Mid-December marks the end of the first semester at the American University of Beirut and we welcome the mid-year break to reflect and renew across the holidays. This December we conclude a monumental year of both change and endurance—a year when the university
launched its first ever twin campus abroad, improved faculty and staff compensation, adjusted tuition to be more reliable and transparent, and re-aligned our course offerings to make some accessible to distance learning and others more experiential.
THIS DECEMBER WE CONCLUDE A MONUMENTAL YEAR OF BOTH CHANGE AND ENDURANCE.
The American University of Beirut Medical Center is undergoing a major renewal of equipment, scope, and mission, while more than three dozen faculty members on leave over the last couple of years have returned, along with almost 80 new recruits, to join our evergreen faculty members who have held firm over the prolonged series of crises. These crises show no signs of resolution, yet I remain confident of better times ahead and certain we are remaining as faithful as we have ever been to our mission. What are the bases for this conviction?
Last year we held nine town halls with students, faculty, and staff to discuss measures we would undertake for the future sustainability of AUB, to enhance its diversity, and to continue to become more intellectually elite than we are economically advantaged. The evidence clearly shows that this is taking place.
This year's incoming class has seen more than 65 percent of our outstanding student body awarded financial aid at an average support level of 55 percent, a major transformation from where we were a decade ago, when only 45 percent of students received financial aid at an average of under 30 percent per student. The incoming undergraduate class is also the largest, particularly for freshmen, that we have seen in three years, with their academic quality easily comparable with our very best years. The new medical school class of 2026 is as strong academically as any we have accepted in more than 20 years. The masters programs remain strong, and we are rebuilding several of our PhD programs by recruiting mentors of the highest quality from Lebanon, the region, and beyond. Eighteen percent of students are international, remarkable at a time when many Lebanese have chosen to emigrate due to the lack of progress on fiscal and economic reform at the national level.
From the perspective of the faculty and staff, the returning faculty members and
new recruits mean that we will launch 2023 with more than 150 scholars, educators, physicians, and nurses who were not here when 2022 began. Over the course of the last 24 months, we have named more than a dozen new leaders across the university, including the provost, six deans, and three center directors, several of whom were recruited from leading academic institutions abroad.
This fall semester, we had our best-attended
Opening Day in more than a decade, awarded an
honorary doctorate to
Roy Vagelos—one of the most admired global figures in academic medicine—and started construction of our campus in Pafos, Cyprus. For the first time since the pandemic, we have held a series of AUB-led music concerts, on and off campus.
We commemorated Independence Day with hundreds of students receiving the gift of a pencil imprinted with the new logo encouraging them to write in order to “keep Lebanon’s flag raised high.” And write they have, navigating final exam week and submitting stellar essays addressing the
Founders Day question that asked what are the most essential qualities AUB must preserve to best serve its mission over the next century and a half. The in-person Founders Day speaker was Pafos Mayor Phedon Phedonos, a fearless anti-corruption fighter and advocate for education as an instrument for global peace.
We have also seen tremendous support from our friends and alumni around the globe, holding our most successful fundraising dinner in New York in November, closing in on our largest ever scholarship grant, and having our most effective
Giving Day on December 5.
The end of the semester affords time for rest and reflection, but also for guarded but strongly held optimism, not only about AUB but about the futures of Lebanon and the region. For me, it also affords time to contemplate the work of favorite writers such as the 19th century poet, Walt Whitman. “To Think of Time" is an enduring meditation on the immortality of the soul. Whitman ponders the role of the physician at the end of life, lines I have re-read many times over my three-decade practice as an oncologist, but he also describes the joy and beauty of life and the need to celebrate its imperfections and perfections alike.
THE END OF THE SEMESTER AFFORDS TIME FOR REST AND REFLECTION, BUT ALSO FOR GUARDED BUT STRONGLY HELD OPTIMISM, NOT ONLY ABOUT AUB BUT ABOUT THE FUTURES OF LEBANON AND THE REGION.
“Pleasantly and well-suited I walk,
Whither I walk I cannot define, but I know it is good,
The whole universe indicates that it is good,
The past and the present indicate that it is good.
How beautiful and perfect are the animals!
How perfect the earth, and the minutest thing upon it!
What is called good is perfect, and what is called bad is just
The vegetables and minerals are all perfect, and the imponderable
fluids are perfect;
Slowly and surely they have pass'd on to this, and slowly and surely
they yet pass on."
Believing that every living thing “has an eternal soul" and that all things have a purpose, one cannot but reflect on the remarkable times from this past year, when the AUB community overcame obstacle after obstacle to enjoy and enhance our world, and to see its eternal value, as Whitman concludes:
“I swear I think there is nothing but immortality!
That the exquisite scheme is for it, and the nebulous float is for it, and the cohering is for it; And all preparation is for it! and identity is for it! and life and materials are altogether for it!"
“To Think of Time," more than a reflection on the “eternal soul of all living things," is an affirmation of the impact each and every one of us can have in their particular walk of life. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to one and all. There is indeed much that is good in all of us, and together we shall endure and ensure far better days ahead.
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