Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
Opening the year with inspiration
How does one set about building upon a previous year full of extraordinary energy, accomplishment, and meaningful advancement in so many different directions? On the first Monday of every fall term, AUB's faculty, staff, students, trustees, and friends try to do just that with a grand
Opening Ceremony. The start of AUB's 152nd academic year combined pageantry—with Assembly Hall's pipe organ providing a magnificent musical backdrop—and substance, as my annual theme-setting keynote address was complemented by remarks from a very distinguished scientist-leader, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Sir Fraser Stoddart.
My opening day
remarks are an opportunity to reiterate—this year through the lenses of a memorable FIFA World Cup and other recent global events—AUB's goals of excellence through diversity; inclusive education as a tool for social mobility, societal cohesion, and a healthier society; and to forever dispel the myths that create fear of the Other in our fractured societies. Indeed, we are proud AUB accepts students from every political spectrum, every religious background, and the proof is that 22% of our students are international.
While many of our graduates retain the same political/religious views that they brought with them, they are far more accepting of individuals who are different from them in every way. To further underpin this institution's inclusivity, I announced our goal to create a $100 million fund to bring the best and the brightest undergraduates from Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Iraq, so they can study and comingle at AUB. We are committed to raising this money to select, admit, nurture, and unleash the people who can help ensure a better and more just region, and those who will create lives that are more abundant, more meaningful, and more powerful.
Sir Fraser inspired the Opening Ceremony audience with a powerfully personal
account of his emergence from the farmlands of Scotland, through British academia and industry, leading to his most productive period in 1990-97 at the University of Birmingham, where the frontiers of chemistry were pushed forward by the development a molecular shuttle and a molecular switch. That work paved the way, he told us, to being woken by a 4:00 am conference call in October 2016 with a group of men and women with Swedish accents (the Nobel chemistry committee), “and I knew my life had changed and that's why I'm here today."
In a short time, Sir Fraser covered how to face life's challenges, his passion for jigsaws (and later stereochemistry, with its focus on molecule shape), and the importance of diversity—echoing the subject of my keynote. He spoke with great poise about his wife Norma's fatal breast cancer; his voice only cracked with
emotion as he recalled the talented young women and men who shared his journey of discovery in diverse research teams over 40 years. Sir Fraser has left a lasting impression on AUB, also delivering the
2018 Makhlouf Haddadin lecture, a mentoring talk for students, and a remarkable gala dinner dabke to match any Highland fling!
Preparing students for the future of research
Our students must learn more than humanities or science. They need to learn new ways to tackle the complex, real-world problems of the future. The
Munib and Angela Masri Institute of Energy and Natural Resources is bringing just such cutting-edge thinking to AUB: preparing students to be the researchers of tomorrow and, at the same time, producing transformative research now that is focused on addressing the energy challenges faced by Arab societies.
Eleven years after the establishment of the Masri Institute, it is now housed in a facility that is as innovative and forward-looking as its research program. The new
Munib and Angela Masri Building makes a compelling addition to the flourishing engineering complex on lower campus and will also provide much-needed space for the
Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (MSFEA), among others, for their most high-impact programs. It was inaugurated on September 4, 2018 after having been completed on time and under budget, thanks in no small part to the hands-on dedication of Trustee Emeritus Munib Masri himself.
A thought-provoking inaugural symposium was held to launch the new building, in the presence of our trustees and dignitaries as well as faculty, staff, and students. During the event, Dean Alan Shihadeh, a visionary leader for a more optimistic tomorrow charted the history of this building and showed the ways it can transform energy focused teaching and research, not only at MSFEA but
throughout AUB. Dr. Nesreen Ghaddar, one of our driven leaders and solution-oriented thinkers who has led the Masri Institute since its inception, spoke about the institute's future and plans to reorient the allocation of funds in order to address the energy priorities of the region. Instead of funding small-scale research projects on disparate topics, funds will go toward supporting interdisciplinary teams of researchers conducting large-scale, multi-year projects tackling a singular topic related to energy and natural resources in the Arab world.
Our graduate and advanced undergraduate students will profit greatly from being involved in this type of cutting-edge, transdisciplinary research aiming to find solutions to actual problems in our own backyard. Going beyond interdisciplinarity, where multiple disciplines inform a research project, transdisciplinary research actually blurs the boundaries between disciplines to take a new, holistic approach in order to come up with solutions to the world's most challenging problems. This is the future of research and—at the Masri Institute in the new Munib and Angela Masri Building—the future is now.
Sensitive role of University Secretary
Service to a university comes in many different guises, from stellar faculty member to lab technician, from student representative to administrative assistant. One of the positions vital to AUB is secretary of the university, responsible for coordinating and facilitating the activities of our governing body, the
Board of Trustees (BOT), whose members oversee the university's affairs and ensure we operate strategically to achieve our goals. I am delighted to welcome and congratulate Ms. Ada Porter, who took up her official appointment as university secretary at the beginning of this month, after excelling since 2016 in the joint role of assistant secretary of the university and director of the
Debs Center, AUB's headquarters in New York.
The university secretary handles highly sensitive and confidential matters and assists the board in acting toward the institution with care, loyalty, and obedience to our mission. Ms. Porter is a go-between, working effectively behind the scenes and very often around the clock. She describes her approach this way, “I always ask if our work upholds the academic and fiscal integrity of the institution. I connect the board to the institution and look for ways to ensure best practices and governance." The trustees meet close to 80 times in various committees during a 12 month period, including five three-day meetings per year in Beirut or New York and, on any given day, Ms. Porter might have to organize calls between and with trustees, coordinate with legal counsel on contracts, policies, or challenges facing the institution. She also maintains official records, ensuring accurate minutes of meetings, final board decisions, corporate contracts, and updated by-laws.
Ms. Porter has absorbed the wisdom, demands, and nuances of her job under the guidance of former university secretary Eileen F. O'Connor, an AUB legend of more than 50 years' service, who retired in 2016. We are fortunate that Ms. Porter has herself begun to serve on the board of the professional leadership group of the Association of Governing Boards (AGB) in the United States—the professional organization dedicated to good governance in higher education. With her work for the AGB, she sits at the heart of best practices in this field and brings that knowledge to her work for us.
I am constantly impressed by Ada's graciousness, calm in the midst of storms, and careful consideration of each challenge she faces, no matter the magnitude. Because of her work, we can rest confident that our outstanding BOT is always well informed and armed with all the resources they need. On Ada's desk sits a handwritten note in Eileen O'Connor's beautiful script accentuating the three traditional fiduciary duties of “care, loyalty and obedience" to which Eileen added a fourth “and be kind"—summing up Ada's approach to perfection.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD