Mohammad Qayoumi has lived his life by Eleanor Roosevelt’s maxim, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.” The son of a carpenter from rural Afghanistan and mother who was illiterate, Qayoumi believed in the power of education to raise him up from his humble beginnings, and he went on to pursue a degree in Electrical Engineering at the American University of Beirut. This was followed by a scholarship at the University of Cincinnati, where he earned an MS in Nuclear Engineering, another MS in Electrical and Computer Engineering, an MBA, and a PhD in Electrical Engineering (who said scholarships don’t pay off?).
This summer he will be assuming the position of President of San Jose State University.
This is not the first time that Qayoumi has been with SJSU. He already served as Vice President of Administration from 1986 to 1995. From there he moved on to CSU Northridge and CSU East Bay in Hayward, where, as President, he managed to deal with a dwindling budget through effective cost-cutting measures, while shifting the school’s academic emphasis to the SMET (Science, Math, Engineering, and Technology) disciplines.
In many ways, Qayoumi is unlike other presidents in the CSU system. He is certainly an acclaimed academic, with eight books and 85 articles to his credit. But Qayoumi has also garnered a reputation as a pragmatic administrator—his MBA helps with that. As CSU East Bay Statistics professor Mitchell Watnick says, “The perception is that he is a ‘bottom-line’ guy, interested in the budget. He’s been able to balance the budget here, unlike his predecessors.”
Qayoumi has already hinted at the direction he would like to take SJSU during his tenure. “I know San Jose State has an established connection with NASA Ames (Research Center), but I would like to see stronger ties made with the other national laboratories in the Bay Area, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.” The school is not only the top supplier of graduates in engineering, and computer science in Silicon Valley, but also of students of education and business administration, two fields especially dear to Qayoumi.
Finally, it should be noted that Qayoumi is a proud Afghan. He rejects the claims of British Defense Secretary Liam Fox, who called Afghanistan “a broken 13th-century country,” or of Blackwater Crusader Eric Prince who called the people, barbarians” with “a 1200 A.D. mentality.” All too often, it is denigrating comments such as these that dominate the public discourse about the country and America’s role in it.
In a photo essay published by Foreign Policy, Qayoumi waxes nostalgic about a very different country that he remembers, one in which, “Afghan women pursued careers in medicine; men and women mingled casually at movie theaters and university campuses in Kabul; factories in the suburbs churned out textiles and other goods. There was a tradition of law and order, and a government capable of undertaking large national infrastructure projects, like building hydropower stations and roads, albeit with outside help.”
As if foretelling his current appointment and the remarkable series of events that led up to it. Qayoumi continues, “Ordinary people had a sense of hope, a belief that education could open opportunities for all, a conviction that a bright future lay ahead.” It is that same sense of hope and belief in the power of education that Qayoumi brings to SJSU.