2015 Convocation Ceremony

American Islamic College held its 3rd Annual Convocation Ceremony on Monday, October 5, 2015, to celebrate the start of the new academic year. AIC MA student, Eman Hasballa Aly was the evening’s MC. The event opened with a captivating Qur’anic recitation by Mesut Mamaloglu, BA student, Class of 2019, and Ayman Soliman, MA student, Class of 2017.

Every year, AIC unveils a new documentary at the Convocation Ceremony, which captures the essence of AIC, but with different themes. This year, the documentary relayed the significant role AIC plays as an American and as an Islamic educational institution of higher learning for Muslims and non-Muslims, alike, through its academic programs. The documentary truly depicted the important connection AIC makes with the community. The documentary can be viewed here.

AIC Board Member, Mr. Talat Othman, presented the Introductory Remarks on behalf of AIC. He shared the story of the first university, University al-Qarawiyin, established by Fatimah al-Fihri, noting that one day, AIC may achieve such recognition as an educational institution, not only in the memory of Islamic culture and history, but also in the collective global recollection as a present and active institution of higher knowledge.

All members of the faculty were recognized for their tireless efforts for making coursework at AIC compelling, thought-provoking, and engaging. Special appreciation goes to Prof. Jawad Qureshi, Prof. Shabana Mir, Prof. Omer Awass, and adjuncts Prof. Sawsan Abbadi, Prof. Carly Anger, Prof. Thomas Maguire, Prof. Serkan Butun, and Prof. Majed AbuAjamia for bringing a great start to the new academic year.

Dr. Shabana Mir was recognized as the new faculty member this year. She gave encouraging words about her students and classes. She also expressed appreciation for joining AIC’s team and its mission.

‘Student Reflections’ followed. To represent the BA class, Selma Agaoglu, Class of 2018 spoke of her freshmen-year experience as a new student in a new city. She remarked on her own growth over the past year, which she attests is due to the course content, rigor, and its educators. Farhan Faseehuddin, MA student, Class of 2016 spoke on behalf of the graduate class. Farhan relayed the ways the academic program at AIC is the right program for him and for his career goals, which is in Foreign Service. He articulated how the courses he has taken apply to his field.

American Islamic College was pleased and humbled to have Fr. Dr. Dennis Holtschneider, President of DePaul University, speak on “The Challenges of Higher Education in the US Today.” It was an insightful talk that raised important issues for consideration for all established colleges and universities, primarily surrounding the finance sector. Dr. Holtschneider praised AIC for its current successes and wished for it further success as it continues to serve Chicago.

Following Dr. Holtschneider’s engaging talk, AIC had the privilege and honor of hearing from His Excellency Iyad A. Madani, the Secretary General of the OIC, and Chair of the AIC Board of Trustees. Starting the talk off with some light humor, he made the evening with his humble mannerisms and appealing stories. He invigorated the students about the importance of academic education, stressing the importance of critical thinking, as well as, spiritual development.

The evening concluded with mesmerizing sounds of Middle Eastern music led by Mr. Majed Abu Ajamia, AIC Adjunct. The Islamic Nasheeds performed left every guest wanting to hear more.

Mrs. Sevim Surucu, AIC Adjunct of Ebru art, gave a live demonstration of the beautiful Turkish water-marbling form. Guests were able to take their very own original pieces home.

Guests enjoyed a dinner and social before departing for the evening.

Here’s to the new academic year, 2015-2016; may it be ever successful! Congrats students!


Keynote Address by: President Rev. Dr. Dennis Holtschneider of DePaul University

The Challenges of Higher Education in the United States Today
American Islamic College Convocation
5 October 2015

Rev. Dennis H. Holtschneider, CM

Thank you and good evening.

• Your Excellency, Iyad Ameen Madani, secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation
• Dr. Ali Yurtsever, president of AIC
• Ambassadors, consul generals, presidents of universities, professors of American Islamic College, students, families, and community leaders of Chicago.

As-salaam alaikum. It is a singular honor to be invited into your company this evening.

I have great respect for our neighbor, the American Islamic College. Its present contributions and future promise are blessings to be appreciated and nurtured. I am proud to consider myself a friend of this institution.

I have been asked tonight to reflect upon the challenges facing U.S. higher education. I am happy to do so, but I begin with the comfort of knowing there are blessings as well.

There are nearly 5000 institutions of higher education in the United States. They range from institutions that measure their enrollments in the tens of thousands to specialized institutions of barely 100 students. About one-third of these institutions are state institutions, where state governments fund the operational expenses of the institution and tuitions are thereby held artificially low, and two-thirds are private or for-profit institutions, which operate as independent businesses, but benefit to varying degrees from the financial assistance the government gives students from poverty so that they can attend the college of their choice. Altogether about 21.5 million students are enrolled, with about 72 percent choosing to study in the publically-funded institutions.

It is a splendid assemblage of institutions doing magnificent work. But make no mistake, it is an assemblage of institutions, not an organized or centrally-controlled system. This panoply has enormous benefits for competition and innovation, but not always. It also permits us to settle comfortably into a pattern of providing education while the world changes around us in ways we may not be fully addressing. That is certainly the case at present.

Collectively, we don’t produce enough graduates – in total or by specialization – to meet the present need. Jamie Merisotis of the Lumina Foundation observes that there are 4.8 million job openings in the United States and 10 million citizens out of work, many simply unprepared and unqualified for those jobs. The nation needs more college graduates prepared in a different set of fields.

We are organized for a world that is slipping away.

• We are not as international in our curriculum as the world now requires and as our students need.
• Adults no longer pick one employer or even one career path and stay with that employer or on that career path for a lifetime. They change jobs and entire fields of endeavor, and so they need additional training throughout their lifetimes. We still try to frontload everything.
• Students think of multi-tasking, individualized and interactive learning as the norm. They prefer concrete and active learning. We often give them serial tasking (doing one task at a time), passive activity (for example, reading) and abstract, theoretical learning.

We try to give students more education than they want. (For we know they need it.)

• Without a liberal arts education, the world will lead them to economic ideas that have proven themselves unworkable, even though intuitively popular.
• Without a liberal arts education, they will stumble into social opinions that have no basis in research.
• The world gives them simplistic ideas that reinforce longstanding political tensions. We need them to know the histories, political and social organization, economic philosophies and religious worldviews that both create and help ease those political tensions
• They need facility in computers and social media, but also in writing, oral communication, logic and well-founded argument.
• For those of us in faith-based institutions, we additionally provide something further of immense value that does not return a financial value. Our alumni often value this later in life, but not always while they are students. Parents used to value this when they paid tuition for their children, but that is less true today as American society continues to secularize.

Forcing students and parents to purchase a broader education than most of them want has a name. In business, it’s called “upselling.” It’s very hard to sell someone a bicycle with three chain rings, shock absorbers and a heated seat when all they want is a simple bicycle. But that is exactly what higher education tries to do every day. It’s expensive, and it’s a market opportunity for those who want to offer something less.

And so new providers and models of higher education are coming into the market:

• Online providers putting education on the students’ schedule and location, rather than asking students to adjust to our schedule and location.
• Competence-based education that replaces courses, degrees and time spent in class with evaluation techniques to confirm students have learned key skills and concepts, regardless of how they came to learn these.
• For-profit firms targeting populations of people who did not have easy access before (aka “market opportunities”) by offering a simpler, cheaper and usually poorer product. And so, they began by recruiting at the lower end of academic market, i.e., academically underprepared students whom we would never accept at DePaul. The less honorable among the online providers shamelessly load students with loans, knowing many will never graduate.
• As the technology has improved, however, you’ll now see them going after new markets: single working moms; working adults; the non-completion market, graduate programs where the name on the degree does not matter to the degree-holder, such as teachers simply needing a credential for an automatic increase in paygrade.

This is creating both a pressure on traditional providers to change but also creating regulatory backlash.

• Many of us are launching online programs, non-degree programs and competence-based programs, intent on competing with the new providers, while our market-recognized names still mean something to employers and potential students.
• Government regulators, however, see that nearly one-quarter of Pell spending goes to these new providers, with shockingly poor outcomes. And so government is now requiring all universities to justify their continued funding streams by reporting degree attainment, employment following education, and low loan defaults.
• Traditional accreditors and state oversight agencies are being pressured to measure proof of student learning through faculty and institutional assessment techniques, as well as overall financial viability.

This increased government oversight is combined with reductions in the value of government funding.

• Here in Illinois, our state government has pushed off so many major expenses to future generations that essential services must be cut simply to pay past expenses.
• MAP funding for the poor has not been approved for the present school year.
• Public universities have been told to cut their budgets by 30 percent.
• Universities flourish in vibrant cities, and they struggle in declining cities. DePaul has been blessed to be located in Chicago for 118 years. There are fears now that unpaid city pensions and rising taxes could force the city into bankruptcy, and hurt our universities in the way that Detroit’s fiscal woes hurt its universities.
• The federal government, too, presents a challenge. It spends 80 percent of its budget on Social Security, health benefit programs, military and safety net programs, leaving 20 percent for all other spending, including education. In recent years, they have turned direct student loans into a government revenue program; cut the Perkins loans program entirely and steadily lowered the purchasing power of the Pell grants for poor students.

The poor, as you can imagine are harmed more than others.

• As government pulls back its investment, costs for everyone are rising.
• Middle and upper income brackets have seen increased college participation rates for the past ten years, but the proportion of the bottom quintile of society who enroll in postsecondary education has been stagnant.
• And when they do enroll, they are less likely to enroll in four-year institutions, less likely to enroll in the quality of institution for which they intellectually qualify, and only half as likely to graduate.
• The very moment when the lowest economic quintile needs a quality college education the most, it turns out, cruelly, to be the very moment when it is being made harder for them to achieve.

There are other challenges. For example:
• Fewer traditional students who are academically prepared to attend college, forcing all of us to compete for smaller pools of available students, and
• A stagnant economy preventing most of us from raising net income, while our expenses are growing faster than inflation.

Higher education, in short, is a tough business.

Make no mistake, however, higher education in this country is an extraordinary enterprise. We enable great scholars to do extraordinary research. We are educating the next generation with new tools and ever-expanding knowledge. I would go back to college tomorrow if someone would let me. To be able to study the world with the tools that this generation now has at its fingertips would be great fun.

You asked me to focus on our challenges and, as you’ve seen, the challenges are not inconsiderable. But they are worth waking up to address every day for those of us privileged enough to work in higher education.

It is a privilege to educate the young. They place themselves in our hands and say “Teach me what I need to know of the world.” It is an extraordinary act of trust, and an extraordinary responsibility to accept that trust.

And so I end where I began, with my respect for AIC. May your work here be blessed. May these “challenges” pass your house, or if they cannot, may they be met with creativity and generosity. May all those who pass through your doors discover the joy of scholarship, the love for learning, the freedom of truth, and the opportunity that comes from high achievement. May they find wisdom above all, and through this learning, may they themselves become a blessing to this good earth.

Thank you for your kindness and attention this evening. Peace be upon you all.



Short Version

Long Version

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