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Joseph G. Jabbra succeeds Nassar as LAU president

Q&A with LAU President Dr. Joseph Jabbra

LAU’s Board of Trustees tapped Dr. Joseph G. Jabbra to succeed Dr. Riyad F. Nassar as university president, setting the stage for a new era in the 21st Century.

“The Board meeting was a historic moment and I’m comfortable the new president will do a good job,” Dr. Nassar told a faculty meeting in early January 2004. “I will be supporting him.”

Dr. Jabbra assumed office in August 2004, following a 14-year stint as academic vice president at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, California. He’s been a tenured full professor of political science there since 1990.

The election by unanimous vote at a December 2003 meeting in New York marks a watershed in the university’s 79-year history, following 22 years of expansion under Dr. Nassar’s continuous leadership.

Dr. Nassar, who retired in July 2004, said he expected the LAU community to cooperate with the new president to further the university’s mission.

Dr. Jabbra brings lifelong experience managing diverse academic programs, offices, institutes and services in North American institutions. He has delivered numerous keynote addresses on higher education, spoken at seminars and workshops and served on dozens of committees since 1970, received prestigious awards for his years of service in Canada and the U.S., and published an impressive list of books (solo and with his wife, Dr. Nancy Jabbra).

Prior to his tenure at Loyola Marymount University, Dr. Jabbra was vice president for academic affairs and research at St. Mary’s University in Halifax, Canada, where he began his career as an assistant professor of political science.

Dr. Jabbra is knowledgeable about both undergraduate and graduate education and has extensive experience with university accreditation and fundraising. He is a noted scholar of Middle East issues, with particular emphasis on Lebanon.

Dr. Jabbra is a law graduate from Université Saint Joseph, Lebanon, and has a Ph.D. in political science from the Catholic University of America in Washington, DC.

He was interviewed in January 2004.

After so many years abroad, what made you decide to come back to Lebanon? What was the attraction? Were there any hesitations?

I have spent much of my professional life in Canada and the United States. I played a major role in strengthening higher education in both of these countries. During this period, I influenced successive generations of students through my work as a professor and academic administrator. I always yearned to return to my native country to strengthen higher education there, working with my colleagues to provide students with enhanced opportunities for personal and academic growth. When the occasion arose, I was honored to accept the position of President without hesitation.

Have you formulated a four-year plan for LAU and what do you feel needs to be tackled first?

Any new president of an institution of higher education must be a strategic thinker, providing a sense of direction for the future while drawing on the institution’s past and present successes. I feel very lucky to succeed Dr. Riyad Nassar who, with the help of his colleagues, made LAU a major educational force in Lebanon and the entire Middle East. My goal as the new President is to work hard with the vice presidents, the deans, the faculty, staff, and student representatives, plus the Board of Trustees, the Board of International Advisors, and representatives of the Presbyterian Church, to create a ten-year strategic plan founded upon priorities and initiatives, and supported by a fund-raising campaign. Thus my first task will be to learn and understand the institution, its culture, and its people.

As a lifelong academician and administrator, where do you see institutions of higher learning heading in the 21st Century, and what role should an American university abroad play?

Globalization is revolutionizing the entire world in myriads of ways, and the engine of globalization, increasingly, is technology. The role of universities, then, will be to address the future by preparing students for leadership in a new world through learning technology and understanding that world and its cultures, while retaining liberal arts traditions, particularly critical thinking, good writing, and ethics. LAU has already demonstrated excellence in this regard and, following the mission of its Presbyterian founders, is strategically poised to emerge as a leader in higher education in Lebanon and in the Middle East.

Will your family be coming to live with you in Lebanon? Will you be living on campus?

I plan to live on campus, close to the heart of the university. My wife, Nancy, will divide her time between Lebanon and the United States because of her academic position and because we have two grown children, Michael and Mary, living in California.

Much has been said about governance, a faculty senate and other forms of representation. How active a role should faculty and staff be playing in the administration of a university?

With respect to governance, I feel strongly that faculty, staff, and students, through their representatives, should be given the opportunity to contribute to the University’s decision-making process. Structures and modalities for that contribution will need to be determined through consultation and careful study.

How much time do you anticipate spending on the road fund raising and how much time do you think you’ll need to spend in Lebanon? What’s the magic balance?

Although fund raising will be part of my daily responsibilities, I will, however, need to spend a lot of time at the University in Lebanon, working with my colleagues and the University’s constituencies and Boards to establish its priorities and develop its strategic plan. Once those priorities and the strategic plan, supported by a capital campaign, have been approved by the Board of Trustees, I will have to spend more time on the road raising funds.

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