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Dear friends and colleagues in the AUB community, 

How striking it was last Friday, January 27, while a week-old US administration was taking steps to withdraw and isolate itself from the global refugee challenge, America’s oldest educational institution abroad, AUB, was showcasing some of the dozens of initiatives being implemented here in Lebanon to mitigate the suffering and insecurity especially experienced by Syrians who have fled here and the host communities. I will be saying more about this below. Earlier in the week, we were also able to apprehend all the cross-cutting AUB and AUBMC projects combatting disease and promoting a healthier population in hundreds of different ways, thanks to a new interactive Health Initiatives Mapping (HIM) project spearheaded by the Strategic Health Initiative. Please click on the link to explore the extraordinary breadth of AUB health research and practice. I cannot touch on medical research without mentioning the lecture we were privileged to hear by AUB alumna and Trustee Dr. Huda Zoghbi, under the auspices of the Lebanese Academy of Sciences two weeks ago on the topic From Genes to Neural Networks and Disorders of Nervous System. I know the incomparable Dr. Zoghbi is seldom absent in these messages, but it was truly one of the finest and most accessible lectures I have attended in my lifetime. It was filmed and I will certainly tweet the link when I can locate it. 

Humanities at the heart of AUB 

It has been a particularly busy few weeks, which began with the launch of BOLDLY AUB: The Campaign to Lead, Innovate, and Serve getting off to an excellent start on January 16. The following night our Trustees and Board of Deans were invited to the Grand Serail for a special soiree to celebrate our 150th anniversary and the campaign launch. Prime Minister Saad Hariri paid us the compliment that he wanted Lebanon to be like AUB, coining the phrase “BOLDLY Lebanon” in appreciation of the work we are all doing. 

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In-between these two glittering social occasions was an academic one of enormous importance, namely a humanities symposium entitled The Humanities at AUB: Building Better Futures from the Inside Out . It was an eye-opener to hear the testimonies of young humanists, especially those who had started in the sciences or engineering and had decided to switch, about how their lives were transformed for the better and how—far from being unemployable—they had been empowered to find a job and make a difference in society. For me, it was remarkable, at a time when all of Higher Education is struggling with what to do with the humanities or humanism, also to see the degree to which elements of them played a central role in a modernist approach to many disciplines. I have spoken several times about our ambition for AUB to be at the heart of a new Nahda, or Arab reawakening. This cannot happen without the humanities at the heart of our educational experience and I would like to extend my thanks for everyone responsible for staging such an enlightening event to show how integral they are to so much of life at AUB. 

​#AUB4Refugees 

I have already referred to the stellar #AUB4Refugees Forum last Friday, organized by the team under the leadership of Dr. Nasser Yassin, Director of Research at the Issam Fares Institute. The room was genuinely buzzing with compassion and enthusiasm as our researchers and practitioners presented some of the 64 groundbreaking projects being undertaken by AUB teams with Syrian refugees and host communities in Lebanon, many with a view to transform the fortunes of displaced people everywhere. The forum reinforced how this is a community that doesn't mind getting its hands dirty; this is certainly no “ivory tower approach” where academics theorize about issues, but never visit a camp or work with refugees or host communities to help them meet their challenges. What also emerged from the presentations is that this crisis is not only a moral imperative for socially engaged academics, but also a tremendous economic opportunity. I believe that by continuing to remind people that it is both these things (people get tired of being lectured, after all) we can ensure that the humanitarian crisis of Syria and its neighbours remains front and center of people’s attention. This way AUB will lead not only in caring for and providing hope for Syrian and other refugees, but also in helping rebuild schools and healthcare systems, and rebuilding civil society and the body politic, in Syria and other countries. 

I was struck by the fact this forum was not just a success among those seated in the Bathish auditorium, but it attracted massive positive attention on social media platforms. Tweets including the bespoke hashtag #AUB4Refugees appeared in a steady flow from numerous accounts reaching more than 500,000 individuals. So much so, it became the top trend on Twitter in Lebanon and remained there throughout Friday. It shows the value of smart utilization of these powerful communication channels by Dr. Yassin and his team. None of what happened in the Arab Spring—certainly not the best parts of it—would have been possible without social media. 

In praise of collegial competition 

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Whether it is the recent FEA social entrepreneurship hackathon, the OSB MBA team’s performance in Canada in the ultra-competitive John Molson International Case Competition, or the recent HULT Prize heats at AUB, the competitions in which our students participate show not just their inventiveness and resourcefulness, but also their collegiality and good sportsmanship. It is widely recognized that the people of this region are blessed with ingenuity, relying on their wits in an environment of hardship and sparse resources. This may be why—as Deputy UN Special Coordinator for Lebanon Philippe Lazzarini is fond of telling colleagues—wherever you work, you’ll always find a Lebanese among the top five or ten people in that sector. But sometimes, this can lead to a more cutthroat approach, so I am especially proud that our students maintain their competitive edge, but always with a collegial, collaborative and aspirational approach. 

Collegiality is when you compete to the utmost of your ability without discrediting or demeaning your competitor; that way, at the end of the day, the best of what you've done and the best of what s/he has done can come together so the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts. Collegiality is the recognition that true competition is with yourself, when you try to push your own margins, rather than comparing yourself with others. The more that principal is adopted in our community, the brighter the future of this University and, candidly, the brighter the future for all of humanity. 

Best regards, 

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD
President