American University of Beirut


Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,

Completing a challenging term

The fall term was in full swing; our highly impactful Michigan visit had just generated a plethora of collaborative opportunities; we hosted the Queen of Sweden to celebrate signature of our mentoring partnership for youth health; our students were poised to vote in representative elections. Then everything changed overnight on October 17-18 as revolution gripped Lebanon. For nearly two weeks we suspended classes with further closures necessary in mid-November. The fact this term is ending with less than a week's delay is a testimony to the extraordinary resilience of our campus community, its commitment to education, its creativity, and its unity.

It cannot be overstated how important it is that everyone has shouldered the burden of getting the term back on track together, with professors adjusting course content and assessments, staff coming to work despite major transportation disruption, psychological stress, and civil unrest, and our students coping incredibly well as their young lives faced unprecedented pressures at home and in school. To our students who have endured a most challenging, emotionally demanding and intensely compressed schedule, our admiration for you and our support for your futures is only matched by our confidence that you are poised to become leaders for a better and more inclusive future for Lebanon and the world at large.

So many stars have shone through this difficult period it is impossible to express gratitude individually here, but it would be remiss not to recognize the Office of Protection, led by Gen. Fadi Ghorayeb, for shepherding us through very challenging security conditions; the Provost's Office and the Board of Deans for providing leadership to guarantee our mission of education; Chief of Staff/AVP for Administration Mary Jaber Nachar for leading our crisis response and CFO Drew Wickens working to ensure the safety of AUB's finances; the staff of our Medical Center for stepping up to meet the healthcare challenges; the Office of the Registrar, under the interim leadership of Hala Abou Arraj, for ingeniously and repeatedly reshuffling our schedule so final exams could be concluded before the Christmas break; the Office of Student Affairs, led by Dean Talal Nizameddin, for providing support services to ensure students stay engaged and do not fall by the wayside; the Office of Advancement for intensifying fund-raising efforts; and the Office of Communications for keeping the community up-to-speed during this exceptional period of fluidic and fast-changing developments. 

One could be impressed by this term's mere completion under such conditions, but the community has remained true to our motto, “That they may have life and have it more abundantly." Varsity teams have kept training and winning in the university leagues; some 1,500 students participated in the region's first virtual university Job Fair organized by the Career Hub in November, where 685 vacancies were posted, nearly 200 of them open to AUB students only; the Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences launched the UK-Lebanon Atiyah fellowships in collaboration with the London Mathematical Society; what many considered our best-ever Christmas concert drew record crowds at Assembly Hall, to be serenaded by Beirut Vocal Point led by Janmarie Haggar with Vartan Agopian at the piano; and our community rallied together for a very successful food drive last week organized by Amelie Beyhum and Lamya Tannous Khuri in partnership with Lebanese Food Bank, which collected more than 3.7​ metric tons of food.

2019—an(other) amazing year

As we navigate through these straitened times, it is worth us remembering—and  owning—the remarkable progress that AUB has achieved in recent times, with a view to not losing the confidence and momentum that has been gathered.

One of the standout achievements of 2019 was the reaffirmation of AUB's accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), which was bestowed for another eight years without any additional recommendations or requirements from the accrediting body. Rather than rest on our laurels, AUB has already taken steps to follow up on areas of improvement as well as extending our Middle States accreditation status to include worldwide distance education programs. Meanwhile, our self-study report was selected by MSCHE as a model for others to emulate, while our director of institutional accreditation, Boushra Rahal, has earned a well-deserved invitation to serve as peer reviewer. ​

We have taken stock of our VITAL 2030 framework contingent upon new political and economic factors, but it was always envisioned as an agile and flexible strategic vision to ensure AUB flourishes in any future scenarios. During the summer, stakeholders have taken great strides towards defining university-wide objectives and linking them to faculty- and departmental-level strategic plans and initiatives. Initially due for presentation at the November 2019 Board of Trustees meeting, the reviewed plan will be communicated in detail to the community for consultation in its updated format in due course.

Other projects long in the making have seen the light this year, not a moment too soon, in some cases. The inauguration of the Talal and Madiha Zein AUB Innovation Park (AUB-iPark) ; the creation of the Center for Inclusive Business and Leadership for Women (CIBL.W) at OSB supported by $4.5 million in grants from MEPI (of which more in an upcoming Perspective); the restructuring and reconstitution of the Worldwide Alumni Association of AUB (WAAAUB) to build stronger and more enriching lifelong engagement of our alumni with their alma mater; the renovation of Penrose Hall as a contemporary student residential space; the completion of the moving into the ​Daniel Academic and Clinical Center and breaking ground for the New Medical Center Expansion​. 

We have also made good on our pledge to expand opportunities for academic research following AUB's audacious restoration of tenure. The University Research Board (URB) Funding Program was raised to a record annual level of $1.9 million. A new major call for proposals that includes high priority areas with direct implications for Lebanon was opened under the AUB/CNRS-L Joint Research Funding Program in September, with the deadline for submissions extended to January 30, 2020. In October, we launched the Joint USJ/AUB Healthcare Innovation and Technology Stimulus (HITS) Funding Program for applied multidisciplinary research and innovation projects that can contribute to technological advancement and economic growth, with the deadline extended to March 4, 2020. We also opened a new funding stream and awarded grants for WEFRAH interdisciplinary research which will encourage experimental work related to the water-energy-food-health nexus at our AREC facility in the Beqaa Valley.

Meanwhile we have increased our PhD programs from 10 to 12, with the addition of epidemiology and nursing sciences this year, and we enrolled 30 new fully funded doctoral students bringing the total of current PhDs to 167. A new milestone was reached with the establishment of the MEPI Tomorrow's Leaders Graduate (TLG) Program, which will bring some 60 fully funded master's students to AUB who will work on research projects related to the Lebanese and Arab context, nine of whom came in 2019. On the subject of scholarships, we also continued to expand undergraduate opportunities, for Lebanese and international students, including the groundbreaking Education for Leadership in Crisis program which will grow with an additional 29 students from Afghanistan coming in 2020-21.

Pride in our people

Institutional preeminence is only achieved when we work together, but when I look at the quality of individual contributions that AUB staff, students, faculty, and alumni make in the world, I know that there is the chance of a brighter future. 

From having a local impact to global competition, our community proves they are ready for any challenge. In June in Basta, landscape architecture students held a Community Park Day to highlight the importance of inclusive green spaces in urban environments. In Germany, OSB business students claimed their third podium spot at the University of Munster International Case Competition in three years, winning first prize under the coaching expertise of Hagop Panossian.

Also gaining international acclaim was recent graduate Mohamad Nahle (BArch '18), the first from the Arab region to win an Archiprix International / Hunter Douglas Award for best graduation project. Three AUB engineers were also recognized in an exclusive group of Innovators under 35 awarded by the Dubai Future Foundation and MIT Technology Review Arabia: PhD graduate students Haytham Dbouk (BE '17) and Abbas Sidaoui, and alumnus Fouad Maksoud (MS '16).

Many of you know Professor Najat Saliba received a prestigious L'Oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science Award for her world-leading research on air pollution. In addition, with alumna Ayah Bdeir, she was one of two members of our community named among this year's list of 100 Women chosen by the BBC to showcase the stories of inspirational women to a global audience.

Focusing on local challenges, alumnus Mounir Abi-Said (MS '91) made the front page of the New York Times and was featured in the Independent for his conservation work related to saving the striped hyena, Lebanon's national animal. While current AUB professor Helene Sader was part of a team uncovering details of Lebanon's rich cultural heritage with the discovery of the oldest Middle Bronze Age murals in the Levant at Tell al-Burak archaeological site.

In the world of scientific research, chemistry master's student Rida Farhat and research assistant Jihan Dhainy contributed to a study on renewable energy solutions led by Dr. Lara Halaoui and co-authored with her an article that was honored as ACS Editor's Choice for its potential to make a real difference.

Proving that collaboration across disciplines is the way ahead, a cross-campus team from AUB was one of 20 global winners of the Google AI Impact Challenge, receiving $1 million to conduct research on using machine learning to improve irrigation water management. The team includes Professors Hadi Jaafar (FAFS) and Mazen Saghir (MSFEA), Fatima Abu Salem (FAS), and Samer Kharroubi (FAFS) ​​.

This past year also saw a host of impactful research on medicine and health coming out of AUB. This includes the largest-ever study of child labor globally led by Dr. Rima Habib (FHS), which looked at the case of Syrian refugee children working in agriculture in the Beqaa Valley. On the medical front Dr. Miguel Abboud co-authored groundbreaking research on the treatment of sickle cell disease, while an all-AUB interdisciplinary team led by Dr. Habib Dakik developed a new cardiovascular risk index hailed as “seminal."​​

It seems inevitable that Lebanon will face more challenges before it emerges as a fairer, more sustainable, and inclusive society for all its people, but I am certain that the individual effort, resilience, generosity, innovation, and teamwork our community have shown this year and especially the last two months shows that AUB can weather any hardship and emerge as a stronger and more impactful institution. Our obligation to serve as a role model to this country and the Arab world has never been more needed and we shall deliver on our responsibility.


Best regards,

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD


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