American Univesity of Beirut


Dear friends and colleagues in the AUB community, 
Spring is almost here—how delightful to see the cyclamen bursting forth around campus after what has been a cold, wet winter, and a long one by Lebanese standards! I hope you share the sense of reawakening and regeneration that many of us feel at this time of year. Before I move to my principal topics, let me first congratulate Dr. Saleh Sadek of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture for his election by the University Senate as the first faculty member to sit on the Board of Trustees’ Academic Affairs Committee. This is another major step towards shared governance at AUB. It follows prior landmarks, including the negotiation of new faculty contracts, the agreement with the Workers and Staff Syndicate of AUB, and two successful student elections, punctuated by a 33.PNGmold breaking electoral reform agreement. I am convinced that the spirit of cross-cutting partnership in this university is palpable and growing. I would also like to commend two bright prospects of Arabic literature among our students, both published novelists, Amal Elbaba and Roua Seghaier, who appeared on an AUB platform last week with mentor Dr. Rachid El Daif, who leads the Arabic Creative Writing course at the Department of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages. Another terrific literary event was held on February 17, the 75th anniversary of the birth of Syrian giant of drama Saadallah Wannous, whose private library has been generously donated to AUB by his​ family.

Our role in achieving social justice

On February 15, I touched briefly on my keynote address at the conference on Social
Justice in the Arab World since 2010 hosted by the Issam Fares Institute and the Bobst
Center for Peace and Justice at Princeton University. It was a speech that allowed me to
expand on one of my core beliefs: that university education is the key difference-maker
in society, and advantages it bestows must not be shared disproportionately among
those already endowed with wealth, access and privilege. On the contrary, universities
should be engaged in rectifying societal imbalances, empowering the disempowered,
and doing everything possible to include the underrepresented. This is not a personal
political platform. Rather, it is firmly based in the tradition of this institution since its
foundation. In my talk at the IFI, I focused on four areas related to our role in achieving
social justice: making a safe space for student activism, modelling a fair and just society
on campus, our commitment to engaged citizenship and outreach, and creating a more
sustainable and equitable economy around us—all key elements of our shared
institutional vision.

I was privileged recently to attend an AUB event held under the Chatham House rule,
the agreement devised at the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London whereby
participants may use information received, but cannot identify the speaker, in order to
foster open discourse. We heard a fascinating and important peroration identifying the
causes of the Arab revolutions of 2011 (the so-called Arab Spring) and warning of much
greater turmoil to come if our region does not solve these same fundamental
challenges. In short, the argument went, we have seen the collapse of an imposed social
contract whereby regimes provide basic services in return for the populations having no
say in political decision making; the only way to avoid a second, much greater, storm is
for the people to be allowed to participate in deciding their political destinies. AUB,
with its liberal arts ethos and civic agenda, is one of the rare spaces in this region where
such concepts are actively seeded and nurtured. It stands at the forefront of a transition
to a more pluralistic Middle East, which is vital for survival and sustainability, and we, as
students, staff, faculty or alumni, must never forget how significant our role is. 

Talk is not cheap


One of the pillars of a democratic society is a free media and, although the recent loss
of al-Safir newspaper is a painful set-back, Lebanon is lucky to have several flagships still
plying the waters of open dialogue and critical thinking. Greatest of these is unarguably
LBCI’s Kalam Ennas, hosted by the incomparable Marcel Ghanem, and it was a great
honor and privilege for us to host this exemplar of TV shows on February 16. The
broadcast was greatly enlivened by the participation of students who were given the
opportunity to ask me unscripted questions from the floor of Assembly Hall. It is very
encouraging to see them prepared to stand up and quiz their institutional leadership in
such a direct and forthright way, although others chose to protest with placards. I am
not against their right to peacefully protest—of course not, that would be wholly
inconsistent with everything I stand for—but I do believe it is incumbent upon
protesters to present correct data, which unfortunately did not happen.
Equally encouraging was the large number of students who turned out for the
broadcast. I could see row upon row of young faces through the glare of the TV lights,
and while I am realistic enough to realize that Marcel’s presence may be a factor in the
student turn-out, I hope to see students in much greater numbers attending future AUB
forums in which key issues of the day are discussed. In this vein, I would like to start
holding more regular town hall meetings, looking at ways to make them more
accessible and relevant to our students. As I said during the broadcast, students do not
usually attend such meetings. So students, when these meetings are advertised, please
show up, and speak up. It is very hard to hear your voices if you do not show up. 

Much more than a coffee table book


On February 20, we unveiled our second major publication commissioned to look back
at our first 150 years, and timed to coincide with the launch of the BOLDLY AUB
campaign and sharing the campaign’s tagline LEAD, INNOVATE, SERVE. This very fine
book is the brainchild of the Assistant Secretary of the University and Director of the
Debs Center in New York, Ada Porter, who initially came to me in 2015 with a proposal
for a pictorial history of AUB that would serve as a high-end coffee table book. My first
instinct was to say no, the world does not need yet another coffee table publication.
But then she explained the inspiring concept of bringing together the people, the
places, and the incredible moments in history, that our sesquicentennial anniversary
research was turning up and presenting them as in the form of original documents,
archive photographs, letters and other treasures from the AUB Archive and Special
Collections. Many of these have not seen the light of day since their inception and I’m
so glad my opposition wilted, and that we now have this wonderful book. It was edited
by the indomitable Ada and put together by the talented team at Communication
Design led by the dedicated AUB alumna, Nour Kanafani, as well as our own AUB Press
with support from AUB senior communications officer, Barbara Rosica. I cannot
r​ecommend this publication enough, and it is the perfect complement to the excellent
academic work produced last year under the title ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY. Both
books are available for purchase at the AUB Press in College Hall (B2) and at local
bookstores. You can also order from the AUB Press website.

Best regards,

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD

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