition fees has not been enough to overcome the difficulties caused by the economic crisis and other contributing factors. What are your plans to cope with this economic downturn?

BMB: Indeed, the economic crisis has affected university procedures. Our material resources come, in part, from the interest and income gained on our endowment funds. Due to the economic crisis, returns have declined. Even prior to the 2008 crisis, there had always been a budget deficit necessitating fundraising. Of course, this is not an ideal solution; it would be better to add the donated funds to the endowment. The difficulties of recent years have forced the university administration to make some reductions that have affected salaries, i.e., pay freezes.

Usually in such situations there are two main options: to reduce all programs in order or to take a more aggressive approach, or to expand programs to attract new investment.

Azg: It is clear you have chosen the latter option. And what percentage of the budget do tuition fees make up?

BMB: The university’s student pay approximately one-third of the cost of his/her education, which amounts to $2,550 for in-country students and it is $8,800 for out-of-country students. The most important policy of the university is not letting down any of our students who have financial need. It is the responsibility of AUA to procure the necessary financial aid to allow these students to continue. Admissions at AUA are carried out on a “need-blind” basis — that is, we admit students solely on considerations of merit, and we do not look at their financial need at the time of admission.

Azg: And what percent do students from abroad comprise?

BMB: They are not many, about 40 out of 400, and most of them are ethnically Armenian. I think this number should be increased. It is important to involve students from Iran, India, China and other countries. This changes the university’s environment, makes it international, which helps to increase the institution’s profile and diversity. An international environment was very important for me during the years of my study. It is especially important in Armenia because the country itself is 97.9 percent ethnically homogeneous and these contacts and relationships create further opportunities.

I would like to speak about another important issue — the university is accredited in the US. This is an important factor in attracting students as they are given an opportunity to receive a truly American education at a lower price than in the United States.

The mission of the American University of Armenia is to help Armenians and the Armenian government by importing new academic methods, and including them in the general educational system thereby getting better results. These new programs and methods are in addition to those already in place, and they are not and will not be in direct competition. The institution is unique in its structure and general approach. As an American university, it is at the same time the American University of Armenia, the meaning and sense of which is the collaboration with the government of Armenia, Armenian business circles, educational and other institutions, intellectual and cultural environments.

By being original and unique, we should not remain closed off, but rather respond to the requirements of the National Academy, Ministry of Science and Education, other ministries, and effectively cooperate with them.

In addition, my experience shows that many Armenians in the diaspora are not fully aware of AUA’s existence, particularly about its importance and results produced in Armenia. Appropriate work needs to be carried out in cooperation with Armenian academics, business people and donors from the diaspora to increase awareness of the importance of the AUA.

Azg: Such projects require human labor, environmental resources, volition, assistance, etc.

BMB: This is a challenge: we are organizing fundraising in the US and hope to ensure further developments through other worthy projects. This is not to say that it will be easy; we have to work hard. We have limited resources but great desires and plans.

Azg: Since day one, the university has received support from the Armenian General Benevolent Union. Are there more expectations?

BMB: Over the years, as a founding body, the AGBU has always assisted the university and been one of its major benefactors. The University of California provides academic consultations, experts and support in exchange programs. Approximately half of the AUA Board are the leaders of various departments at the University of California, and the provost, chief academic and operations officer is the vice president of the University of California.

We need to strengthen ties between the AUA, University of California and the government of Armenia to ensure a higher quality of education.

Armenia’s future economy will be knowledge-based. That is the general tendency. We do not have enough natural resources; we are not located on a natural trade route. We therefore need to invest in the minds of our people. And creation of an excellent educational system is the main precondition to the development of a knowledge-powered economy. It is clear that great strides are being made in this direction. The Ministry of Education and Science pays more attention to educational effectiveness, different projects and new ideas are brought to light in order to directly connect education and the economy.

I hope that the coming years will be very inspiring for education. The most important thing is that it will develop our economy and will provide our people with jobs which will keep them in this country.

Azg: Yes, it is a very critical situation. AUA provides education on graduate level. Are changes possible in this regard?

BMB: The AUA’s goal is to enhance the quality of education in Armenia. Such fundamental changes should be considered within the framework of the general educational system. There is no such decision as of yet, it is an issue to be considered in the future.

Azg: Consideration was given to turning the Paramaz Avedisian building, which was built with the donations of a benefactor from the diaspora, into an academic-scientific center. There is also an adjacent park, which was to be renovated after the construction. At what stage is this?

BMB: Construction in the original Bagramian building is in progress now; we improved the new building’s interior, completely renovated the old building: floors and windows, which were not insulated, were replaced by new ones. Next year, the library will be expanded; modern kitchens will be installed. As for the park, many trees have been planted; we have a gardener who takes care of the garden. We have close ties to the district administration and municipality. Our architect has many fine ideas. But the question of water supply is still unresolved, if the district administration solves the problem of irrigation, the completion of the garden would pick up speed.

Azg: Lastly, had you been in Armenia previously and what are your impressions now?

BMB: In recent years I had visited Armenia on a number of occasions, the longest visit lasting three weeks, with my family. It is a very pleasant place. I am enjoying my time here immensely. Yerevan has a very intimate atmosphere; the people are warm and welcoming: the city center — Opera, Philharmonic Society and cafes — creates a very good impression. Whenever I return, I urge my friends in the diaspora to go and see Armenia. I have many friends and relatives in different countries, and it has been my privilege to have had the opportunity to see many cities of the Armenian diaspora. And if you see all of these cities and do not see Armenia, it is comparable to seeing all the planets in the universe and not seeing the sun. When I return from Armenia, I give this message to everyone.