There may soon be a new player on Chicago's higher education scene – but this one with an Islamic bent. Next week, the long-defunct American Islamic College will be throwing open its doors for the first time in years. It's the first of many steps toward establishing what its board hopes will become an Islamic intellectual hub in the United States.
In fact, board member Dr. H. Ali Yurtsever claims when it's fully accredited "American Islamic College will be the first Islamic college serving in the United States." A bold stake to drive into the ground, given that this place just welcomed its freshman class this fall. Zaytuna College in California also seeks accreditation. But there may be something to Yurtsever's claim, if you dig into some of AIC's tortuous history.
The AIC actually did receive partial accreditation before. Twice. The first time was as early as 1984, shortly after its founders bought the three-acre campus at Irving Park Road and Lakeshore Drive. The second time was in the early 1990s. Both times, it lost its status. An investigation by a state accrediting body in 2004 found that the school had not graduated any students since 2000, and had "ceased to function as an institute of higher education." The investigation was prompted by the resignation of three board members who had written something to that effect to the Illinois Board of Higher Education.
Yurtsever and a new board of directors were brought in last year by representatives of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, who serve on the school's board of trustees. Yurstever says in the last six months they've completed a $2 million renovation of the school's auditorium and dormitory building, which were at the point of collapse after years of neglect. They also launched a series of workshops with prominent community members as guest lecturers. Over the summer, the institute also started applying for accreditation, which Yurtsever hopes to achieve by 2012.
For now, AIC will only offer a few courses in the Arabic language, arts, and Islamic studies; none will count toward a degree. But Yurtsever says the college hopes to accept its first undergraduates in the fall of 2011 with the expectation that the school will be fully accredited by the time those students graduate.