Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
While the pandemic and concomitant crises afflicting Lebanon and the world have brought great challenges, they have also reinforced our long-held convictions that higher education and healthcare need fundamental reform. The American University of Beirut will not be spared this need for transformation. Yet, we do not view it as a burden but rather an opportunity to evolve while staying true to our history and mission.
The need for change is not predominantly crisis driven. The explosion of technologies has democratized both higher education and healthcare, making knowledge more available wherever there is internet. But ironically, the availability of free information means the need to synthesize and distill truth from untruth, knowledge from fiction, has never been more valuable, a point I touched on in my
For 155 years, the American University of Beirut has educated the best and brightest students and cared for the health of its community and the region as well as humans with illnesses and accidents from near and far. With Lebanon and the region mired in a multitude of crises, the university's mission has never been more vital. Or vibrant. Despite the difficulties, our university remains dynamic and productive, our offerings have been enhanced, and our willingness to serve fortified.
Our mission has long been to deliver not only knowledge creation, learning, and healing but to empower free discourse and advance academic freedom everywhere. Despite the critics and the naysayers, the American University of Beirut has long walked the talk like few others, standing up most recently for the rights of refugees and immigrants to enhance their education, and partnering with employers across the region to ensure inclusivity for women in the workforce.
Many have pointed out that we are planning a transformation during a crisis. Could we choose to take the cautious route and stick to what we are doing now? Of course. We could go into a downsizing mode, conserving resources, watching people leave and decide, “it is time to cut our services." But we choose a different route. As President Kennedy said, “We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard; because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills."
“I am convinced that universities have much to contribute in the creation of ecosystems and opportunities that can change the dynamics of the region, giving people a reason to stay, and to return.”
VITAL strategic plan
adopted by AUB's Board of Trustees in June 2020 imagined the need to serve an ever-broader audience by diversifying our community to pursue excellence for the greater good. That goal has become manifestly more difficult under the current circumstances, perhaps impossible if we stay exclusively in Lebanon. We have far too much to do and too much to give to allow that to happen. I am convinced that universities have much to contribute in the creation of ecosystems and opportunities that can change the dynamics of the region, giving people a reason to stay, and to return.
AUB's global reach is the strongest it has been in decades, as evidenced by our recent
Giving Day 2021, which attracted donations from alumni and friends in 42 countries and six continents. We have drawn students from over 100 different countries over the last five years. In order to serve a broader audience, we must become a more global, diverse, and inclusive AUB, while remaining firmly anchored in our eternal home Beirut, protecting and preserving our “mothership." We must move forward to modernize and serve a generation whose ideals now include a balanced education, one which incorporates the highest standards of servant leadership, technology-enabled learning, and in-person, research-based mentorship.
“ In order to serve a broader audience, we must become a more global, diverse, and inclusive AUB, while remaining firmly anchored in our eternal home Beirut, protecting and preserving our 'mothership.’"
Many years ago, as the Lebanese Civil War dragged our university into danger, the university faced an existential crisis. A brave Board of Trustees and determined administration was forced to take on debt to save the university. Now we again face difficult times, but we persevered then and will persevere again today. We have turned a corner, allowing us to continue to build on the post-Civil War investment in a world-class research faculty that convinced our board to restore tenure in 2017. We have also bridged a growing proportion of faculty and staff livelihoods while preserving dependent health and educational benefits for our employees. We have achieved this while doubling all-purpose educational assistance and financial aid to students over a six-year period.
We have forged a coherent strategy for developing twin campuses outside of Lebanon while expanding online education. Once adopted these concepts and the paths they take us down promise to transform the American University of Beirut into a more global and sustainable institution. We have received approval by the Board of Trustees to explore opening a campus in Pafos, Cyprus and have set up teams to develop a master plan and launch key activities in that regard. Cyprus offers many benefits, including access to the EU market, considerable research funding opportunities, and a high level of academic freedom. With endorsement from the board, we are also engaged in active discussions with Dubai about opening a campus there, which could reach fruition in the spring, setting the stage for expanded programs within the framework of a global AUB VITAL 2030 vision.
We envision strong linkages between these campus sites, including research synergies and mobility for students, faculty, and staff. We can already see innovations starting to emerge from this construct of interlinked twin campuses: the idea of networked locations, eliminating silos by fostering more interaction, mobility, connection, and integration, and overcoming geographical boundaries via online learning. These campus partnerships will allow us to accelerate change and turn a monumental challenge into a series of opportunities, ones we can convert while pursuing excellence for the greater good. It will be difficult, but we will expand our programs, recruit talent, integrate services, and serve our mission not just as capably as we have been, but even more capably and more impactfully.
Together, we will protect what we dearly love, persevere with our mission, and transform this great university. We undertake these bold steps not to unravel all that has been built over 155 years, but rather to enhance our AUB, to make it more sustainable, to expand our footprint of impact, and to faithfully serve a broader community of scholars and patients for centuries to come.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD