Living our values in times of stress and hope
I write during this extraordinary time in Lebanon to report on the university's priorities over the remainder of the semester, and to affirm its plans for moving forward. Throughout the now four-and-a-half weeks of demonstrations, street blockades, and intermittent closings of banks and schools, we remain clear on our priorities:
- Safety for our students, faculty, and staff
- Providing an education to ensure students can finish the fall semester
- Living our values of unity, critical thinking, freedom of expression and peaceful dialogue
- Providing access to world class healthcare around the clock, both physical and psychological
Although AUB has no interest in a direct role in Lebanese politics, we provide our students with a platform to open their minds, engage in meaningful dialogue, and overcome fear of the Other. It is not lost on one that such skills, well learned, will serve to create a better future for our country and our region.
I cannot emphasize enough how proud I am of the way our students, faculty, and staff have conducted themselves over these weeks. Rarely is a university tested on its values as AUB has been since October 17. You will be glad to hear that our community has been overwhelmingly engaged, brave, respectful of differing viewpoints, and deeply thoughtful about each development in the fast-changing landscape.
Last week, as well as attending our Board meeting in New York City, I was privileged to speak at Harvard's School of Public Health
Conversation Series and also at the
International House in New York, where the same Dodge family that helped found our institution was an original funder. Audiences at both events showed great concern for, but also great pride in AUB and its community.
We shall soon send out invitations to our community to attend town hall meetings, ones where we can discuss openly various concerns and perspectives, such that we can pool ideas to ensure our mission of education, research, and service is strengthened in the face of the current uncertainty.
A crucial Board of Trustees meeting
Board of Trustees convened for three days in New York City as we do every November. Although there was some “business as usual," most discussion dealt with the uncharted waters we are currently navigating. We spoke of this time in Lebanon as a true inflection point, different from others we have seen, because of the pan-Lebanese nature of the protests stretching from north to south.
Our trustees brought their significant experience and wide-ranging perspective to the issues at hand. We were gratified to hear one guest, who has worked with over 90 college and university boards, report that: “Most universities say they exist to have their students make a difference. You actually
need to do it, and you
are doing it."
Among the most important issues discussed was the financial health of AUB. For some years now, we have been taking a long view towards financial stability while preparing for all eventualities. Our board reviewed the forecast for fiscal year 2020, our debt profile, contingency plans, risk factors, and a high-level stress testing of possible scenarios over the next six months to a year.
We thank the trustees and staff who oversee our finances for the preparations and protections they have put in place for our students and employees. We have no illusions that if the Lebanese economy deteriorates significantly, we will have to implement decisive measures to weather the crisis, but we look to the same wisdom and courage from our community that has sustained us over more than a century and a half.
We ended our meetings with a moving presentation by Trustee Marwan Muasher, vice president for studies at the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who reminded us that the same values he learned at AUB in the 1970s are still taught today in a way that is unique in the region.
Wise counsel gratefully received
Since 1992, AUB has enjoyed the support of its
International Advisory Council (IAC). The IAC meets yearly during our board meetings, but members make themselves available at other times for advice and expertise. We put this year's IAC to the test with the range of issues we are facing. In return, they gave us the benefit of their global experience in education, government, technology, science, medicine, and the arts. I told them that we look to them to be wise year-round advisors, openers of doors, and course correctors.
We were joined this year by Dr. Michael Crow, president of
Arizona State University (ASU). His expertise as a knowledge enterprise architect and science and technology policy scholar is especially valuable to us as AUB invests in new technologies and better e-learning tools. ASU is also one of our partners in the MENA region, and recently 15 AUB faculty were able to visit ASU to observe their efforts to increase agility and impact as concerning educational outcomes.
Each IAC member, from Nobel-prize-winning scientist, to ambassador, to business leader, showed deep interest in sharing their expertise with us and helping where they could. As Dr. Crow said, “partnerships are the only way to go," and I am delighted to be able to partner with this “dream team" of advisors as the situation warrants.
Telling our story on an international stage
The act of storytelling is recognized as a global imperative, binding humans together across cultures and across the globe. Last week, that quintessential storytelling organization, the
BBC, in collaboration with the
International Association of Universities (IAU) launched a beautiful series of short films devoted to transformative stories of impact at universities around the world. The
Aiming Higher series was commissioned last summer so, when AUB was approached to contribute one of our stories, our thoughts turned to an earlier storm in which our university played—and continues to play—a critical role.
Our short film,
From Crisis to Success, highlights the educational pipeline AUB has created for Syrian refugees and vulnerable host communities, taking learners through primary school all the way to university and employment. One of this empowering narrative's protagonists is Kotan Machhadany, who was able to turn her soul-sapping existence in temporary accommodation in the Beqaa Valley into a promising career as an AUB scholar on the
MasterCard Foundation Program. Kotan is the first person to reach AUB after graduating from the Partnership for Digital Learning and Improved Access (PADILEIA)—started by our
Center for Civic Engagement and Community Service (CCECS) in 2017—which is an intensive, blended university bridge program designed by our faculty to bring young people up to the required level for university and scholarship applications. Other heroes of this piece are Rabih Shibli, who directs CCECS, and Lokman Meho, director of
To date, more than 10,000 individual learners have benefited from relief projects activated by CCECS in collaboration with a panoply of engaged and active partners. At any one time, there are 6,000 children enrolled at 12 primary schools housed in
GHATA campuses around Lebanon, and more than 2,000 young adults have
graduated from the Digital Skills Training program enabling them to work in the online economy. PADILEIA is ready to be scaled up so that the relatively small number of students—100 so far—can also grow exponentially.
None of this would have been possible without the exceptional AUB-designed GHATA hubs, which provide safe and nurturing semi-permanent educational spaces whose curricula and amenities frankly surpass many neglected public schools. With two new hubs now erected in Iraq and plans to establish one in Jordan, the flexibility and practicality of the GHATA model, which can serve as school, community center, or clinic, seems destined to become a relief resource with global
As our efforts to give hope to thousands of Syrian families are being conveyed to a global audience by the BBC, we can draw on this and other remarkable stories of AUB's steadfast and resourceful action as we address our new challenges. At worst, the uncertain situation in Lebanon poses a threat to young people's educational opportunities and success, even at our own university. We will do everything in our power to prevent that.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD