Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
Accommodating diversity and difference
As everyone in our community should be aware, AUB is committed to providing a safe, respectful, and inclusive environment for all its members, be they learners or educators, researchers, staff, or visitors. As such, our policies explicitly protect anyone from adverse actions or disadvantages based on legally protected characteristics, which include among others religion, age, ethnicity, gender/gender identity, sexual orientation, political affiliation, or if they have a disability. It is this last item that I wish to highlight as I talk about the important and growing role of the Accessible Education Office (AEO) at the Office of Student Affairs.
Part of this University’s mission is to ensure everyone is treated fairly and with respect, especially those with physical or mental impairment. Regrettably there remain certain stigmas and misconceptions towards disability, both physical and mental, whether visible or non-visible, among our society. It is our duty to dispel those whenever they arise.
If you are a student who has, or thinks you might, have a disability, say a learning disorder like dyslexia, you should not hesitate to talk to the AEO. It is the office’s job to establish the accommodations you may need, following medical advice, in order for you to have an equal opportunity with those students who do not have a disability.
It happens that at this time of year the office sees an increase in registrations, as students who may not have registered at the start of the year suddenly realize they cannot manage after all. Or they may have been reluctant to share a disability through shyness. We can be certain that many students are not getting the accommodations they need as the rate of disability registration in institutions with established accessibility programs in the US is 10-15 percent of students—at AUB it stands at only 2.2 percent. In fact, in this country you might expect the numbers to be higher than elsewhere with some conditions relating to external factors occurring with greater frequency.
Happily, however, AE Officer Melissa Norton, who established the office in March 2016, reports the numbers are steadily increasing and she also expects that the number of enrolled students with disabilities will rise as schools do better in providing a more inclusive educational setting. So we are in a race against time to ensure all these individuals get the academic and physical support they need as we consider this a top priority.
We can reason that all faculty members will sooner or later receive notification that one or more of their students requires an accommodation because of a disability, if they haven’t already. It might be extra time on exams or moving classes to make them accessible. The best way to manage this is with pre-planning to build flexibility into your programs to accommodate a diverse range of students. And the AEO will always work with you to find creative solutions to any challenges faced.
Meanwhile, the Office of Information Technology is working to make all university webpages accessible to users with visual impairment, and everyone can help now by asking what they can do to make communications more accessible, such as embedding text in images for screen readers, like in this and all future President’s Perspectives.
Bear in mind that many students with disabilities may not be “braver” than those without them, but it is likely that the lifestyle adjustments they have made required creative problem-solving skills and perseverance. They can bring fresh perspectives and divergent viewpoints that others will not. Truly, embracing diversity and difference is an enhancement to our classrooms and our community.
Our Window to North America
This week sees the senior administration and our distinguished trustees gather at AUB’s New York Office – the Debs Center (NYO) for the twice-yearly full board and committee meetings. The NYO or Debs Center, directed by the Assistant Secretary of the University, Ada Porter, sits in the heart of mid-town Manhattan. It is the corporate and administrative headquarters of AUB in the US, where the University is chartered, and it hosts staff of the executive, advancement, international programs/admissions and communications offices acting as a bridge between Beirut and North America, underlining our commitment to promoting mutual understanding between the peoples of the Middle East and the Global North.
As some of you will know, the office recently upgraded its audio/video capabilities to more easily connect with Beirut. The location is convenient for hosting representatives from the UN and some of the world’s finest universities, and any AUB faculty or research staff who may be passing through New York. Everyone is encouraged to get in touch with Communications Director Alison Freeland at the NYO if they are interested in using it as a venue for an academic event.
In December, we will start hosting “NY-Beirut Briefings” at 9:00 am EST connecting to our campus at 4:00 Beirut time. Dr. Martin Keulertz from the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences will discuss food security with colleagues from the UN and other NGOs. Rami Khouri, who has helped spearhead this initiative, will be in discussion withWashington Post editor and columnist David Ignatius on the role of international journalists in the Middle East. The briefings will be live-streamed as well as archived for later listening. As the program expands, we look forward to strengthening international dialogue among students, professors, and outside experts.
Canada’s top scientist
Staying with North America, it was a great pleasure to see our distinguished alumna Dr. Mona Nemer being named the first chief science advisor for Canada for nearly 10 years. She is a great role model for young women and men interested in science, for her remarkable accomplishments, her graciousness and humility, and her keenness to help AUB students secure PhD positions abroad.
The role was suspended in 2008 and its restoration was a campaign pledge of nowprime minister Justin Trudeau in 2015. Indeed, the global science community needs all the leadership it can muster to put current scientific research at the center of decisionmaking in government—it is hard to think of a better candidate in Canada than this former vice president of research at the University of Ottawa and pioneer in the study of the mechanisms of heart failure and congenital heart disease.
In addition to providing impartial scientific advice to the government, she will speak in support of academic freedom and free expression, promote science, and make it accessible to the wider population. We wish the magnificent Mona Nemer every success in her new role and look forward to seeing her impact over her three-year term.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD