John Agresto

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John Agresto is an author, lecturer, and university administrator.


Agresto holds a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University. He has published in the areas of politics, law, and education, and has taught at the University of Toronto, Kenyon College, Duke University and the New School University. In the 1980s he served as associate director of the National Humanities Center in North Carolina's Research Triangle Park, reporting to director William J. Bennett. He went with Bennett to the National Endowment for the Humanities, where he served as deputy chairman under Bennett and Lynne Cheney.

In 1986 Agresto was nominated by President Reagan to become Archivist of the United States. At least thirteen national historical and archival organizations opposed Agresto's nomination, some objecting to what they claimed was his political partisanship[1] The American Studies Association said that his was "a mediocre political appointment" and the Organization of American Historians claimed he lacked "the technical qualifications for the job."[1] Opposition to Agresto was also based on his two-year refusal while at the NEH to comply with federal affirmative action hiring requirements. (Agresto vowed to resign rather than comply, but backed down after Congress threatened to abolish the Endowment.[2]) During the confirmation process, it was disclosed that a pro-Agresto witness at a Senate hearing had received a $10,000 "chairman's grant" from Agresto six months earlier, after an application for a $30,000 grant was rejected by a humanities panel.[3] The nomination produced controversy for over a year before it was withdrawn.

From 1989 to 2000, Agresto served as President of St. John’s College in Santa Fe. In 2002-03 he was Lily Senior Research Fellow at Wabash College. Between August 2003 and June 2004 he served as a Coalition Provisional Authority Senior Advisor to the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research in Baghdad, Iraq.[4] He then worked full-time with The American University of Iraq – Sulaimani as its Interim Provost and Chancellor, an experience he drew on to write Mugged By Reality – The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions (2007). In 2008-2009 he was a visiting fellow at Princeton University's James Madison Program.


In 2009, CounterPunch ran an article by former English instructor Mark Grueter who stated that The American University of Iraq – Sulaimani functioned more as a political tool than as an educational institution.[5] Faculty members and students have complained about mismanagement and incompetence at the university, according to the article.[6]


  • Mugged By Reality – The Liberation of Iraq and the Failure of Good Intentions. Encounter Books, February 2007. It was featured on CSPAN's book TV on June 17, 2007.
  • The Supreme Court and Constitutional Democracy, Cornell University Press, 1984. (Reprinted for overseas distribution by Prentice Hall of India, 1986, and Ferozsons Ltd., Pakistan, 1987.)
  • Liberty and Equality Under the Constitution, editor and contributor. The American Political Science Association and the American Historical Association, 1983.
  • The Humanist as Citizen: Essays on the Uses of the Humanities, co-editor and contributor. The National Humanities Center, with UNC Press, 1982.
  • Tomatoes, Basil, and Olive Oil – An Italian American Cookbook. Wolfsbrunnen Press, 2011.

Professional associations[edit]

  • Member, National Association of Scholars
  • Member, Council of the National Alumni Forum

Boards and commissions[edit]

  • Member and Chair of the Academic Committee, Board of Trustees, The American University of Iraq in Sulaimani
  • Former Member, Board of Directors, The Ball Foundation, 1995–2001
  • Former Member, Independent Commission on the Arts (Presidential Appointment)
  • Former Commissioner, Columbian Quincentenary Commission (Ex officio)
  • Board of Trustees of the Pontifical College Josephinum, 1990–1996
  • Member, U.S. (Presidential) Delegation to Observe the Elections in Suriname, 1987


  • Ph.D., 1974 Cornell University (Government)
  • A.B., 1967 Boston College (Political Science/History)

Honorary degrees[edit]

  • Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio, 1989
  • The Institute of World Politics, Washington DC, 2005


  1. ^ a b Werner, Leslie Maitland. "Some Historians Worry About Access in Future", New York Times, 1986-05-20
  2. ^ Battiata, Mary. "Archives Choice Faces Critics; Agresto Defends His Skills, Political Independence Archives Nominee", Washington Post, 1986-08-14
  3. ^ Battiata, Mary. "Panel Drops Nomination Of Agresto", Washington Post, 1986-10-03
  4. ^ Gusterson, Hugh (2012-02-02). "An education in occupation". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. Retrieved 2012-02-05. 
  5. ^ Grueter, Mark, Inside the American University of Iraq, CounterPunch (November 2009)
  6. ^ Baker, Russ; Kristina Borjesson; Mark Grueter (16 February 2011). "The empire strikes again". Salon. Retrieved 17 February 2011.