Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
Congratulations graduates! You made it!
I am delighted to begin my last
President's Perspective message of a tempestuous academic year by saluting the graduating class of 2020. In a
video address whose release coincided with what would have been their Commencement night, I describe these remarkable young people as a “vintage AUB cohort," that overcame forest fires, civil unrest, economic and financial meltdown; that emerged as citizens and leaders in a national popular uprising; that adapted to a new kind of education; and that has now kept strong through a pandemic the likes of which none of us has experienced before.
Truly the 1,809 undergraduate students who have earned their bachelor's degrees, and the 543 who gained master's degrees, PhDs, and MDs, deserve every praise and recognition for steadfastly pursuing their education amid such extraordinary obstacles and difficulties. Their participation in the many co-curriculars, including their impact on sports, was celebrated in a thoughtful AUB Athlete's Night
Many of my generation suffered disruptions during our education, but in a number of ways many of our new graduates and current students face more arduous uphill journeys, traversing through the precarious Lebanese and Arab situations and managing safely through the global impact of COVID-19. Yet we have seen the indomitable spirit of the Class of 2020, and derive hope from the leadership that this newest wave of AUB alumni will inject into the world, just as previous cohorts of our graduates have done before them.
My message to these graduates is that the manifold challenges around us illustrate the importance of effective leadership in a VUCA world (that is a world of volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity). The world has no need for leadership that relies solely on charisma or decisiveness. Authentic leadership must be balanced, transparent, vulnerable, accountable, open-minded, and forged through constantly examining one's internal moral compass. It is leadership that relies on knowing oneself, who one truly is, and what truly matters and empowers one to lead in a genuine and meaningful way. I have no doubt the Class of 2020 will be such leaders.
AUBMC – more efficient, lean, inclusive, excellent
As we discuss challenges ahead, it is clear that the American University of Beirut Medical Center (AUBMC) has witnessed the most rapid and harmful change of circumstances caused first by the instability of Lebanon's crises and after that by the coronavirus pandemic. Such moments require a thorough institutional assessment, and vigorous planning and action to mitigate the emerging risks and achieve sustainability, while building up everything that is excellent and makes us a world-class medical provider.
Our incoming medical center director, Joseph G. Otayek, has already been
introduced to you
as a highly distinguished alumnus with an unparalleled record of leadership in Lebanon's academic health sector. Joe Otayek's
to the AUBMC community last week underlines how fortunate we are that he has decided to return to serve his alma mater, and apply his clear, experienced, strategic approach to our situation. From the vantage point of leading the institutional assessment as a consultant, Mr. Otayek has been able to confirm that AUBMC possesses the required competences and resources to overcome present challenges. Indeed, with a well-structured implementation plan, that enables us to increase revenues and decrease costs, AUBMC will emerge as a more inclusive and excellent, leaner and more efficient organization.
Twenty-four strategic objectives have been identified for the Medical Center and classified under one of three categories, critical, intermediate, and long-term. The mitigation of risk in the critical category will be realized by four task forces acting simultaneously to reach their targeted objectives. Some of this work has already started, while the composition of other task forces is underway. The intermediate and long-term risk mitigation objectives will be implemented during the coming year to ensure AUBMC's financial sustainability, and prevent major collateral damage impacting AUB's financial stability. This is part of a broader approach to AUB's way forward, which we will go into in more detail on June 15.
Board supports AUB leading world-class research
We held another excellent
Board of Trustees meeting on June 3-5, the third to be held remotely this year, which included many valuable discussions on a wide variety of subjects. During this time of crisis, AUB's trustees have truly shone in their double role as sagacious overseers of the university's affairs and our most passionate supporters and partners.
The meeting saw approval of the reframed VITAL strategic framework (more on that in the fall Perspectives) as well as the university budget for next year as proposed, with—crucially—the research budget emerging intact. This is yet another mark of this visionary Board, as we continue to invest in a world class group of faculty members who submitted more research applications over the last year than in any prior year in AUB's history. This allows AUB to continue along its strategic path towards being a sustainable center for world-class innovation and knowledge creation, one whose institutional investment in research has already doubled over the last five years and which will continue to be prioritized. In the same vein, 32 full and associate professors were awarded academic tenure, some of whom appeared in an engaging series of self-made short videos featuring their research foci and discoveries, making very compelling watching for a non-specialized audience (and which we shall release to the public in due course).
Supported by the reinstatement of tenure, which AUB accomplished in AY 2017-18 (against a global trend away from this definitive benchmark of scholarly standing), it is easy to see the impact our faculty achieve at a world-class level. In three years, AUB has awarded tenure to more than 150 faculty members. In one such example, members of the Clinical Research Institute (CRI) led by
Professor Elie Akl of the Faculty of Medicine (FM) co-led with members of McMaster University a groundbreaking “COVID-19 Systematic Urgent Reviews Group Effort (SURGE)", that undertook three reviews related to the pandemic for the WHO which were published in top-ranked medical journals. Some of these findings, about the benefit of facemasks, physical distancing, and eye protection, were sufficiently eye-catching to be featured widely in the international media including
NBC News and
CRI was established in 2010 to meet the need for infrastructure to support and promote innovative clinical research and collaboration enabling novel discoveries, the advancement of clinical practice and improving patient care outcomes. It was therefore well-placed to participate in a fast-tracked meta-analysis of a myriad COVID-19 research projects published since the beginning of the outbreak. Bringing together a powerful network of 40 collaborators from around the world, including a dozen from AUB, allowed the SURGE team to work literally around the clock and complete their comprehensive reviews in six weeks.
In addition to the team's review of the efficacy of facemasks, distancing, and eye protection, published in the
Lancet, which led to the WHO updating its
advice on mask wearing, it also reviewed noninvasive ventilation for COVID-19 patients (published by the
Annals of Internal Medicine) and the safe management of bodies of deceased persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, (published by
BMJ Global Health). Typically, CRI Director Elie Akl believes, a project of this magnitude would normally take two years, but when our extraordinary investigators put their minds to a task, acting in harmony with world-class partners, they achieved their goal in a fraction of that time. And that is why despite the resource challenges, the concatenation of crises, and the peril Lebanon and the region now face, AUB's enduring excellence will continue to lead the way towards a better tomorrow for the best and brightest students of the Global South.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD