Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
Almost everyone beyond a certain age remembers where they were when tectonic shifts in the tides of men occur. And we all recall events that more intimately shape our own personal and cultural histories. For me and many of my generation, 1970 was such a signpost with the final breakup of the legendary British rock group, the Beatles. Citizens of the United States and the Western world took a brief news break on April 10 from the worsening horror of Vietnam to learn that Paul McCartney was leaving the greatest rock band of all, thereby finalizing its disintegration. While the breakup of a beloved band is a far cry from the terror of war or the tragedy of national collapse, people paused to mourn the departure of a creative collaboration among a much beloved group of musical innovators. What little light there was then seemed somehow darker.
But it was only one month later that production began on an album widely acknowledged to this day as the finest solo album authored by any member of the Fab Four.
All Things Must Pass, released in November 1970, is a seminal triple album by George Harrison, the quiet Beatle. Originally composed of songs he had written which the other Beatles had declined to include in their records,
All Things Must Pass has endured as a testament to faith, ingenuity, and genuine musical and spiritual optimism. Among the many things the album provides is hope that musical majesty can and will inevitably persist and re-emerge, albeit in different forms. Harrison showed that different beginnings were possible, and that hope could sustain us all. As my great uncle taught me: “Form is temporary, but class is permanent."
Harrison showed that different beginnings were possible, and that hope could sustain us all.”
So it is this fall at the American University of Beirut. In spite of the dark times, we have held graduation ceremonies for the classes of
2021. Nine different commencements have been completed in a little over 15 months, all of them exercising caution, social distancing, and some degree of masking, the last few in the presence of a largely vaccinated AUB community.
Fourteen student speakers
have articulated what it means to come of age at this unique and beautiful institution. They have invoked resilience and urged determination, all while providing faith, hope, and love. Over the course of these events, more than 4,000 students have graduated and joined our distinguished alumni corps, off to make the world a better, fairer, and more inclusive place.
Students have electrified and uplifted us with their ideas, presence, optimism, and sheer joy at being back on their campus.”
Furthermore, thanks to a formidable vaccination campaign that has helped inoculate well over 98% of our AUB community, life here is returning to a better shade of normal. Students have electrified and uplifted us with their ideas, presence, optimism, and sheer joy at being back on their campus. Student elections were held in a hybrid manner on October 14, 2021, just under a year since the last election, with 59% of eligible students registered and despite the violence taking place in Lebanon last Thursday, over 3460 or 49%, actually voted. A slate of politically and gender diverse candidates has contested and been elected to the University Student Faculty Committee, determined to effect positive change in the lives of not only students but all members of the AUB community. They will step into the large shoes of those who came before and undoubtedly will acquit themselves well.
None of this is to diminish the unprecedented combination of challenges we face. With Lebanon’s fiscal and economic collapse devastating the country’s health and education sectors, and with only 31% of all inhabitants of Lebanon vaccinated, with justice and accountability for the victims of the August 4 blast as far away as ever, and with daily life blighted by a lack of fuel, electricity, and human dignity, AUB is faced with challenges unlike any since the Lebanese Civil War. In spite of it all, over the last year, we have recruited over 30 new faculty members with the appropriate expertise and strong qualifications in various faculties/schools (and we plan to continue to recruit faculty strategically in the coming period); the leadership team now includes a new provost, deputy provost, OSB dean, and FM dean following international searches that attracted outstanding applications from around the world; searches are ongoing to fill other senior leadership positions; and HR has initiated staff recruitments to fill essential positions in key academic and administrative areas. The incoming class for 2021 is academically strong, earning and receiving more scholarships and financial aid than any group before them. Finally, returning students and graduates continue to land internships, jobs, and acceptances into graduate and professional programs at a level unmatched by any group of university students in the region.
Our AUB is once more ranked as the only university in the Arab world in the top 100 in the QS Employability Rankings, the best such rankings for any university from Spain in the West to Vietnam in the East, from South Africa all the way north to Russia. Our faculty and staff continue to earn meaningful honors, grants, and accolades the world over.
Despite all we have been through, AUB's quality continues to shine. We will continue to expand our online offerings and evaluate the feasibility of twin campuses to the east and west of Lebanon and micro-campuses throughout the Global South, anchored in and interacting with our eternal home in Beirut. Excellence in the service of the greater good shall remain well within our reach.
Amid the daily challenges, the last stanza of the eponymous title track of George Harrison's magnum opus rings in my head, reminding me that even when things appear their darkest, hope springs eternal:
Now the darkness only stays at nighttime
In the morning it will fade away
Daylight is good at arriving at the right time
It's not always going to be this grey
All things must pass
All things must pass away
All things must pass
All things must pass away
Crises and tragedies, the breakups of bands and even nations, eventually pass.
Despite all we have been through, AUB’s quality continues to shine. Excellence in the service of the greater good shall remain well within our reach.”
The post-World War I game of nations brokered by Sykes-Picot was unfavorable to the peoples of the region. AUB President Howard Bliss was among the most persistent advocates for the Arabs’ right to self-determination, and his illness and subsequent death may well have changed history. After more than 100 years, we live with nation states whose lack of inclusive, forward-looking governance still serves their people poorly. As we see the brutal consequences of that failure, we must preserve the elements essential for a more sustainable future and evolve in order to lead the way. As this impactful university adapts to a region that appears to be mutating as much as transforming, some things must endure. We must continue to build on the very values that have given meaning to diverse peoples across centuries. Not all things must pass. As the opening weeks of this fall semester so poignantly remind us, some, like AUB, must adapt in order to endure and to give hope to future generations.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD