Dear AUB faculty, students, staff, and friends,
You will have heard that Sir James Wolfensohn has decided not to attend the Commencement ceremonies on June 25, during which the university had intended to award him an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters and had anticipated hearing him give the keynote speech at graduation.
His decision was taken in the aftermath of a petition that was organized by several faculty members at AUB, then circulated to the faculty and student community, as well as to our alumni, who were specifically encouraged not just to sign the petition but to write letters of protest. In the wake of predictable coverage by the media, the press in Lebanon have given wide notoriety to the issue as well, apparently based primarily on the wording of the petition, which is highly selective in the information it provides. The coverage has been mostly, and unfairly, critical of James Wolfensohn.
Neither the petition nor the media will inform you of Wolfensohn’s long and devoted record of work on behalf of the Arab world. I believe a more accurate picture, based on facts rather than insinuations is required. Please note the following:
The petition does not mention that:
As a university we recognize and respect the diversity of opinions that must be expressed on campus, and it is the right of faculty and students to disagree with decisions made by the administration. The policies of the World Bank are controversial in many countries and are rightfully a topic of discussion and debate in academic circles.
As an institution devoted to critical thinking and the judicious weighing of evidence, however, AUB is not well served by petitions that are deliberately slanted to serve narrow interests regardless of facts. Co-opting the opinions of fellow faculty, students, and alumni by a pretext of authority, such campaigns are fundamentally dishonest and diverge from our university’s commitment to the pursuit of knowledge as grounded in intellectual integrity.
Let us acknowledge that ours is a complex region that is undergoing unprecedented change, and that it needs people, like James Wolfensohn, who have the ability to reach out across cultural and political boundaries to improve the human condition. We are saddened by the fact that AUB will not be able to honor him this June, when we had hoped we might bring his many positive contributions on behalf of the Arab world to the attention of a wider audience, especially here in Lebanon.
Sir James Wolfensohn needs no personal defense from me. Thoughtful people who know his record honor this dedicated public servant, who has taken a courageous stance in defense of Palestinian rights and in support of a just resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arab world needs more friends like him.
American University of Beirut