Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
AUB welcomes the BBC and open debate
There is no escaping the reality; Lebanon is a significantly segregated community. We have deep socio-economic, religious, political, gender, and ethnic divisions in this small country, and it is well known that some, if not all, of these have led to tragic outcomes in Lebanon’s recent past. How important for AUB therefore, as the prime seat of learning here, to be a space that fosters nonviolent dialogue, regardless of the intensity of people’s opinions.
That was exactly what happened during the recent recording of the radio program World Questions at the Issam Fares Lecture Hall, which was subsequently broadcast on the BBC World Service this week to its global audience of nearly 70 million listeners in English. The diverse panel included senior politicians and pundits of competing viewpoints, all of them with strong ties to AUB as graduates, former faculty members or colleagues, and one current staff member, Neighborhood Initiative director Mona Hallak.
Together they answered questions posed by the audience about sectarianism, teaching the history of the 1975-90 Civil War, the role of paramilitary forces today, protecting the environment and Lebanon’s gifts to the world. Listening to the recording you hear the passionate dissimilarities of reactions to political questions from members of the audience, which included AUB students, faculty and staff, as well as members of the public. However, the whole was a rare and powerful exemplar of democratic argument and intellectual debate in this sphere. It was a combined effort of the BBC team and their partners in the British Council and our own staff and Protection Office who facilitated the successful event.
Like many in this country, I grew up listening to the BBC World Service and it was a distinct honor that the current head of the station, Mary Hockaday, travelled from London especially to attend the recording and found time to visit Marquand House. On her first trip to Lebanon, Ms. Hockaday showed considerable interest in the educational and communal mission of this University, and with current and former BBC journalists on our Board of Trustees and in our Office of Communications, we hope to be able to strengthen ties with the corporation further to the benefit of both our students and our wider community.
Our students will peacefully air their differences in the coming elections, scheduled to take place in October. This is something we do week in, week out in representative bodies across AUB and AUBMC, from the Board of Deans, to the Senate, to the University Student Faculty Committee and dozens of committees, clubs and other groups, not forgetting our outstanding independent student newspaper Outlook.
I would go so far as to state that there is nowhere else in Lebanon where such a diverse collection of Lebanese and non-Lebanese get together to debate and make key decisions in such a spirit of collegiality, constructiveness and mutual respect despite our differences. It is why we were the natural partner for the BBC in its project. In the same vein, we look forward to a spirited discussion about AUB’s new Tobacco-Free Policy at two town halls that are being planned for September 25 and 26. We firmly believe that honest, inclusive and open dialogue is the only path forward for such an enduring and influential institution such as AUB.
A jewel of AUB for our senior population
We are delighted to share the news that our University for Seniors (UfS), hosted by the REP Office, has been selected as one of the 10 most innovative community-based interventions for senior populations in middle income countries around the world, in an initiative by the World Health Organization in partnership with RAND Europe.
This genuinely is a societally transformative, world-beating program of lectures, peerto-peer study groups, trips—and just simply providing a second home for seniors. It was conceived in 2008 as a way to provide opportunities for the older population of Ras Beirut and beyond to remain socially engaged and challenged intellectually, which studies show to be highly beneficial for the health and wellbeing of an ageing population.
The steering committee, led by director Dr. Abla Sibai of the Faculty of Health Sciences, and the UfS team, with huge support from the participants themselves, have changed the lives of hundreds of seniors regardless of background or education. The results are extraordinary. We have heard of doctors prescribing the program to their patients having witnessed other UfS members come off medication for hypertension and even depression as a result of participation; seniors as old as 90 have enjoyed challenging trips abroad, others have become engaged politically in municipal elections, activists and agents of change in their own right, and one near-octogenarian has finished a long-delayed PhD thanks to the boost he received from the program! It is no surprise at all the good folks at WHORAND have recognized what is being achieved at UfS.
What is the secret of this astounding success? It starts with a belief that retirement is not an end but a start for some of life’s most joyous and rewarding experiences. Not only that, but the belief that senior citizens have so much to offer to society themselves. The program thrives on word of mouth recommendation, as seniors and families inform not just their own small circle but broadcast far and wide about the inclusivity and empowerment of the program. This fosters a diversity of membership that is rarely seen in university of the third age (U3A) projects around the world. It is also self-funded, through a very affordable membership fee and dozens of professional and lay lecturers lending their services for the sheer pleasure of participating.
And indeed the organizers are not afraid to “walk the walk”. With UfS coordinator Maya Abi Chahine heading off to King’s College London for her master’s in Public Policy and Ageing, where no doubt she will have plenty to contribute at this preeminent center for the academic study of ageing, her position will be filled by a member of seniors community, underlining that everyone can participate and everyone has something to offer. The new term starts on September 18 and we hope to see you, your parents or grandparents there.
Annie Kasbarian, an AUB legend in her lifetime
The end of September sees the retirement of Annie Kasbarian, executive officer in the Office of the President and one of our most beloved figures, not just in College Hall but across the entire campus. Annie has served 11 AUB presidents, including acting presidents, an astonishing record and an enduring testimony to her outstanding qualities of devotion, resilience, modesty and compassion. Her first job was as an AUB Hospital administrator but that was cut short when she moved with her parents to Paris following the outbreak of the civil war. Annie worked at a couturier for a couple years, where—thanks to her innate elegance and good taste—she could have spent a lifetime of chic creativity. But fortunately for AUB, the Kasbarians returned in 1977 and Annie was quickly snapped back up by the Department of Bacteriology, before being transferred to the Faculty of Agriculture as senior secretary to the Dean. The fine job she did there led to a recommendation to incoming President Malcolm Kerr that she take the role of administrative assistant.
Understandably, Annie does not wish to dwell on the painful events that followed, the assassination of Malcolm Kerr which she witnessed personally, or the bombing of College Hall some eight years later. But she endures as a touchstone for all of us of the indomitable essence of this University and the people who kept its spirit alive through those most arduous of times.
Annie is one of those gracefully determined to avoid the limelight, preferring to serve with quiet effectiveness and making time for everyone who comes into her orbit. Not to mention doing everything to facilitate the remarkably complicated life of a university president, as I can well attest. But anyone who was lucky enough to hear her rare public appearance at the presidential symposium in January 2016 will never forget the power of her understated sincerity. Her words on that occasion show her precious contribution to AUB far better than I. “My name is Annie, Annie Kasbarian. The staff representative at this great occasion could be any of my colleagues. It could be Zena, or Mirvat, or Mahmoud or Sami. Most of you know us by face, seen us around, but our individual identities fade into one nameless mass, polite, smiling, waiting to be of assistance… I am grateful for this University which has granted me the ability, the courage, to work under difficult circumstances.”
I am sure Annie would be grateful too for everyone she has worked with to come and say goodbye before the end of the month. We all sincerely thank you, Annie, for your extraordinary service, and wish you the happiest and most deserved retirement.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD