DR. MARGEE ENSIGN: RESPONSIBLE EDUCATION LEADS TO A STRONG DEMOCRACY


The new President of the American University in Bulgaria has a clear vision of why the world needs forward-thinking higher education

dr margee ensign AUBG.jpg

When Dr. Margee Ensign became the 10th President of the American University in Bulgaria, she realized the great responsibility that came with this position. She had rich experience managing outstanding universities in the US and Nigeria and had personal and academic interests in important and urgent topics such as democracy development, improving education, and even using AI in social sciences.

The AUBG is an institution well-suited for such an ambitious and forward-thinking manager. Established in Blagoevgrad in 1991, it quickly became recognized as a premier liberal arts university in South and Eastern Europe. There, Bulgarian and foreign students receive top-class modern education from outstanding local and international faculty. AUBG helps them become members of a broad network of informed, independent, and knowledgeable citizens who thrive in business, media, academia, and governance. AUBG alumni stand out for their trust in and desire to defend democracy, free society, and justice—a true achievement of the university and an asset for modern societies across the globe.

What was the most unexpected thing you experienced when you became the new president of AUBG this past September?

I found the community to be more international than I expected, with talented students and faculty from over 50 countries. I also found the Board to be unusually visionary, responsible and competent—something one cannot take for granted. But the alumni were the biggest surprise of all. For such a small school to have so many prominent and successful alumni not only in Bulgaria, but also in London and New York and Washington and elsewhere was a real eye-opener.

What goals have you set for yourself in this position?

I hoped to help the university better realize its mission, an important part of which is to educate ethical and democratic leaders. It is really that very explicit mission that attracted me to this institution. To this end, my immediate goals are to expand the work and impact of our important Center for Information, Democracy and Citizenship, or CIDC, and to make sure that the university is far better known both in Bulgaria and internationally. Having worked closely with my local communities in my previous presidencies, I also hoped to strengthen our bonds here in Blagoevgrad.

We also will expand our offerings in Sofia—especially with graduate programs and certificates, while at the same time we offer additional undergraduate majors.

Having had previous educational experience in Africa, what important lessons from there do you plan to incorporate into your work in Bulgaria as well?

In Nigeria, our university students not only helped to feed hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing from Boko Haram, but also launched very successful literacy and educational campaigns using innovative technologies to reach many thousands of children. Our students worked in local economic development, in creating new local economic opportunities, addressing agricultural challenges, expanding opportunities for women, and in various ecological projects as well. This sort of universal real-world community experience, embedded in our curriculum, was civic education in its best sense. It is deep participation in democracy, democracy in action.

Personally, I feel a profound responsibility to ensure that this generation has the knowledge, the skills, the experience, and perhaps most importantly, the confidence and the courage to tackle the big challenges that lie ahead for all of us. This is every bit as true here in Bulgaria as it is in Africa or anywhere else.

The AUBG has become a prominent institution in Bulgaria. How do you see the university's mission today?

AUBG was founded at precisely the time when Bulgaria was undergoing fundamental—seismic, even—changes in its political, economic, and social structures. Its mission then was to help provide expertise where it was wanted and to educate young people to don the mantle of leadership in a newly democratic Bulgaria. While the country has come a long way in 30 years, the building and sustaining of a free society is never finished—not in Bulgaria, not anywhere. Freedom is always a work in progress.

This is why I feel that the work we shall do through the Center for Information, Democracy and Citizenship is so crucial. It means, too, that our emphasis on creativity, critical thought, ethics, entrepreneurship and sustainability are central to actualizing our mission.

The university has been instrumental in promoting democratic values in Bulgaria and beyond. What are its greatest achievements in this field, and how do you plan to continue this tradition in a manner suited to our modern times?

Our alumni are truly our greatest achievements, our greatest contribution to a more just and democratic world.

As to our plans, they are many and varied. One of our foci will be on the struggle to combat Internet disinformation, an increasing scourge of democratic societies. We will also ensure that we are teaching students not only democratic principles but also the intellectual and research skills necessary for effective democratic participation and leadership. Also, we will be focusing far more pointedly on issues of sustainability and the myriad repercussions of global climate change.

Why does Bulgarian society still need AUBG?

I know that many people here in Bulgaria, in my country, and elsewhere, don't understand the critical role of universities in society. But they are—we are, institutions that transmit the best that has been thought and known. Places where we can create new knowledge that benefits society and where we can broaden our knowledge of an endlessly fascinating world. Places that help us to open our eyes to that world—to the universe, to understand what is true, and what is not. Places to cultivate our sense of responsibility as well. It is a glorious and essential mission. What society does not need such sacred institutions?

www.aubg.edu

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