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Opening Ceremony: AUB will look beyond its borders
Maha Al-Azar, Media Relations Officer, Office of Information and Public Relations  |     |  | 
Waterbury: 'AUB has an obligation to nurture the spirit of [diversity in] Ras Beirut

AUB plans to become more involved in the betterment of its neighborhood, in order to preserve the diversity that Ras Beirut is known for and to help develop the neighborhood's cultural and intellectual life.

AUB President John Waterbury made these remarks during the annual Opening Ceremony that marks the beginning of the new academic year, before a packed Assembly Hall on Oct 1.

Almost 2000 new students joined AUB this year, along with 53 new faculty and about 11 PhD students, who will have the opportunity to study for a doctoral degree in one of eight newly reinstated PhD programs.

Entitled "Going Outside AUB's Walls," Waterbury's address, which included a powerpoint presentation with slides from the neighborhood, highlighted AUB's mostly positive influence over its direct neighborhood, noting that it was time AUB took a more active role in the cultural, economic and intellectual development of Ras Beirut.

Faculty and deans mark the beginning of the Opening Ceremony with a formal procession

"The goal for all of us should be a neighborhood where people of all sects and different levels of income can live together in peace, if not in harmony, and where all inhabitants can enjoy and contribute to the cultural and intellectual life that all educational institutions [present in Ras Beirut] create," he said. "I have always marveled at the Corniche just outside our gates. Here we find Beirutis, men and women, children and grandparents, all income levels, the religiously conservative to the religiously indifferent, sharing the sea, the air and one another. That is or was the spirit of Ras Beirut, and AUB has an obligation to nurture that spirit. It is an obligation we should accept willingly and gladly."

Attending the event, which started with a formal procession of faculty and deans, were Beirut mayor Abdel-Monem Aris, Ras Beirut Mukhtar Kamal Rebeiz, former Ambassador Khalil Makkawi and Press Federation President Mohammed Baalbaki as well as a host of professors, students and members of the Board of Trustees, including BOT Chairman Thomas Morris, Philip Khoury, Ali Ghandour, Farouk Jabre, Alexander Geha, Munib Masri, Leila Sharaf, Nabil Chartouni, W. Ronnie Coffman, B. Philip Winder and Clifford Mumm.
In the front row (L-R): Jabre, Aris, Makkawi and Ghandour

Retracing the history of AUB, Waterbury noted how the founder's decision to build AUB in Ras Beirut, then-a-neglected agricultural area outside the confines of Beirut proper, was originally ridiculed. "When Daniel Bliss purchased this land outside the walls of Beirut, he was regarded by Beirutis as somewhat mad, putting a university on a pile of barren rocks. It was concluded that he wanted to live with jackals and goats," said Waterbury. However, the University grew, proving to be a huge positive influence on its environs, creating a large number of jobs, invigorating the local economy with its need for services, and effectively expanding the borders of the capital.

Nevertheless, over the years, the risk of losing the cultural diversity that characterizes Ras Beirut has been increasing, as attested by the loss of such intellectual and cultural breweries such as Faysal's coffee house, which witnessed many a revolutionary-in-the making.
For this reason, AUB decided to embark on a fact-finding mission a year ago. Dubbed the Neighborhood Initiative, a small team at AUB led by anthropologist and urban architect, Dr. Cynthia Minti, has been working on understanding the impact of the University on its neighborhood and on Beirut as a whole, as well as finding ways, through University resources, in which AUB could act constructively "to make Ras Beirut a better neighborhood for all its inhabitants."

Among the team's discoveries was the fact that students as well as long-time neighbors felt there was a real lack of cinemas, quiet cafes or other places for meeting or studying, cheaper parking areas, sports facilities, and healthier eating options. "There would seem to be a market ready to be made with plenty of demand waiting for supply," said Waterbury.
Thus, the next phase of the Neighborhood Initiative will be to figure out what AUB can and should do to bring about positive changes in its neighborhood, noted Waterbury. This includes the harnessing of AUB student and faculty talent to promote neighborhood diversity and help local businesses better understand their market. AUB would have to open channels of communication with the neighborhood, in order to enhance the collaborative process.

"When one thinks of the talent we have collectively in education, public health, business, civil and environmental engineering, medical care, and public administration, it is obvious that we have expertise that would be the envy of any city anywhere," said Waterbury.
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