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Musharraf versus the madrassas

"Musharraf versus the madrassas" Continued...

Issue: "California's wall of fire," Nov. 8, 2003

Yet parents seeking better opportunities for their children have had few choices in recent decades outside the madrassas. Nonetheless, many Pakistanis believe educational reform is certain to be strongly, even violently opposed, especially if the reform package includes schools and colleges run by the Christian church.

Forman has already had a taste of the opposition. Last spring, news of the college's denationalization was met with frequent demonstrations.

Those have ceased, but the new tactic is litigation. Currently, the college and its president are defendants in 36 lawsuits filed by groups claiming-fraudulently-to be the college's rightful owners.

Some members of these groups actually live on campus and refuse to leave. One opposition group, the Jamat-e-Islamic, uses a front organization called the "Lahore Church Council" (named after a defunct ecumenical organization that merged with the Presbyterian Church of Pakistan) in order to further its claim to the campus.

Forman's new leadership has campus worries of its own. The school's 105-acre campus and 65 buildings are in serious need of repair. "The college was the victim of financial neglect, bureaucratic regulation that strangled all initiative, and leadership that gave up any thought of maintaining a quality college," says Peter H. Armacost, Forman's new president and the former president of Tampa-based Eckerd College.

The cost of essential improvements to Forman's physical plant is estimated at $5 million. Forman's turnaround could have a major impact upon the future of other colleges and schools founded by Christians in Pakistan. "It is fair to say that our success in improving the educational quality of the college and upgrading the physical plant will be the key to the willingness of the government to denationalize the other colleges," said Mr. Armacost.

In addition to fundraising, Mr. Armacost must also raise a new faculty. Already he has persuaded Christy Munir, a distinguished chemistry professor at Quaid-i-Azam University, to serve as Forman's academic dean. Mr. Munir is president of the International Protestant Church in Pakistan. He was seriously wounded in March 2002 when terrorists attacked the International Protestant Church in Islamabad. The Sunday morning grenade attack killed five people and wounded 45 others. Mr. Munir suffered a severed artery in his right shoulder, a broken leg, severe burns, and a pierced lung, requiring months of hospitalization.

The academic program at Forman, said Mr. Munir, "will include professional training, but it must also include education about the human values of love, patience, tolerance, and commitment to the Pakistani people. I think we can best fight terrorism by providing such education."

-Paul F. Scotchmer is a board member of the International Council for Higher Education, USA, a nonprofit organization for advancing Christian higher education in developing nations

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