Woodrow Wilson News & Publications
WW NEWSLETTER EXTRA: Fall 2010
Brothers, Fellows, Global Leaders
While Peter Armacost WF '57 and Michael Armacost WF '58 have followed very different paths, both have come to prominence in the global arena.
Rector Peter Armacost: Forman Christian College, Pakistan
Pakistanis, says Peter Armacost WF ’57, are generally “warm, generous, hospitable, resourceful people who deserve a better situation than they have. In the 2008 elections, religious extremists got voted out entirely; the population simply does not support them. But democracy here is still very fragile.”
Helping prepare the educated citizens who can in turn build new democratic institutions is at the heart of the mission of Forman Christian College in Lahore, where Dr. Armacost has served as Rector since 2002. The 146-year-old college, whose many distinguished alumni include former Prime Minister of India Inder Kumar Gujral and former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, had been through a period of decline. Today, under Dr. Armacost’s leadership, it is once again known as a major educational institution in Pakistan—and the nation’s only liberal arts college.
Dr. Armacost moved easily into a career in higher education, the family business; his father, George, headed the University of Redlands from 1945 to 1970. “It would have been hard to get a better preparation for college administration,” Dr. Armacost says. “We hung out on the campus and heard everything from the students. Then, at home, Mother, who was ABD from Columbia, and Dad would be talking. So we got the student and the administrative point of view.”
Having also been drawn to the family calling, missions—his mother had been chair of foreign missions for the American Baptist Churches— Dr. Armacost chose to teach in church-related colleges. His first job, as chair of psychology and dean of students at Minneapolis’ Augsburg College, continued his crash course in leadership. “Five of us were basically involved in every aspect of the administration,” he says. From there, he went on to work with college presidents as a program director at the American Association of Colleges (now the AAC&U), then to his own first presidency, a ten-year stint at Ottawa University. In 1977 he was appointed president of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, a post he would hold for 23 years.
It was in retirement that Dr. Armacost found a way to combine academic life with his longtime interest in foreign missions. In 2002, the Presbyterian Church USA sought him out to take over then-troubled Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan. FCC had been nationalized, underfunded, and allowed to languish. Short-staffed and overcrowded, in physical decline, with a largely disaffected faculty and a student body agitated by an armed radical Islamic group, the College did not initially welcome its new rector and his wife, Mary-Linda. One group of protesters carried a casket with “Peter Armacost” written on it to a meeting of the local legislature, and crowds scaled the walls at the Armacosts’ residence.
Now, eight years later, Forman is a different place. “It’s gone better than anyone dared to dream,” Dr. Armacost says. With nearly 4,700 students, the college’s enrollment has risen by 50 percent, while faculty numbers have grown by 60 percent. Of the current faculty, half have the Ph.D., as compared with an average of 22 percent in Pakistan’s public universities and 33 percent in independent institutions.
Rector Peter Armacost at FCC's 2010 Commencement
“The biggest problem, frankly,” he says, “is finding faculty members who will teach in an American-style program with full responsibility for the syllabus and the exams. They were accustomed to teaching from a syllabus that somebody else wrote, to an exam that someone else would design and administer. Now they have full responsibility for the course—course planning, syllabus development, creating and grading assignments.
“That is new in Pakistan, and was much to be feared,” he adds, explaining that faculty thought they would be vulnerable to coercion, which had caused previous similar academic initiatives in the Punjab to fail. Dr. Armacost brought them into his living room, 10 to 15 at a time, to allay their fears, promising personal involvement if any bribe or threat were suggested; he also invested millions of rupees in 16 weeks of workshops to help faculty make the transition. “It’s been wonderful,” he says. “I don’t know faculty anywhere else in the world who would be asked, in midcareer, to make as radical a change and be willing to do so without grumbling.”
A change in the campus’ sense of community has been, in particular, a priority for Dr. Armacost. “We’ve been trying self-consciously to teach core values, and the entire faculty has been involved in this. We work with integrity, commitment to excellence, respect for the dignity and rights of every human being no matter how different from us, and a commitment to justice, to discipline and accountability, to service and the community.” As a result, he says, the campus now has an atmosphere of interfaith harmony, as well as mutual respect and trust—lacking in FCC’s earlier days, when the faculty included just four non-Muslims.
Dr. and Mrs. Armacost have also started a school, named for Mrs. Armacost’s mother, to teach the wives of college support staff. “Once they became literate enough to understand how poor their children’s education was, they asked, ‘Would you do a tutorial for our children?’" Now the Madeleine Case Sorber School serves 23 women and 77 children, two hours a day for five days each week—“and they don’t miss!” says Dr. Armacost.
Receptiveness to the American model of higher education in Pakistan, Dr. Armacost observes, depends on a continuing recognition of the United States’ leadership in higher education, as well as a real need to prepare the population for technology-heavy jobs in the new global economy. For most Pakistani institutions, curriculum guidelines focus tightly on careers and majors.
“What’s missed in most of these situations—and this is why the American model is so important—is that there’s almost no room left for general education,” he says. “People in Pakistan have not been adequately prepared to be good citizens; they haven’t had the education to understand the conditions under which economic development can be sustained over time, or to understand the human condition. So the American university addresses a real need that’s not widely recognized until what we do is offered. The Higher Education Commission here in Pakistan is watching us on a regular basis.”
When his appointment at Forman ends in 2012, Dr. Armacost hopes to help improve Americans’ understanding of Pakistan. Pakistanis widely say that they “love Americans but do not like America,” he notes. “America has been regarded as a fair-weather friend. When we needed Pakistan, we put a lot of money in; when we didn’t, we pulled out. It’s also partly a response to the drone attacks and to incidents like the [September 2010] situation at Dulles Airport, where top Pakistani military officials were taken off an airplane on their way to the Pentagon and humiliated, to the notion that some Americans might want to burn the Qu’ran, the flap over the proposed mosque near Ground Zero.
“When I first came here,” he says, “most Americans didn’t know much about Pakistan at all. Now they think they know, because it’s on the front page of the newspaper, but it’s a very unfair representation of Pakistan, and I’d like to speak to that as well.”