President Khuri sits down with fellow university presidents for wide-ranging discussion on alumni relations and the future of higher education

​President Fadlo R. Khuri, along with the president of Emory University, Claire E. Sterk, and the former president of the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, Chase Robinson came together at AUB’s New York office for a wide-ranging discussion aimed at ferreting out future trends in higher education and the university’s place in society.

Khuri began by discussing the changing nature of alumni relations. “Students really want to be connected, this generation of students, in a very different way, than perhaps we were connected, where we’re simply asked as graduating students, why don’t you give $25 a year and you can give more later. That’s changed.” The mode, Khuri explains, involves building a sustainable relationship based on the idea of life-long learning.

Sterk spoke of the generational divide among alumni. “We have seven generations of alumni,” Sterk says. “We have alumni that graduated from Emory, that came to Emory when it was a really good teaching school, to now having students that are there who have access to all that Emory stands for, who have global connections, and who are really focused on research. When you have multiple generations, and I just counted them, we have seven generations, and they have had very different experiences.”

Robinson illuminated how the old model of learning, “sages standing on stages,” as he put it, has less appeal with students in an era where access to information and learning tools has become democratized. “I think it’s really important that our faculty be inspired to respond to those new modes of learning.”

Khuri later steered the discussion towards the importance of engaging with society at all levels, citing AUB’s own experience having made a point to stay out of politics during the civil war. “[AUB] sought very vigorously to avoid engagement with the body politic and the outside world, and the body politic and the outside world is not a benign or necessarily malignant entity, but it’s a real entity, and if you don’t engage it on your terms, it will engage you on its terms.”

As the pace of change quickens and jobs evolve, disappear, and return in different forms, universities must focus, Sterk says, on training students in timeless skills. “[Students] realize there is a set of skills that they need to get out of here. They are the traditional skills that we talk about, that critical thinking, having good verbal and written communication skills, being able to reason, being able to understand what evidence is. It’s understanding the power of being engaged and constantly evolving.”

Robinson warned against “instrumentalizing” higher education. “We cannot instrumentalize ourselves for society's needs. If only because society's needs will change.” The foundational skills one acquires through a liberal arts education can be said, according to Robinson, to be more timeless than the applied skills one learns in a professional school, and can help students become the adaptive workers they’ll need to be.

Towards the end of the discussion, Khuri powerfully contrasted the mindset of today’s student with that of his generation: “We went to college to find a job and and to really relinquish our time, our financial and other ties to Mom and Dad and be able to take them to dinner instead of them taking us to dinner. This generation goes to college to figure out what they want to do in life. They're asking I think a tougher question than we asked.”