American Univesity of Beirut

​​​​Dear friends and colleagues of the AUB community, ​

A teacher’s teacher (of teachers) 

The impact of educators is felt in many different ways. Teaching, mentoring, collaboration in research and outreach, adding to published knowledge, organizing conferences, evidence-based policy advocacy—the more they put into their work the wider and more enduring their impact on society. While every educator is a valuable social resource, there are few at AUB (indeed in our ​​profession) whose impact has been as broad and durable as Dr. Saouma Boujaoude. Professor, Director of the Center for Teaching and ​Learning, FAS associate dean for curriculum and graduate studies, former chair of the Department of Education, former director of the Science and Mathematics Education Center, Professor Boujaoude is the founder and co-founder of some of AUB’s most successful action research programs and collaborations. In December, Dr. Boujaoude was the deserved recipient of the 2017 Kuwait Prize for social sciences, recognizing his contributions to the field of science education, giving us the opportunity to put a spotlight on this most humble yet impactful servant-leader.​

Saouma Boujaoude is the ever-young elder statesperson of a department he joined in 1993 after a successful career as a science teacher and assistant principal at St. Joseph School Cornet Chahwan, followed by a master’s and PhD at Cincinnati ​and a faculty role atSyracuse University. His research has spanned a wide range of topics, from the details of concept learning and the complex interactions between teachers and learners in the classroom, through how educational reform is enacted within and across institutions, to projects encompassing pan-Arab science curricula and beyond. This gives Saouma a unique and distinctive grasp on the challenges facing education, bridging local issues and the international literature. Colleagues rightly wonder at Dr. Boujaoude’s matchless time management skills! He undertakes administrative duties, simultaneous research collaborations in AUB and outside, sits on school and editorial boards, and works for the National Association for Research in Science Teaching in the US (not to mention civic and philanthropic duties in his beloved village, Jouret el-Ballout). Yet, Saouma is always fully prepared and engaged at committees and carries with him an aura of calm assurance wherever he appears. 

Not least, Dr. Boujaoude is a legendary mentor, with innumerable mentees who have gone on to make their own impact in the field of science education research and pedagogy—so to his research you can add the research of others who benefited from his guidance, inspiration, and patience. He continues to provide wise counsel in his department and faculty—quick to help a frustrated colleague navigate the system or re-engage with an uncooperative stakeholder to salvage a project. It is always particularly welcome to see such an accomplished academician so interested in helping out new initiatives. If AUB is a community of role models, and surely it is, Saouma Boujaoude is a role model for role models, a teacher of teachers, and it is an honor and a delight to celebrate his Kuwait Prize success and look forward to many rich contributions from him in the coming years

Feminism in Crisis?

This provocative title was chosen for an outstanding conference hosted at the Faculty of Arts and Sciences on January 19-20, which brought together academics and activists in a dialogue on the current state of feminist research in the region and to explore the nexus between theoretical scholarship and political action. It complemented last year’s transformative KIP Conference on ​Discrimination and Sexual Harassment, whose focus was to unite different sectors on this relevant topic. The answer, resoundingly, is that feminism is a vibrant, multifarious, and thriving theoretical and social movement taking numerous different shapes to explore women’s status and address and intervene in crises around us with a gendered approach. You can see this through the range of topics at the conference, supported by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Asfari Institute, CAMES​, the FAS Women and Gender Studies Initiative and the Rosa ​Luxemburg Foundation. Discussions went from the drive for reproductive justice in Palestine, at a grounded level, to philosophical questions of silencing, to recognition of women’s experience in a more esoteric sphere. ​

For more than 100 years AUB has been at the forefront of women’s empowerment, so how gratifying to see the march of feminism here today! The abovementioned women and gender studies initiative, launched by Dean Nadia El Cheikh, is creating relevant programming in the field, bringing in international and local speakers, and collaborating with community partners. The faculty has revamped the women and gender studies minor, attracting students from all disciplines, in what is truly an interdisciplinary field, as relevant in nursing, business studies, biology, public health, nutrition, medicine, to name but a few, as it is to English or sociology and anthropology majors. Outside of class, students are engaged in clubs and activities beyond the university challenging patriarchy and letting women’s voices be heard. We are expanding the task force on the lives and careers of women faculty to become a standing committee to look at the experiences of all women at AUB. Title IX sits at the heart of AUB’s policies offering broad protections against all forms of discrimination, while the Title IX Student Action Committee is holding a conference on March 2 examining the “grey zone” between freedom of speech and respect for others, between consent and harassment.

Gender is present everywhere, as are bias and inequality, with the normalization of these phenomena in a political and historical context. The new generation of AUB academics and students are now at the forefront of tackling these fundamental, sometimes delicate and sensitive, questions. Transformation of social and political norms starts at the level of ideas, and we are certain that through AUB’s actions, changes are coming. 

Winning at student public speaking

This January, the national Lebanese leg of the EnglishSpeaking Union Public Speaking ​Competition was won by an AUB sophomore, one who has already showcased his talents with the winning essay at our 151st ​Founders Day ceremony. Kamel Wehbe spoke on December 5, 2017 about the challenges we face, which he characterized as “not war, nor recession, but the careerist and number-oriented mentality adopted by students and the institution itself.” As a new but fully engaged member of our community, Kamel admits to being somewhat surprised to have his critique applauded by administrators, faculty, trustees, and students in the audience. Such occasions prove that as a university, we crave dialogue and debate and forever welcome those who are prepared to stand up and argue a point of view. 

Pivoting from his triumph in Assembly Hall, there was no holding Kamel back when he squared up against accomplished public speakers from 10 other universities and he was the runaway winner with his speech on the premise that “the best way to predict the future is to invent it.” While others spoke of self-reliance and their own personal odysseys, Kamel explored the necessity of “holistic, affordable, and experiential education” in Lebanon, homing in on the shortcomings of the Lebanese Bac compared with the transformative IB education he received at the Wellspring Learning Community in Beirut

Although electrifying at the podium, Kamel—like so many of his AUB peers—is a modest and polite young person, who expresses boundless gratitude for the learning opportunities he has been given. His ESU speech wove in his family history, in a small southern village, which his father left at the age of eight to support himself and gain his own education and career success in Bulgaria. It is my pleasure to finish with excerpts from Kamel’s winning speech and wish him the best of luck in the finals in London in May where he will compete with 50 other countries for the ESU international public speaking prize.

“When my daughter grows up, hopefully with better looks than mine, and tells me, ‘Dad I want to become president,’ I will not laugh and tell her, ‘No sweetie, you’re from this or that sect, this or that religion, this or that sex.’ We must refuse to let our youth feel limited by predictions set for a country that may very well be small geographically, but is infinite in the resilience, potential, and hard work of its people. Do not be discouraged by scary predictions. Change them, knowing that the same carbon, nitrogen and oxygen found in giant stars is found in our chests and our tongues. There is no limit to the potential of a child, a woman, a man (with) galaxies in their eyes and hearts. No matter how dark the world might seem at times. It is only a matter of releasing that potential through real knowledge and education. It took one small Southern boy selling socks to invent my future and that of my family. I say with pride, I cannot wait to see how you inventors will defy reality, and become the future we need.” ​

Best regards,  

Fadlo R. Khuri​, MD 
President  ​​

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