Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,
I hope you are all managing as well as possible amid the measures we are taking during this unprecedented worldwide public health emergency. Several events in contemporary history can be described as having engendered global pre- and post-event eras—the influenza epidemic of 1918, World War II, the HIV/AIDS pandemic, the collapse of the Soviet Union, or 9/11, for example. But I predict that, by the time the pandemic abates, very few crises will have touched so many lives in so many places as COVID-19, nor wrought such fundamental societal and economic changes. Indeed, future scholars may view 2020 as a forerunner to an even greater historical watershed (which might yet be avoided if we learn today's lessons): irreversible, man-made climate change.
So let us accept we are inhabiting the post-COVID-19 world and agree on several constructive approaches that befit our values as a community of lifelong learners: that we are all in this together and must rally to help those least fortunate; that social distancing should not mean social disengagement; that the health of our society supersedes personal and financial interests; that science and critical thinking are key to leading us through this disorienting new landscape; that we must rethink how we anticipate and balance future risks; and, as Spiderman reminds our empowered community, “with great power comes great responsibility."
We have been working around the clock to develop contingencies to handle our new realities. On Friday, Provost Harajli and I unveiled the
university's first major response, developed by our expanded Council of Associate Deans (eCAD), to give students the choice of being graded for their courses at the end of the spring term as normal, or opting for a binary pass/no-pass result for each course without affecting their GPA. Although P/NP is a necessary, temporary provision to support students in extraordinary circumstances, our search for ways to focus education more on the transformative value of learning and less on the reductive dominance of grading, without losing our academic edge, has no expiry date.
We have yet to develop fully comprehensive answers on how to conduct fair and transparent examinations and assessments in our current circumstances, a challenge all universities face. Similarly, we must decide how to proceed with our most labor-intensive and collaborative annual event, whose purpose is to create a shared experience for an audience of thousands of students and their families—Commencement. Unfortunately, the June 5-6 date is looking highly improbable, but at least options are clear and we are considering them all, including delaying until later in 2020, stacking together with 2021, or a virtual event if neither of the first two options is feasible. Or a combination of all of the above.
The impossibility of teaching and learning in a classroom setting actually arose during the popular uprising of October 2019. Thus by
force majeure AUB started delivering digital solutions months before our international counterparts were forced online because of self-imposed or government-ordered closures. However, our students and faculty are still ascending a steep learning curve, having had to dramatically adjust course content and schedules, as well as revise group and individual exercises and assignments. Such challenges become surmountable when our academic community joins together, teachers and learners, in a spirit of mutual support and shared endeavor, showing the resilience, ingenuity, and resourcefulness that AUB is famous for.
Office of IT has never worked harder or with more passion to support us through difficult times, making sure the right technology is in the right hands and being used to the best effect. Other service units across the university have readily adapted to working from home and collaborating over the popular and user-friendly Zoom application, despite Lebanon's poor connectivity and intermittent electricity supply. The Board of Deans and eCAD have quickly taken to teleconferencing to maintain their augmented schedule of meetings. Also instead of its mid-March gathering at the Debs Center in New York, our superb Board of Trustees met remotely for two days of excellent discussion on how to safeguard AUB amid the multiple challenges we face.
Frontline against COVID-19
At the time of writing,
Lebanon has 438 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, and ten patients have sadly passed away. At least we have not yet reached a phase of exponential spread of infections in Lebanon, seen overwhelming the healthcare systems of several nations. Let us continue broadcasting the message that a regimen of social distancing and frequent, thorough hand washing, as well as not touching our faces with unwashed hands, is the best way to prevent us from reaching that stage.
Rafik Hariri University Hospital, capably led by our three-time graduate Dr. Firass Abiad, has been the designated receiver of COVID-19 patients requiring treatment, following
WHO guidelines, and continues to have capacity for inpatients at current infection rates. However, the
Medical Center has done a remarkable job in
equipping Building 56, training staff, and developing systems to serve as a 42-bed facility for severe COVID-19 cases, as well as a ground level testing clinic. So far 1,644 people have been tested at the newly minted Pandemic Evaluation Clinic and Center (PECC) and there have been 75 positive results and four inpatient admissions.
To all our staff who have not been able to work from home, including at the Office of Protection, Physical Plant, the Cashier, and the Laundry Department, we send sincere thanks for your strong resolve in keeping AUB running. But we must pay special homage to the doctors, nurses, healthcare workers, and medical center support staff for playing their heroic role. These dedicated professionals come to work for us every day, knowing they face an invisible foe and understanding better than anyone how suddenly the situation can deteriorate and how rapidly the perils they face can multiply.
Building a successful future in times of challenge
While our experienced medical personnel are prepared to serve Lebanon through the COVID-19 pandemic, the next generation of doctors has been awaiting the results of the
National Residency Matching Program (NRMP) in the US. On March 25, 2020, amid the dark clouds of the COVID-19 pandemic, Interim Dean Ghazi Zaatari announced the
Faculty of Medicine's best match results for at least a quarter century. Of the 75 AUB MD graduates who applied last summer, we learned recently that 63 had matched, an unprecedented 84% of applicants and the highest number in actual terms. They matched in some of the most prestigious US training programs where they will be ambassadors for our stellar AUB medical education—including at Massachusetts General, Johns Hopkins Hospital, Brigham & Women's Hospital, University of Michigan Hospital, University of Chicago Medical Center, the Mayo Clinic, and the Cleveland Clinic.
Our students and graduates matched in a broad and diversified range of medical, surgical, and non-surgical specialty programs. The highest number of matches were in internal medicine, with pediatrics and general surgery also well represented. In radiation oncology, one of the two matched graduates was the first Lebanese citizen in the discipline to successfully apply straight after their expected graduation, and the first international medical graduate ever to match at their institution.
Although rankings may seem a distant concern amid our global predicament, they are nevertheless an important measure of the top-quality research and pedagogy of our faculty and the high attainment of our students. The latest
QS subject rankings show AUB improved its international standing in all four of the five broad subject areas in which it is ranked, with arts and humanities the highest at number 200, up from 256 in 2019. Individual subject rankings saw AUB in the top 350 in the world in 16 categories, with development studies in the 51-100 range, and civil and structural engineering in the 101-150 range. Medicine rose substantially to be placed in the 151-200 range, along with newly ranked subjects architecture, and politics and international studies.
I would like to end with a word of commendation for the
Offices of Admissions and
Financial Aid, which have worked wonders in such difficult circumstances to issue admissions offers and financial aid awards to prospective students simultaneously for the first time. In all, AUB issued 3,026 offers for sophomore and freshman admissions in fall 2020 and 796 awards of financial aid. Although the offers only went out just a few days ago, we have already received 343 confirmations and counting.
So despite the gloom that hangs over the COVID-19 era, and the anxiety that many of us feel about our personal and family's health and wellbeing, and how the pandemic will play out, we must embrace the belief that together we can get through this challenge. Only by working together in these challenging times shall we continue to exercise the quality of stewardship necessary to bring forward the next generation of leaders, the best and brightest, our students and trainees, such that they too will help build a safer, better, fairer, and more inclusive world.
Fadlo R. Khuri, MD