Thriving in the desert: University founded by UMSL graduate continues to flourish in Oman

by | Jun 9, 2015

UMSL alumnus Muneer Al-Maskery (left) founded and serves as president of Modern College of Business and Science in Oman.
Muneer Al-Maskery (left) and Joel Glassman

UMSL alumnus Muneer Al-Maskery (left) founded and serves as president of Modern College of Business and Science in Oman. He returned to St. Louis last month to discuss curriculum development with UMSL faculty, including his long-time mentor, UMSL Associate Provost Joel Glassman. (Photo by August Jennewein)

If the University of Missouri–St. Louis were to extend its “I Chose” billboard marketing campaign to Muscat, Oman, there’s little doubt that the first graduate featured would be Muneer Al-Maskery.

That statement brings a smile to the face of the soft-spoken 62-year-old with three degrees from UMSL – including a doctorate in political science. Muneer, who founded the Modern College of Business and Science in 1996 and still serves as its president, was back in St. Louis last month with several of his colleagues to discuss curriculum development with UMSL faculty.

The first private university established in Oman, MCBS opened with 56 students offering two-year degrees. Today, the campus enrolls more than 2,200 students with several options for bachelor’s degrees. It’s a success story that Muneer readily admits would not be possible without UMSL.

Stepping away from the curriculum meeting for a few minutes, Muneer talked with UMSL Daily in the Social Sciences and Business Building. More family reunion than interview, Muneer was joined by long-time mentor and UMSL Associate Provost Joel Glassman.

“It all started here,” Muneer says, pointing up from the 3rd floor conference room. “I was meeting with my [doctoral] adviser Carol Kohfeld about my career options. I told her I wanted to start a university in Oman.”

Following a short pause, Muneer said Kohfeld agreed that a feasibility study and academic plan for a university in Oman could serve as the basis of his doctoral project. Among his doctoral activities, Muneer worked alongside Don Shook in 1992 as he served as president of the then-fledgling St. Charles Community College.

“This experience was invaluable,” Muneer says. “I was able to participate in the planning and meetings leading to accreditation. This was the basis of my feasibility plan for Oman.”

His project complete, Muneer graduated. The only problem was government officials in Oman had not yet accepted the concept of private universities when Muneer was returning, so the newly minted PhD helped develop a public university. But when the governmental mindset shifted, Muneer dusted off his feasibility study and started the process to create MCBS – with UMSL as its affiliate.

It’s at this point that Glassman smiles – one of those “oh wow” expressions as he explains that officials from UMSL and Oman had a different concept of affiliation.

“We weren’t there to create a branch campus,” Glassman says. “They [government officials] didn’t quite understand that we weren’t interested in some  extension of neo-colonialism. It was our hope to help create an autonomous institution that would build capacity in Oman.”

In essence, UMSL began and continues to serve as an adviser in the operation and curriculum development of MCBS. It’s an arrangement that the Oman government accepted and has served as a model for the development of other universities.

A bedrock of sand

Glassman remembers fondly one of his earliest visits to Oman after the Oman government had approved Muneer’s proposal.

“Muneer took Chancellor [Blanche] Touhill and me to the proposed site of his new university,” Glassman says. “We looked around – there was nothing but sand. It seemed like the middle of nowhere. And we were thinking, ‘Are you sure?’”

Hearing Glassman tell the story elicits a laugh from Muneer – the kind of response one has when the future they envision actually comes true.

“Yes. Yes,” Muneer says, remembering the expression on Glassman’s and Touhill’s faces.

MCBS today has three buildings and a fourth in development. It also has numerous neighbors. MCBS served as an anchor as the greater Muscat, Oman, area expanded toward the new campus. Among those nearby are the Azzan Bin Qais International School, Oman Medical College and Muscat Private Hospital.

Undying appreciation

Many people appreciate their education, but Muneer says his level of gratitude goes well beyond that of most alumni. He reflects fondly on the faculty who first served as mentors and now peers in a venture creating opportunity in the Middle East and greater understanding between both cultures.

“I owe everything to UMSL,” Muneer says. “My education and MCBS were all made possible by UMSL.”

The UMSL Experience

Bob Samples

Bob Samples

Bob Samples is associate vice chancellor for university communications at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.