Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
A comprehensive scholarship opportunity
We are always looking for innovative and cost-efficient ways to widen the circle of the best and brightest students who are able to take their rightful place at the American University of Beirut, the Middle East and North Africa region’s top-ranked university. We do it through the institutional scholarship programs—USAID, MEPI-TL, MasterCard Foundation, Al Ghurair Foundation for Education—all of which I have addressed in numerous prior messages. So it is exciting to be able to unveil a new home-grown initiative to enroll even more young people from the ranks of the top Lebanese Baccalaureate candidates or their equivalent by making AUB more affordable. We are calling it the Advanced Student Scholarship Initiative (ASSI), which starts in AY 2018-19 and will offer to up to 130 secondary school graduates a package covering 80% of their fees based on merit (through a 50% scholarship and a 30% low-interest loan arranged with our partners in the banking sector). ASSI will be available to young people in all 26 districts of Lebanon, with up to five of the highest-performing pupils from each district winning the scholarship based on a composite score of SAT marks and school grades.
In order to benefit, students must apply through the normal AUB channels, so it is essential to get the word out to as many as possible that even though tuition fees might seem prohibitive to most families, there are far more affordable options for those who stand to benefit most from AUB and give back to its extended worldwide community. Enrolled AUB students are already eligible for low-interest loans and aid based on financial status, but we have encountered many potential members of our community who rule this University out for economic reasons. We are determined to address this challenge by announcing the initiative as far and wide as possible, so that every one of the most gifted kids in Lebanon can boldly aspire to become an AUB student and an empowered citizen-leader of tomorrow who can rise to the challenges faced by our nation and our region. The time for them to act is now, by excelling at the next round of SATs and applying to AUB before the window for next year closes in April 2018. I am therefore asking everyone in our matchless AUB Community to work to help get this message out.
Student voters, leaders of the tomorrow
Congratulations to the successful candidates in elections on Friday, the second year in which an innovative proportional system developed by students for students has been used to deliver the fairest, most representative and most transparent results—and my commiserations to those who missed out. When I look at this vote, I see AUB students moving towards a new standard of democracy, not just for Lebanon, but for the whole Arab world. It is not perfect yet and requires constant review to resolve issues, such as the electronic registration system which prevented some students from participating. Every AUB student enrolled on a degree course should have the right to vote regardless, and having had this brought to our attention we will work on it for next year.
The turnout (62.3%) for the USFC and SRC elections dwarfs what we see in many democratic exercises abroad; they are demographically far more inclusive, diverse and therefore representative. Because we think they are so important, we brought the election date forward to give elected officials more time to get to know one another and work together for meaningful change over the whole academic year.
Elections are important because the students have a voice; they can bring issues that might not be raised at the highest levels of the AUB hierarchy in a spirit of shared governance. For example, the USFC treasurer is a full member of the financial steering committee and sees the University’s budget. Representatives join working groups such as the MSCHE re-accreditation committee. Our administration is sincere about this participation and the challenge we offer back to students is that they express their voice in a constructive manner, building on all the available avenues to work together towards a better AUB.
On one matter the election guidelines could not be clearer.
• Participants must not promote or identify political parties or sectarian groups.
• Pictures of political and religious leaders are strictly forbidden.
• Slogans of political and religious factions are strictly forbidden.
Such restrictions are in line with AUB’s deep-rooted commitment to break down, or more realistically perhaps to hit pause on, the familiar ills that disfigure Lebanese political life. I have said many times the University is a place where outside divisions are set aside so the best young minds and seasoned intellects can engage in dialogue without fear of the Other. Some critics contend our elections are a thinly veiled partner of Lebanese confessionalism. But if minor violations occurred—in the heat of an exciting election moment—it does not belie our students’ great appetite and capability for open-minded debate of the issues, without falling into sectarian dogma or disparagement. Even the most jaded critics admit that electoral trends in AUB’s passionately contested student elections often presage evolving alliances and trends in the broader Lebanese and Arab world. It is easy to see how valuable this empowering electoral exercise is for the future of a vibrant and engaged civil society in Lebanon and the Arab world.
International university partnerships
In this era of higher education, nobody can corner the market on excellence—while building higher walls against the outside world is a surefire policy for ultimate irrelevance. One of the ways our administration approaches these truths is to select and start building partnerships with our international counterparts, not to cover one another’s weaknesses but as a path to synergy in areas where each side is outstanding. In the last fortnight we were honored to host a delegation from Ireland led by President/Provost of Trinity College Dublin, Dr. Patrick Prendergast, followed by the visit of President Ronald J. Daniels of Johns Hopkins University, marking the deepening of two strategic relationships for AUB.
We know that our Faculty of Health Sciences is the strongest in the Arab world, and the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Hopkins is arguably the best in the United States, if not the world. Our shared interests in improving the health of vulnerable populations in the Global South makes for a powerful partnership in policy, research, practice, and research. There should be an obvious synergy between Hopkin’s School of Advanced International Studies and the Issam Fares Institute going forward. Trinity College’s strengths and purpose meanwhile lay in entrepreneurism, social service, and enlightenment grounded in the liberal arts, and they will find many cognates at AUB.
The danger of signing MOUs is that they lead to nothing. Our determination is to sign them only where we can have an impact for students, for the region, for our research, teaching and service missions, and for the world. Earlier in October, for example, a partnership between IFI, FHS, and the #AUB4Refugees initiative embarked on an ambitious project with the Institute of Global Prosperity at University College London, and the Center for Lebanese Studies, to develop a program of research and education that addresses the challenges of public service provision, community cohesion, and sustainable value creation in areas and districts of Lebanon with high numbers of refugees.
We have not yet found a match for all our many programs and centers, nor will we necessarily. But we are certainly looking to one of our leading partners in the Global South, EARTH University of Costa Rica, led until recently by our extraordinary alumnus and trustee Dr. Jose Zaglul, which shares our belief in the evidence that progress in the developing world is to teach the importance of servant-leadership. We are already in collaboration to get funding for a new global master’s in health and sustainable development and we hope to be able to talk more about this exciting enterprise in a future perspective.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD