Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
As Thomas Paine wrote in
The American Crisis: “These are the times that try men's souls." For the women and men who will sustain AUB through this multiyear Lebanese crisis, I can think of few more resounding clarion calls than Paine's to the revolutionaries who faced the bleak winter of 1776 in their struggle against the British. “The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will in this crisis shrink from the service of their country, but he who stands by his country deserves the love and thanks of man and woman."
At AUB, we have shown over generations that we are a community of year-round soldiers and all-weather patriots! I therefore remain optimistic about the future of this unique and mission-driven university, and about a country which can populate it with such writers, scholars, citizens, and difference-makers. But fate has decreed that the burden falls to us to secure AUB's future, just as it did a previous generation who kept it open during a decade and a half of unimaginable dangers and hardship. Without those heroes, we would not even have a university to steer through the crises of the third decade of the 21st century.
The burden falls to us to secure AUB's future, just as it did a previous generation who kept it open through unimaginable hardship"
The lethal perils of civil war and hostile invasions faced by our predecessors are different from the realities faced by our community today. But just as the doomsday-like August 4 explosion shook the foundations of every home in Beirut, so has the Lebanese crisis placed the residents of Lebanon in a waking nightmare of continuous currency collapse, hyperinflation, informal capital control, negative growth, and black-market usury.
Amid today's economic perils, the chance to lay down secure financial foundations for the future has—for the time being—evaporated. Some people have abandoned hope and are consequently abandoning Lebanon, including members of our own faculty and staff. To each of them we say that we understand and respect your decision, and wish you well on your journeys; but equally we say to those willing to assign their destinies to AUB in its time of greatest need, you shall deserve and receive the rewards of the service of your university when brighter, sunnier days return, as they surely will.
As was widely reported before Easter, the Board of Trustees has given initial approval to a plan to leverage $100 million of our resources abroad to invest in AUB's most precious resource, the faculty and staff who will stay with us for the long haul. It comes as the heir to the necessary measures of last year to reduce our unsustainable employee headcount and mitigate the bankrupting 1,515 LBP exchange rate. Without these decisions, though difficult and unpopular, we would not have been able to massively increase
student financial assistance for those that needed it most, enabling AUB to stay true to its mission and maintain our sincere pledge and aspiration that all students can continue their studies regardless of Lebanon's financial and economic collapse.
However, if student retention has been our priority, we are no longer implementing an employee “retention strategy." This is not the time to be concerned about flight risks or retaining faculty and staff who are no longer fully committed to our mission. Rather the leveraging of our endowment is an investment strategy in our most impactful and mission-focused faculty and staff, so they are not forced into a choice of pursuing their career at AUB or safeguarding their family's well-being.
We discussed this approach in a series of virtual town halls in March that we called “A Bridge to the Highway" and there was a palpable sense of determination to shoulder this challenge among the over two thousand faculty and staff who logged on to the meetings. Let us not fall for the facile characterization of yesteryear, that those dedicated servants of AUB who stayed during the war, or will stay during this crisis, are “people with nowhere else to go." Rather they are the ones who see it as a special kind of privilege to serve in the worthiest of causes when they are needed the most.
We are fueled by the belief we can change the world for the better, one day, one student, one patient at a time"
The evidence for this is all around us, in the pages of the latest
MainGate magazine or the monthly
AUB@Work e-digest and its sister podcast
Professors at Work. You see it in our remarkable students who brought home the “Best Delegation Award" from the Harvard World Model United Nations event; the multidisciplinary team that launched the Knowledge is Power Index and Lived Experience Index that
tracks women's employment throughout the region for the first time; or the team of physicians and scientists who founded a
new biotech corporation, Teucer Biotech Inc., poised to revolutionize the early detection of vascular injury and significantly reduce the global burden of cardiovascular disease.
No doubt together we face a daunting uphill climb along our bridge to the highway but a real path forward will open before us. We will open and navigate that path ourselves as we must. We are fueled by our shared belief we can change the world for the better, one day, one student, one patient at a time; transforming lives by opening the minds of the best and brightest and saving those lives at greatest risk. Those are the massive stakes before us, at a time when the healthcare and educational sectors of Lebanon are at profound risk.
Those courageous, determined individuals that heed this call will enter into AUB's hall of heroes and will help to secure a better future, not just for themselves and their families but also for the AUB community and for Lebanon and the region. And we will stand by them and their families as they make a difference that future generations will never forget.
To underline the importance of this mission, we can recall the series of rhetorical questions posed by Dr. Kamal Salibi more than 30 years ago, at the conclusion of an address he made on behalf of the faculty to the AUB Board of Trustees at the end of the civil war. The memorable occasion is recounted by Dr. Abdulrahim Abu-Husayn in his 2016 essay "Kamal Salibi: The Man and the Historian" in AUB's sesquicentennial publication
One Hundred and Fifty.
Can you imagine a modern Arab world without Lebanon? Can you visualize a Lebanon without Beirut?
And can you conceive of a Beirut without Ras Beirut and a Ras Beirut without AUB?
“For the AUB to have survived the test was enough of an accomplishment," Salibi had told the trustees. “Far more significant, however, was the manner of the survival. The AUB, subjected to one hardship after another, did not merely continue to stand while the city around it was crumbling to ruins... More important, the university and its hospital operated for 16 years far beyond the call of duty, the rump that remained of the faculty and staff rendering countless services to the community which seemed, at the time, abandoned by the world. The AUB, in those terrible years stood as a bastion of hope amidst the surrounding despair, playing a leading part in the defense of a helpless civic society against forces which were out to destroy it."
The circumstances may have changed significantly, but my optimism extends to the firm hope and expectation that a future faculty member will be able to make the same assertion about “the manner of the survival" accomplished by today's outstanding faculty and staff of the imposing, enduring, and inspiring AUB. AUB remains in Salibi's words, that “bastion of hope amidst the surrounding despair," a bastion that endures so that generation after generation can and will “have life and have it more abundantly." And so the adventure, and the mission that drives it, endures.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD