American Univesity of Beirut

​Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community,

HSON, historic step for historic school

On September 1, 2018, the Rafic Hariri School of Nursing (HSON) became AUB's newest independent faculty, bringing the number of our illustrious faculties to seven. This well-deserved recognition marks the beginning of a new chapter in the long history of AUB's school of nursing, but it also marks the culmination of years of hard work and astounding growth. As faculty members at HSON understood, the school could not just be granted independent status: they had to earn it.

Under the leadership of Dr. Huda Huijer since 2003, the school has introduced new programs catering to more students, dramatically expanded research output, and received unconditional accreditation, a new name, and a new building.

With the full support of the Faculty of Medicine, it followed a community-engaged approach and, when the time came, was able to prepare a water-tight case for independent status, complete with a business plan, revamped strategic plan, and external review. In June 2018, EVP/Dean Mohamed Sayegh presented this case to the Board of Trustees, gaining enthusiastic approval.

Nursing is a uniquely caring profession and fittingly the Nursing Student Society (NSS) is an outstanding example of civically-engaged student activity at AUB. In addition to their heavy study load and experiential learning with patients at AUBMC and in the community, nursing students are busy conducting their own awareness raising campaigns—for example to promote early detection of infectious diseases and MS—gathering data along the way, and raising funds for the most economically disadvantaged of the people they minister to. A few years ago, NSS members resolved to form a group, AUB Mentoring in Nursing (AMIN), to help new sophomores cope with the stress of embarking on their nursing training, which has become a significant support network helping dozens of HSON entrants.

At this year's Graduate Commencement, I was delighted to welcome to the stage student speaker and new masters of science in nursing recipient Grace al-Hakim, who made one of the best graduate speeches I have heard in some while on the theme of service. Grace completed her masters while working as an exemplary registered nurse at AUBMC's Emergency Department where she has been since 2011. Her message was that, even though deadlines and obstacles started to pile up, there are abundant opportunities at AUB to encourage you to stay the arduous course. “It was here in AUB where I learned to be resilient in moments of weakness and exhaustion," she said. “It was also here that I came to understand the importance of mindfulness to develop insight for opportunities. As I look back now, this journey, although seemed long, was well lived."

The opportunities at HSON will continue to expand as an independent faculty, as it launches a new PhD program this fall. Other plans include establishing a Center for Nursing Research, attracting the best and brightest students and new faculty, and becoming a pillar of the planned AUB Health Sciences Complex and its Health 2025 Vision. We wish the newly independent Hariri School of Nursing, its faculty, students, and staff, every success to help elevate the region's finest nursing school to one on par with the best in the world.

Welcome to the 2018-19 intake

It is always exciting to start an academic year. Our campus is full of fresh faces—the faces of smart, effective individuals, young and older—who have come here to make a difference. All great institutions risk complacency if, year after year, the same people face the same problems, challenge the same dogmas. Welcoming in an infusion of talent like this—freshman and new sophomore students, and more than 5% of our faculty—creates a fresh breeze blowing through our institution clearing away the cobwebs of complacency.

This year sees our most impressive cadre of new faculty members, even among several impressive cadres over the last few years, 65 of whom have come from every continent on earth to join us this term. They include several full professors and worldwide authorities in areas as diverse as art history, pediatric otolaryngology, petroleum engineering, to name but a few. They include Kuwait Prize recipient George Saliba, a distinguished professor at Columbia University, who has joined us to launch the Farouk Jabre Center for Arabic and Islamic Science and Philosophy, of which more will be told in a future issue. Others have come from top universities all over the world, too numerous to mention.

We are also very proud of our new yield of students. The class size has been boosted by the launch of Provost Mohamed Harajli's vision of getting the top students from all of the 26 districts of Lebanon under the Advanced Students Scholarship Initiative. We have our largest ever cadre of MEPI-TL, MasterCard Foundation, and USAID students. Indeed, I would say this our most diverse incoming class for years and they seem genuinely excited to start.

If you are a new student, let me invite you to test your limits and stretch yourself. You will get more out of AUB by not only sticking to courses that will get you good grades or lay tracks down to your planned career. Explore the things that interest you and take courses that challenge you. That way you will learn not just who you are but who you could be, before you decide what you want to do. Join a club or take up a new sport. Our distinguished alumna Reem Acra told me recently that club membership was just as impactful on her as the business courses she took. With more investment that we have given to clubs, sport, and co-curriculars, that is truer 36 years later than it was when the world-renowned fashion designer graduated in 1982.

Arabic for the 21st century

The study of Arabic has been at the heart of the university's mission since its earliest days, with Butrus al-Bustani, Nassif al-Yaziji, and Cornelius Van Dyck among the scholars and writers distinguishing our campus community. AUB's key role as a center for Arabic scholarship has been secured over 152 years as the only one of its peers to uphold the liberal tradition of education and research. Before the summer break, a very important forum addressed “Arabic Language and Communication Skills in the 21st Century", hosted by the departments of Arabic and Near Eastern Languages (NEL) and the Department of Education, in partnership with the Qatar Foundation and QF International.

This forum highlighted that Arabic is facing serious challenges in the educational space. Studying the language has become pigeon-holed as “something of the past," of interest for historians, linguists, and religious scholars, but without application in the worlds of business, health, scientific research, etc. There is nothing intrinsic to the language that has brought about this situation, but rather it is down to how Arabic is taught, as a skill of grammatical and lexical performance rather than as a skill of communicating ideas.

Professor Mahmoud Al Batal, co-author of the leading textbook for teaching Arabic as a foreign language (TAFL), Al-Kitaab, joined AUB from the University of Texas at Austin in 2016 with a determination to reverse the negative attitude towards the study of Arabic in the Arab world, where many young people graduate without having mastered their native language—nor do they see it as a priority. To that end, there is much research to be done to underpin the development of curricula to teach Arabic communication that serve the needs of learners at all levels.

A recent review of Arabic and NEL found it to be a model department and an example to follow in terms of gender balance, quality and variety of research, service, and novel, impactful, and relevant teaching. In addition to Dr. Al-Batal's focus, the department is setting new directions teaching pre-modern and modern Arabic literature and intellectual history. Department chair Dr. Bilal Orfali is a true driving force in his field with more than 20 books on Arabic literature, Sufism, and Quranic studies, as well as co-editing Brill's Texts and Studies on the Qurʾān, its Encyclopedia of Islamic Mysticism, and our own well-established peer reviewed Journal al-Abhath, the latter with Dr. Ramzi Baalbaki, who holds AUB's oldest chair, the Margaret Weyerhaeuser Jewett Chair of Arabic (endowed in 1929).

Dr. Baalbaki is currently leading the monumental task, involving 250 scholars and computer experts, of documenting the earliest occurrence of every word in the Arabic language and tracing its semantic development to the present day. The results will be compiled in the Doha Historical Dictionary of the Arabic Language, whose first section covering the pre-Islamic and early Islamic periods is due to be published in 2019.

Joining these world-class scholars in the last two years are promising assistant professors who collectively have addressed a gender imbalance that has long existed in this venerable department. There are: Dr. Zeina Halabi, who specializes in modern and contemporary Arabic literature; Dr. Enass Khansa, who examines medieval culture in al-Andalus; and Dr. Maha AbdelMegeed, whose research lies at the intersection of literature, history, and Arabic conceptual thought in the Nahda period. I wish to congratulate the department for its achievements and am confident of its success, on which so much rides for the future of the study and appreciation of Arabic language, thought and literature.

Best regards,

​Fadlo R. Khuri, MD
​ President​

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