American Univesity of Beirut


Dear friends and colleagues in the AUB community, 

The last two weeks have been a fortnight of genuinely stellar achievement. Our highly engaged Board of Trustees, meeting in New York, not only endorsed unanimously the appointment of Provost Mohamed Harajli (see below), but also approved the report and recommendations of the Tenure Design Committee, a major step towards redefining AUB's identity as a research institution of the highest caliber. Additionally we launched the BOLDLY campaign in North America, hailing the second largest gift in AUB’s history from Dar Group, and formally approved the naming of the Maroun Semaan Faculty of Engineering and Architecture. Finally, we signed an MOU with the Al Ghurair Foundation for a project to give full financial support to more than 170 STEM students from Arab backgrounds over the next three years. 


Navigating our brave new world 


We were honored to host President of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York Chase Robinson on March 27 for a talk entitled “Fear and Loathing: Middle Eastern History and Islam in the Age of Trump”. It was much more than a talk on his worldrenowned expertise in early Islamic history, in fact providing a cogent, equipoised manifesto on how liberal arts universities should respond to a world where demagoguery has drowned out dialogue. It is an arresting question, how we in the academy adapt to foster discussion of the most challenging issues while toning down the rhetoric. President Robinson made a strong argument that liberal academia may have oversimplified differences between left and right to the extent of proscribing right-wingers, whether religious or secular conservative, from taking part in open debate. President Robinson made the point nicely, without overselling it, that the approach of the academy could be more inclusive, more welcoming to opposing views, with a view to becoming a more heterogeneous space, rather than a “safe” space from unwelcome perspectives. That way we could absorb and filter the different discourses at this crucial time and perhaps play a more effective public role in the polarized world that we inhabit. 

All good dialogue starts with clarity—clarity of position, clarity of attribution, clarity of standards. Substantive scholarship is when someone produces knowledge that can be evaluated, peer-reviewed, exposed to the light, knowledge that does not simply fade away. It can be objective or subjective, but it has to be meaningful, not based on rumor or hearsay. I have no problem debating everything from whether the Earth is flat to the presence of a divine force. That is what the academy is for. Our mission and responsibility as a university is to create bold spaces for the students to explore the boundaries of their knowledge and the boundary of their personalities, but we must keep the community safe, both physically and psychologically. With the exception of the incitement of violence and divisive clashes, and making certain groups feel undervalued, or worse, besieged, I think we should be open to individuals who can be controversial, who can be lightning rods for different streams of thought. If not college campuses, then where can these discussions really happen? 

Fostering dialogue on campus 


To the students who attended my well-advertised town hall meeting on March 28, I would like to extend my sincere thanks and appreciation. It was a candid 90 minutes of Q&A with thoughtful and constructive enquiries. I was asked some tough questions and the audience discovered I am not afraid of listening to fair criticism. Some seemed to be surprised when I genuinely asked, “What would you do about this challenge?” I do not say that to avoid responsibility; I believe in treating students like the adults that they are, as core members of our community who have as much stake in our problems and our solutions as anyone. The dialogue allowed those present to ponder some of the most substantial issues of the day, from fair recruitment policies, transportation, new grading methods and, yes, the challenging environment and times we live in. It is a mark of my respect for our students, the best and brightest of their generation, that I am keen to engage in what I would like to be a spirited, unfettered debate, so that student voices are heard as we move ahead with our holistic plans to develop AUB along our strategic path. 

We are confident student engagement will continue to grow as we foster student-administration dialogue as adults. But that too improved over the course of the day and carried over to a highly productive USFC meeting, where several important proposals were developed and approved. We will keep trying to foster dialogue; there will be another student town hall in three weeks, to talk about improving the USFC, and I hope to see many more students present at that time. 

A Provost for all 


Our new Provost has that rare quality of being able to listen with an open mind and a generous heart to different people and he certainly likes a compelling argument. But the great constant is that he will do whatever he feels is best for the community of which he is a deeply committed member. Mohamed Harajli is a long-standing servant-leader of the university who has earned his way up the ranks in every aspect of his life. Mohamed started as a newspaper delivery boy in the early morning before he went to school; he went on to AUB, University of Illinois, and University of Michigan, all great institutions. From his early days he has shown he is a superb researcher and teacher. But he came back to AUB during its toughest days in order to apply and share his knowledge and his excellence as an educator and a scholar with great humility with his beloved alma mater. He has the simple overarching goal to provide useful data and meaningful service to others in the most effective way possible. He accepted the position of interim and now permanent Provost of AUB because it is the time and the role in which he believes he can best serve his university. The Board, the community and I completely agree. There is no trace of an overarching ego or ambition in Mohamed Harajli, but rather consistent evidence of an individual who is here to serve the broader community, be that students, staff, faculty or alumni. In that sense he provides an invaluable role model for the community, as someone who has achieved excellence and distinction through effort and application, rather than through campaigning or courting popularity. Provost Harajli is not afraid to speak truth to power, whether within the walls of this campus or further afield. These are qualities that will become increasingly important in the coming years as AUB seeks to extend its mission of knowledge and facts in a world where dogma and "alternative facts" are also on the rise. And so, AUB has found its provost, a man who has been at its heart for over 30 years, a provost for whom the good of the university and its community is paramount. 

Best regards, 

Fadlo R. Khuri, MD

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