American Univesity of Beirut

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

Saluting new colleagues and students
Welcome to this new academic year! And my special welcome to the 1,873 registered undergraduates, 453 graduate students, and 65 new faculty members joining us for the first time in this 153rd year of AUB's transformative mission. 

While I had the honor and pleasure of meeting the new faculty during your orientation program, new students are too numerous—and often too busy—for me to connect with you at this early stage. But I hope to become acquainted with as many as possible between now and the day I hand you your prestigious AUB degree.

By reading these twice-monthly President's Perspective messages, you will come to know not just the thinking of the AUB leadership, but also the incredible diversity of endeavor the AUB community engages in. Our sincere hope is you will join your predecessors in becoming lifelong ambassadors and supporters of this exceptional institution.

Educating you, the next generation of leaders for Lebanon, the region, and beyond, is an unmatched privilege. As every educator knows, we learn more about ourselves with every student we teach. As you progress along your voyage of inquiry and discovery, your horizons broaden, your critical thinking skills develop, and your potential to make a positive impact on the world will be multiplied. With great hope for the future, therefore, we welcome you to this energetic community of scholars that leaves an indelible mark on everyone who joins it.

One of AUB's unique assets is its beautiful green campus that you are just finding your way around. As you spend time here, make the most of every precious minute. Avoid fixing your gaze on the horizon, or your cellphone, as you sit or move among the campus community. Remove your headphones and listen to the birds in the trees. Show an interest in everyone around you. Learn to talk to strangers, who you will find can quickly become friends forever. And remember, regardless of age, religion, race, or background, we are all one family at AUB and welcome you—our newest members—with open arms.

It can happen here
Every fall term begins with our Opening Ceremony, a rite of passage marking the start of the new academic year. Amid the pomp and procession, it falls to the university president to deliver an annual address to the whole community, whether gathered in Assembly Hall or in the far-flung corners of the world.

My message for 2019-20 is that hope always springs eternal, even in these most daunting times. You might think me overoptimistic, with responsible international governmental leadership an increasing rarity, climate in crisis, wars unchecked or looming afresh, and basic freedoms under attack. Yes, I am an optimist, but with optimism grounded in the knowledge that people of integrity and vision, such as are nurtured at AUB and congregate here, can join together to provide a role model for a fair, just, and inclusive society, one for the wider world to learn from and emulate.

It Can't Happen Here is the ironic title of a 1935 novel by Sinclair Lewis that imagines an America under the aegis of Berzelius "Buzz" Windrip, a power-hungry populist who defeats incumbent Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 election and imposes a dictatorship. My opening address was entitled “It Can Happen Here" because I want to focus our community's attention on the good that AUB can achieve, rather than despair at the incipient effects of modern-day Windrips on the international stage. ​

Looking at the course of history, we see the most significant progress—whether in statecraft, science, or the arts—is often achieved in periods of stress, suffering, and pain. Roosevelt's New Deal was a result of the Great Depression. The Wirtschaftswunder, or German economic miracle, followed the devastating collapse of Nazism. AUB, arguably the most important 19th-century western contribution to the Arab world, was not forged only in peace and brotherly love, but in a vigorous dialectical contest between Protestant missionaries and the leading lights of the Arab Nahda.

Roosevelt's most famous dictum is that “the only thing we have to fear is… fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance." Fear is the expectation of pain, or failure, or humiliation, and we in the AUB community—faculty, staff, current students, and alumni—must resist such expectation lest it paralyze our efforts to tackle our own shortcomings and raise the bar of performance to new heights. This is the only way to ensure AUB continues to earn its world-class reputation as a socially, financially, and educationally sustainable institution, one whose excellence and liberal values are a beacon to the world.

Yo-Yo Ma in harmony with AUB's mission
The great Chinese-American cellist and humanist Yo-Yo Ma has just passed the mid-point of his ambitious and inspiring Bach Project, which celebrates his six-decade relationship with Johann Sebastian Bach's six suites for solo cello—each of which has six movements—by performing them all in single sittings in 36 locations around the world.

In each location, alongside Ma's spellbinding 2.5-hour performance of the six suites, his group partners with local cultural actors to curate a Day of Action highlighting how culture connects us and can help us imagine and build a better future. Location #19 was Lebanon, with the six suites being played at the Byblos Festival on August 24 and the Day of Action taking place across Beirut the following day.

August 25 events included a strong AUB flavor, thanks largely to the tireless and skilled coordination of Mona Hallak, director of the AUB Neighborhood Initiative, who organized the unforgettable Musicat theIntersection pop-up concert on the balconies of Beit Beirut, followed by an enthralling Conversation on Culture and Freedom of Expression in Assembly Hall.

No one who heard it will forget Yo-Yo Ma's “musical response" to the challenges to artistic freedom—including the controversy around Mashrou' Leila's ban from the Byblos Festival—in which he delivered the AUB-alumni band's song Tayf, a lament for diversity crushed by intolerance, in bow-shredding performances at both the festival and at AUB.

How proud we are to be able to call the great but humble Yo-Yo Ma our alumnus, awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters in 2005! And how proud we are of the generations of artists and cultural pioneers who walked the corridors of AUB and changed the way we see the world around us—from Zaki Nassif, Saloua Raouda Choucair and Zaha Hadid, to Mashrou' Leila's Firas Abou Fakher, Carl Gerges, Haig Papazian, and Hamed Sinno! Let us all galvanize ourselves to start this new academic year to emulate their authenticity, collaboration, vision, and purpose, each in our own way, to make every tomorrow better than today.

Best regards,

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD


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