April 11, 2005
Kuwait University asked the American Association of Law Schools (AALS) to send a site visit team to its School of Law to evaluate and make recommendations about its law program. Six legal educators were chosen. In addition to Nicholas Rosenbaum Professor of Law and Law Library Director Barbara Bintliff, they were: Dale Whitman, chair, former Dean, and James E. Campbell Missouri Endowed Professor at Missouri, Columbia; past president of AALSJohn Makdisi, former dean at Tulsa, Loyola (New Orleans), and St. Thomas (FL), and Islamic law scholarBeverly Moran, professor of law and sociology at Vanderbilt, member of the AALS executive committee, previously a visiting professor at the University of EritreaSadiq Reza, professor of law at New York Law School, visiting fellow at Harvard’s Islamic Legal Studies Program; active in the American Muslim Council and the American-Arab Anti-discrimination CommitteeFrank Vogel, The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Adjunct Professor of Law and Director of Harvard’s Islamic Legal Studies Program; previously practiced with Jones, Day, Reavis and Pogue’s Riyadh, Saudi Arabia office The site visit, October 8-13, followed the basic schedule of an ABA site evaluation: we visited classes; read scholarship of faculty (in English, French and Arabic) and student exams and papers; interviewed faculty members, staff, and students and student groups; assessed facilities and information technology capabilities; learned about their administrative procedures; visited with alumni and local legal dignitaries (judges, governmental agency officials, practitioners, etc.); and held exit interviews with the dean and vice deans, the university’s Vice President and Assistant Vice President for Academic Affairs (the Assistant VP had a Ph.D. in engineering from CU-Boulder) and President. See a photo album of the Kuwait trip here. Kuwait University, the country’s national university, has long been recognized as among the best universities in the Middle East. Its programs are strong and competitive, and Kuwaiti professionals are well regarded in the region. The student population of the university is almost exclusively Kuwaiti, and their tuition and fees are fully funded by the government. Like the other principalities in the Persian Gulf Region, Kuwait is trying to figure out how to maintain its influence in the region and the world in anticipation of the time when its oil reserves run out. One initiative it is undertaking is to build up its higher education system, in hopes of becoming an internationally recognized center of education and research. It is investing a lot of money in this initiative. The foundation of the initiative is having each of its schools evaluated by an outside entity. After some extensive investigations, the Kuwaitis have determined that the US system of accreditation includes the most thorough standards and in-depth evaluative processes in the world. Therefore, they are seeking evaluation (and accreditation, where possible) from various US educational accrediting agencies. To that end, they have been or will be visited by teams from the US who will assess their engineering, teaching, sciences, social sciences, health sciences, business, and law programs. (They haven’t figured out what to do about their Shari’a College (Islamic Law)). Language was rarely a problem. English is widely spoken and understood throughout the country; street signs were in Arabic and English, businesses always had one or more employee who spoke at least passable English, the law students had language requirements (either English or French), and all law faculty members were fluent in at least two languages (English, French or Italian in addition to Arabic). Many spoke three or more. Faculty members were available as translators when needed, and we sometimes muddled through with a mixture of English, French, Arabic, gestures, and pictures. Everyone was patient and accommodating, and we laughed a lot. My particular assignment was to evaluate the library and information resources, the technology capabilities, and the legal writing program. I also joined in with the faculty interviews, class visits, student group discussions, assessment of faculty governance, alumni meetings, and the various exit interviews. It turns out that one of their biggest concerns was the lack of a dedicated, separate law library. Following the 1990 Iraqi invasion, the university’s facilities were pretty well destroyed, including its library resources. A large, beautiful new central library was completed about two years ago for the Shuwaikh campus (where the law school is located), which combined collections in law, social sciences, business, and the arts. But the law students wouldn’t use the facility and the faculty complained of its distance and the difficulty in using legal materials that had other disciplines (and users) interspersed. I spent a lot of time with the law school dean and library director, commenting on their plans to building a new law library facility, and library matters were a main focus of our exit interviews. We were ultimately successful in convincing the Vice President and President of the importance of a separate law library to legal education, and I have since worked with the law school dean on the configuration of an existing building that will be remodeled as a law library. We will write an ABA-type report, focusing on the primary areas of teaching, research, intellectual community, academic freedom, faculty governance, and a commitment to public service. The report will be sent to the KU law school and University administration, and the AALS Executive Committee for its information. While the AALS cannot accredit the Kuwait University Law School, its evaluation is extremely important to the entire KU law school community.