American Univesity of Beirut


Dear friends and colleagues in the AUB community,

Three months ago when I first proposed writing this bi-monthly message, a number of
senior colleagues suggested the frequency might prove excessive. In fact I’m finding it a
stretch to do justice to everything going on—and some who predicted overkill tell me
now they await each new installment with interest, if not enthusiasm. Thank you for the
encouragement, and I want to repeat I’m always keen to hear constructive feedback
from you.


It has certainly been a packed fortnight—exceptional AUB faculty Drs. Dima Jamali, Najat
Saliba, and Ali Taher were among recipients of this year’s Research Excellence Award
presented by the Lebanese National Council for Scientific Research (CNRS). AUB hosted 
the launch of the Arab Human Development Report 2016, with an array of distinguished
and impactful speakers discussing how to empower Arab youth and harness their energy
to advance sustainable development. The Arab States Research and Education Network
(ASREN) is holding its annual international conference at AUB, bringing 200 international
participants with side meetings and workshops for members of GÉANT, Internet2, and
other regional and global research and educational networks. In New York, an august
body—the AUB International Advisory Council—reconvened under the chairmanship of
Trustee Frank Wisner after a protracted hiatus. AUB ranked among the top-100 world
universities for employability of its graduates, according to QS rankings, which placed us
32nd in the world on “alumni outcomes”, i.e. how successful our alumni are. Our hopes
were raised when Sevag Babikian was placed first after the expert jury’s assessment of
MBC’s Stars of Science finalists last week, but unfortunately he was overtaken in the
popular vote coming in a very creditable third place. Last but certainly not least, I want to
salute the Students for Sustainable Energy for All club whose members implemented the
remarkable Light Up a Village project delivering public street lighting and domestic
lighting for those most in need. To all our impact-makers I say نوّرتونا​.

Strategic update

Hundreds of you have now taken part in the community-wide strategic planning
conversation that has stemmed from the transformative gift of Trustee Talal Shair and
Dar Group to develop a campus masterplan aligned with comprehensive academic and
development plans. The latest constituency to participate was the Board of Trustees at a
high-intensity retreat held in New York last week, with the Board of Deans and senior
administration in attendance. This brings us to the point where everyone is on the same
page that the time has come to radically redefine our mission for the future, to enhance
our relevance, and ensure our sustainability for decades to come. We have established
our parameters in the broadest terms, to work in the service of humanity by advancing
knowledge and education, being bold enough to envision a wholly new educational
paradigm that will put us at the cutting edge of the global university collective. We will
focus on the ascendancy of research and high-performance learning, investing in and
building up our strengths and deliberating where to no longer invest. We will develop
virtually and actually, with a global digital learning ecosystem on the one hand, and an
optimized campus design for teaching, learning, research and innovation, on the other.
Never again can we put off the tough decisions until tomorrow, and tomorrow, and
tomorrow. But we will join together as a community united in engaged scholarly and
professional dialogue, whose location, purpose and range of expertise give us a unique
opportunity to change not just Lebanon for the better, but the Arab world and maybe the
whole world. 


The bold transformations will be effected on three different planes: on our culture, our
curriculum, and our campus. Together we have developed key themes that will underpin
every step we take: enhancing academic excellence and student life, making our campus
as vibrant and open as possible, reaching out to communities, and fortifying our
sustainability and resilience. Our compass will be set to building and empowering the
next generation of leaders and civic-minded citizens and we will do this through
excellence and ownership of four fundamental areas: basic science, medical and health
sciences, the social sciences and the humanities, or put more succinctly Science, Health,
Society and Culture—our template for future excellence. The goal simply is to develop
and mentor the next generation of citizen leaders. Easy to say? Yes. Easy to achieve? Far
from it. In 40 years’ time, however, when many of us are no longer here, we should
accept nothing less than those left behind to say we did everything we could to equip the
citizens of tomorrow with the means and the purpose to work for a better world. We can
promise you nothing but pain and sweat—we need your sweat equity. An elegant yet
simple quote from one of our most brilliant graduates, Zaha Hadid, says it all: “If you
want an easy life, don’t be an architect.” Team, and we are all one team, we shall all be
architects of AUB so that AUB can help build Arab civil societies.

National research treasure

I have already mentioned CNRS honoring three of our groundbreaking faculty which took
place at the Grand Serail on November 25. Earlier this month we held a joint ceremony
with the Council at AUB to celebrate the awarding of $480,000 in CNRS grants to no less
than 20 faculty, 12 PhD candidates and 14 undergraduate students. So it is fitting to pay
tribute to this extraordinary body and the distinguished servant-leaders who nurture and
sustain it: President of the Board of Administration, and 2008 Honorary Degree Recipient
at AUB, Georges Tohmé and General Secretary Dr. Mouin Hamzé. These two individuals
have helped build the CNRS into one of the most fundamentally successful and important 
branches of the Lebanese Government in my view. The superb thing about CNRS is not
just the money it provides to support outstanding research—candidly, the grants are
modest compared with the resources of some national funding bodies in the developed
world—but that CNRS is the platform by which Lebanese researchers gain access to much
larger networks of international funding organizations, especially on the EUMediterranean
level. The Council is also a great facilitator of multidisciplinary research in
Lebanon, creating opportunities to collaborate as part of Lebanon’s long-term
development strategy in areas like air and water quality and the impact of nutrition on
non-communicable diseases. Lebanon and AUB are very fortunate for the existence of
CNRS, which as a supporter and partner guarantees that we remain a viable nation of
scientific researchers and imparters of knowledge. More to come on cooperation with
CNRS in future Perspectives.

An emerging partnership


Earlier in 2016, we announced a major new agreement with the Abdullah Al Ghurair
Foundation to establish a STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics)
scholarship program at AUB for high performing students in underserved communities
around the Arab world. For reasons of timing and logistics, the first cohort of students
whom we have welcomed this semester were already accepted at AUB and approved for
financial aid, but coming years are promising an exciting expansion of this program, in
terms of a wider net for applicants around the Arab world, increasing the number and
diversity of enrolled students, and providing a similar level of support in acquiring
leadership skills which the other programs like MCF, USP and MEPI-TL provide. We had a
very positive series of meetings with Ghurair representatives on campus earlier this
month, and emerged with a very strong sense on both sides of the long-term strategic
partnership that can take shape in our joint mission to empower the next generation of
STEM leaders areas to help the Arab world excel in these vital sectors. While we are
unapologetic about receiving funds willingly given by the American taxpayers via USAID
for transformative scholarships (and we hope this will endure regardless of any
turbulence in US international relations), it is gratifying to see our first purely Arab
institution seeking to step up and be counted in changing our region through education 
and empowerment. The Al Ghurair STEM Scholars Program is now open for applications
for Fall 2017 admissions and will remain open until January 15, 2017. Students are
expected to apply to both AUB’s regular university admission process as well as directly
to the Foundation through the Ghurair website.

Best regards, and best of luck on final exams and projects!

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD

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