American Univesity of Beirut

​​​​​Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,​​

Students' voices being heard
Student elections come in many guises, and different levels of impact and credibility at different institutions.​ Like democracy itself, there is no perfect electoral system—but there is no doubt AUB student elections are among the most representative of any elections in this region and they even hold their own in the global higher education sector, on grounds of campaigning, participation, and transparency.

Despite these facts, every year sees complaints of external political influence in an electoral process solely intended to democratize decision-making on campus. Media coverage and political parties reinforce this impression in different ways and—in the social media age—the behavior of a small minority of supporters gets blown out of proportion. Meanwhile, many students tell us that they view the specter of outside interference as a deterrent to casting their ballots.

I am not saying student politics is a bad thing—on the contrary. AUB is, and should remain, a place of informed debate, where students discover their political passions and allegiances, and crucially where they develop critical thinking and the ability to question the decisions of their political leaders. But rather than accept this commotion about external interference, let us refocus on the essence of what AUB elections stand for and the genuine influence over university life they deliver into the hands of students through their elected representatives. ​

The University Student Faculty Committee (USFC) is an elected body of 19 students and six faculty members, in addition to the dean of student affairs and myself as university president, ex officio. It meets every two weeks during term time as a forum for expression, discussion, and action regarding the rights, privileges, and opinions of students to promote and ensure their overall welfare at AUB. As such, it is the primary channel for bringing issues to the attention of the administration and faculty representatives. It is most effective when student members—who have an unassailable two-thirds-plus-one majority—unite to recommend new procedures, for example to end inconsistency in sharing syllabi to assist course registration decisions.

The committee is also responsible for enriching student life by the allocation of funds from an annual budget pot of $250,000 to different events and activities, or supporting applicants who wish to travel to conferences or international forums. Furthermore, USFC members sit on key administrative committees, like the University Budget Committee where they participate in deliberation on high-level financial planning decisions with a major impact on the student constituency (for example tuition fee increases). Other positions give students visibility in job searches, program reviews, and a voice in the Disciplinary and Admissions committees.

As I said in my last message, I am looking forward to working with the new USFC student members in these areas to keep building trust and working towards consensus with the student body through the vehicle of transparent elections and accountable representation. ​

Art matters
Studies show that exposure to fine art has a positive effect on students' ability to think critically, and it has been a particularly good month for the arts at AUB, with the opening of a new exhibition of works from the university's permanent collection and the inauguration of an exceptionally fine monumental sculpture by the world-renowned artist Saloua Raouda Choucair who both worked and studied at AUB.

The exhibition, called The Permanent Collection, has been put together by Dr. Octavian Esanu, assistant professor of art history and curator of AUB Art Galleries, as a tribute to the efforts of several generations of artists and scholars to establish an AUB art collection for the edification and education of university community and public alike. Located in the Byblos Bank Art Gallery at Ada Dodge Hall, the exhibition comprises works assembled at various stages of these efforts, from key Lebanese modernist works given in 1971, to Dr. Samir Saleeby's donation in 2011 of his collection of earlier Lebanese artists, including Khalil Saleeby, Saliba Douaihy, Omar Onsi, Moustapha Farroukh, and César Gemayel, which now make up the core of the collection.

In addition to allowing us to engage with some of the best art that Lebanon has produced, The Permanent Collection, poses questions of what it means to be an art collection, constituted of works existing in the same space, yet at the same time negating one another's vision, ideology, and aesthetic tradition. Moreover, the layout encourages the viewer to engage with the intellectual evolution of individual artists like Saleeby's portraiture and Douwaihy's abstractions, in addition to the progression through the 20th century from the works of Saleeby, Farroukh, and Onsi to those of Helen Khal and Fareed Haddad.

AUB's permanent collection is lucky enough to contain two works by Choucair, both exhibited, to illustrate her extraordinary range and versatility. In keeping with Dr. Esanu's witty and thought-provoking curating style, one of these hangs at the gallery entrance while the other is tucked away in a near-secret hiding place, making the viewer work just that bit harder to appreciate this artist of such skill and originality. What sets Choucair apart as a modern artist is her profound knowledge and appreciation of Islamic geometric organization, which leads her to create works of extraordinary subtlety and complexity out of seemingly simple basic ideas. As AUB Galleries director Dr. Rico Frances says: “One of Choucair's hallmarks is the longer you spend with her creations, the more you can discern in them. She creates her own world, in which organic and geometric shapes both come together and pull themselves apart, building on the pri​nciples of Islamic design." 

Taking pride of place in the space east of College Hall, is Choucair's newly commissioned Poem in Four Verses, conceived as a 30-centimeter maquette in the 1960s, but now rendered as the artist intended, thanks to the generosity of a private donor and the artist's daughter Hala and the Saloua Raouda Choucair Foundation. It is not our intention to turn our special green campus into a sculpture garden, but for a work of such global significance, it is only right to install it here—for the education and enjoyment of current and future students and visitors—as a once-in-a-generation event.

Sporting progress
The AUB sporting calendar is in full swing with a number of varsity and junior varsity teams already showing huge promise this year, especially in our traditional areas of strength in men's and/or women's competitions such as football, futsal, basketball, among others, as well as in the swimming pool. Six hundred athletes have been selected for varsity teams in 28 sports, with a male-female split of 55-45 percent. I am delighted to see that hundreds of spectators are also coming to cheer on their fellow students (or sons/daughters/family members).

One area where the Sports department is strengthening its activities is on providing more visibility of fixtures and results on social media feeds, so even if you cannot make it to every game, you can always follow the action or plan your attendance at the most competitive matches—or the next demolition of opponents by our formidable women's basketball team, if you prefer. Watch out for the newly-refurbished AUB Sports website which goes live later this month with sections for each varsity team, and fixtures, match statistics, and match and team photos included.

Another area is in the growing field of sports nutrition, at the Charles Hostler Diet and Sports Performance Nutrition Clinic, the brainchild of university sports director Ghaleb Halimi, in collaboration with members of the Department of Nutrition and Food Sciences at FAFS, the first clinic of its kind at a university in Lebanon. Varsity players are offered personalized nutrition advice for free to improve athletic performance, although subsidized consultations are also available for all AUB students, faculty, and staff who want to lose (or gain) weight.

Dietary advice is based on advanced body composition analysis, and recommends different nutritional approaches to athletes according to the requirements of their sport, whether that is more protein to build muscle tissue or carbohydrates to improve energy and endurance. As supplements become more popular and available, although they can be toxic if misemployed, the clinic is also a useful safety net for people who might be using them when a healthy and more appropriate diet could suffice. For more information and appointments, please email Amal El Khatib.

Let me finish by making special mention of Yara Bou Rada, of our varsity futsal team, who was on stunning form for the U19 Lebanon national team in the Asia Football Confederation cham​pionship qualifier last week, scoring the first four goals in a 6-0 trashing of Hong Kong. The team went on to lose 0-2 to a strong Australian side, but rebounded against their third opponents of the week, Mongolia, defeating them 4-0 in another powerful team performance.


Best regards,

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD

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