Earlier this month, The eXiled’s John Dolan published an explosive account about his year in Iraq teaching at the American University in Sulaimani, the capital of the Kurdish-controlled region in the north of the country. The university, known by its acronym AUIS, turned out to be little more than a corrupt neocon feeding trough for Republican Party faithful, a multi-million-dollar sinkhole headed up by a notorious Reagan-era neocon named John Agresto. Earlier this summer, Agresto read a 5-year-old exile article written by Dr. Dolan that was critical of the Iraq war and the neocons who cheered it on—and Agresto summarily fired Dr. Dolan for it.
The firing and Dr. Dolan’s expose created a bit of a shitstorm in Sulaimani—we are reposting an interview that Dr. Dolan gave to a local blog run by students at the AUIS program:Saturday, October 23, 2010
Dr. John Dolan: I Needed Money to Live that is Why I Accepted to Teach at AUI-S….We were Told to Pretend that We were Teaching You like American Students…Dr. Agresto didn’t Fire Me Because of Missing Classes, He Fired Me Because of the Article
What you read here, is an exclusive interview with Dr. John Dolan, a former professor of English Composition and Literature at the American University of Iraq-Sulaimani. He was fired by the AUI-S administration in August. He answers many important questions on his relations with the AUI-S administration, the faculty members, and the students. He also clarifies some points mentioned in his article.
Most of the people who have read your article say, “Why didn’t he write a critical article while he was at AUI-S?”
I valued my job and I did not want to offend a capricious and ideologically blinkered administration.
Some students feel disgraced by your article? In many places you have made references to AUI-S students that illustrates us as “rough-looking, wimpy, academically incapable and etc.. why?
It was in no way my intention to disgrace the students. I should explain that in American culture, it is fashionable both to be tough looking (think Clint Eastwood) and to be wimpy and urbane (think Johnny Depp). My point in the paragraph you refer to was that Kurds and Arabs are different, you have a history of conflict and Americans can’t wish that history away overnight.By the way, I never said or thought that students were academically incapable. I said that the ESL course had not prepared them well for university courses in English.Finally, let me refer you to the following paragraph where I express my sincere admiration for students:
I want to say clearly here how much I like and admire the people of Suli, my students in particular. They were a wonderful change from the timid, bland kids I’ve encountered in my recent North American teaching experiences. Most of the students at AUIS could name relatives tortured or killed by Saddam, or in the vicious Kurdish civil war of the 1990s, and nearly all of them were studying in an alien language they’d had little chance to learn properly. Yet they were smart, funny and without self-pity.
Dr. Agresto has told the faculty members that there is enough proof to fire Dr. Dolan, a faculty member told us that the evidence were convincing? What have you done to deserve firing?
Dr. Agresto sent me an email telling me explicitly that I was no longer welcome at AUI-S because I was the author of a satirical article. The article is critical of neo-conservative figures in American politics, many of whom are personal friends of Agresto. The article has been available since 2005, four years before he hired me.He provided no other evidence that I should be fired.
America’s verdict on John Agresto back in 1986
Is there any link between you and the AUI-S Watch blog? Have you provided the blog with any classified content?
There is no link whatever between me and the AUI-S Watch blog.
You said that the neo-cons have fired you. Is there a war between the neo-cons and the liberals at AUI-S? Why there are still faculty members who publicly say they are liberals?
I don’t know if there is a war between neo-cons and liberals at AUI-S. I never heard a teacher call him- or herself a liberal in earshot of the administration when I was there.
Some students said that Dr. Dolan himself was not a good example. He missed many classes, finished the class always before its time, and didn’t have clear criteria for grading?
Of course, the students are entitled to their point of view. It is absolutely true that I was very ill for most of the time I was at AUI-S. Dizzy spells, nausea and continuous vomiting led to several short classes and a few sick days. On the other hand, I believe I am a good teacher. I have a doctorate in rhetoric from a respected university and have taught many subjects in universities all over the world for twenty five years. Probably these students think, correctly, that the only logical reason for a university to fire a teacher is if that teacher performs poorly in his or her role as a teacher. The students’ mistake is in concluding that the university is always logical in its decisions. In fact, Dr. Agresto himself thought I was a good teacher; that is why he offered me a new contract after observing my class. He consistently failed to mention any complaints from students about my teaching, even when he fired me. The reason Dr. Agresto fired me was not logical but emotional — I wrote articles that conflicted with his political views and that made him feel bad.
In your article, you have not mentioned anything good about AUI-S. Does that mean that there is nothing good about AUI-S? if it is so, why did you accept to teach at AUI-S and even extend it for the second time?
My article’s focus is the administration’s comic stupidity and hypocrisy. The good things about AUI-S exist in spite of this hypocrisy. There are several fantastic teachers who stay up late carefully grading students’ work and who get up with the morning call to prayer in order to prepare for classes. There are students like you, who welcome every opportunity to question the truth and to grapple with new ideas. I accepted my position at AUI-S because I enjoy teaching and because I needed money to live.
You have mentioned or described some professors specifically in your article. There is a professor you have mentioned and he is known to be a popular professor among the students. Why have you specifically picked him up among all the other professors?
The answer to this question can be found in my article.
The American faculty and the Iraqi students all have a kind of hope in AUI-S and believe that it will be a success, what do you think?
Many of the teachers at AUI-S are enthusiastic and dedicated to their students. Many of the students are very bright and destined for great things. However, the success of any university depends on how much the administration; the administration at AUI-S fails both the educators and the students.
There seems to be a kind of cooperation between you and Mark Grueter, another faculty member fired from the university. Is that true?
I have exchanged emails with Mark and met him in person all of two times. I’m not sure what you mean by “cooperation” but it sounds rather sinister! Both of us are writers and both of us have written truthfully about our impressions of AUI-S. There is no more to it than that.
On the unfortunate rape accident, were the rapists charged or punished?
According to what Dr. Joshua Mitchell, the rapists were caught and imprisoned.
Have you gotten a new job? Could you explain your status right now…
I am working on my next book.
How do you evaluate AUI-S students?
AUI-S students are smart, fearless, energetic, always ready to try (and in a second language, which is not easy).They are loyal to one another and have pride in themselves and their heritage.
You have said in the article that if you had graded AUI-S students any other American students, two third of them would have failed. Why didn’t you grade them that way? What would have been the consequences?
Compare a student who has attended EWPLI classes for four years with an American student who has been learning English nonstop for eighteen years. Will they have the same ability? No. No matter how brilliant a second-language learner is (whether from France or Nigeria or Iraq or Brazil), he or she will not be fluent so quickly.
Dr. Agresto explicitly informed us that we were not ESL teachers and therefore should not spend any significant time addressing problems that arose from foreign-language issues. In effect, we were ordered to pretend that any such problems did not exist and to teach you in exactly the way we would teach American students. Imagine if I learned Kurdish or Arabic for two years – do you think I would speak as well as you? Of course not. We could not acknowledge mistakes because that would mean you were different from American students. Of course, you ARE different, since English is your second or third (or fourth!) language, but for some reason we were not allowed to admit that.
Is there anything else you want to tell Student Voice readers? Secrets, news or suggestions?
I encourage Student Voice readers to keep reading and questioning things that are important to you. I also encourage you to raise your own voices. The world is interested in you, in the times you have lived through and in what you have to say.
It is obvious that interviews do not express a publisher’s. say a blog’s, opinion. However, this interview might be approached with suspicion due to the bad end of the relations between the AUI-S administration and Dr. John Dolan. What has been said, belongs to Dr. Dolan and we recognize the right for anyone mentioned in the interview or not to respond.
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