President upholds LAU as beacon of hope in troubled region
Even as Lebanon grapples with internal and regional turmoil, LAU’s civic outreach and off-campus expansion continues full steam ahead. LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra explains this positive trajectory and his vision for the future.
From the moment LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra assumed his position in 2004, he set in motion a process of continuous review and improvement that transformed the institution, earning it accreditation in record time and setting a new strategic course.
Eleven years on, LAU faces a whole new set of external challenges, brought on by the alarming political, social, economic and environmental situation in which Lebanon is currently embroiled.
As a new academic year begins, President Jabbra sheds light on LAU’s progress, what it is doing to stay ahead of the curve, and why its mission is crucial to the country’s well-being.
The political turmoil that has spread across the Middle East and a stagnant national economy have both had a major impact on Lebanon, on all levels. How is LAU facing these challenges?
Well, we are indeed part of an unstable region and suffer the impact of such instability. The primary consequence for us has been a drop in international student enrollment. However, I am proud to say that we have increased our overall enrollment by over one percent this year.
Also, being aware of the difficulties parents and students are confronted with, the Board of Trustees (BOT), upon my recommendation, made the unique, one-time decision not to increase tuition this year. It was extremely important for us to take a step that was welcomed; we need, as a university, to respond to the needs of society and to find solutions to its challenges.
Today, I can say that LAU’s financial situation is very strong, despite the fact that the BOT decision has put a strain on our operating budget — which stands at about $160 million at the present time, including $25 million dedicated to financial aid and scholarships. Therefore, we have to redouble our efforts to increase fundraising while making sure that the money is being allocated effectively.
We have, thanks to our benefactors and responsible financial planning, built up a good endowment, but I always like to remind our community that there was a time in the history of this institution — during the civil war — when the BOT thought about closing it down. We shall never forget this sad history and it will never happen again.
You have recently announced two substantial grants received by the university. Can you tell us more about them?
Our grant proposal writing teams have worked hard on raising funds, leading to our latest successes. As a result, I was proud to announce that LAU received a $1.2 million grant from American Schools and Hospitals Abroad (ASHA). This is the first time we have been awarded an ASHA grant above $1 million.
I am also very pleased to tell you that we have received $17,870,007 from USAID’s University Scholarship Program (USP).
Through USP, USAID partners with LAU to provide tuition, room and board, dorms and transportation, as well as books, laptops and monthly stipends to academically stellar students from public schools across Lebanon.
This new grant covers three cycles of 57 scholars each, for a total of 171 new scholars. It speaks well to our mission by providing the opportunity for disadvantaged young people to come to LAU and earn an education that is second to none.
You mentioned the development of a Strategic Plan that will guide the administration of LAUMC–RH. What exactly is in the works for the hospital?
When the university bought the hospital, it was with the purpose of turning it into a teaching hospital that would support our health students while continuing to provide clinical facilities and services to the community. Our aim was to transform it from a family business into an American-based academic medical center.
In order to achieve our goals, we need a five-year renewable strategic plan that will help us simultaneously increase the number of beds and improve governance — both external (interfacing with the university president and the Board of Trustees) and internal (medical affairs, administration and controls within the hospital).
In the meantime, a number of improvements have taken place with respect to maintenance and network infrastructure. Some departments — like radiology, dialysis, dermatology, physiotherapy and radiotherapy — have been strengthened, with a serious facelift to the labs, the ER and the OR.
LAU is chartered in New York and inaugurated its headquarters there in September 2013. With the BOT you have decided to take it further and have created an academic center. What is the rationale behind this decision?
The center is a bridge between East and West. It exposes our students to the world. In the age of globalization, the world itself is our students’ arena. They have to know about Lebanon but also to move around and get introduced to different places, different cultures and approaches.
We also need to give other institutions the opportunity to enroll in LAU courses. This center will become a hub for LAU and for the region, in the heart of Manhattan.
Through our campuses and programs, we reach out to others, we serve others. Whether through civic engagement or continuing education programs, LAU keeps extending its hand to all in Lebanon and beyond.
The success of our Model UN program has resulted in LAU taking the responsibility for running the Global Classrooms conferences, which is a unique honor. Our students will train international scholars twice a year in our New York center. The only other institution that has the same privilege is Harvard. What an achievement for LAU!
In terms of capital projects, what are the most important ones underway or planned for the near future at LAU? And what is the importance of having a more sustainable approach in building, saving energy, etc.?
In Beirut, our infrastructure is almost complete. We need to renovate several buildings — like the Gulbenkian auditorium, Irwin Hall auditorium, and the Gezairi building — but the main challenge is to put up a building for the School of Arts & Sciences. We hope to do so soon.
Byblos has expanded beyond our expectations and the infrastructure there doesn’t suffice anymore. So the focus is on new infrastructure. The engineering building and the library should soon see the light.
In fact, the Byblos library is our first major “green” building. The notion of having a green campus — characterized by renewable and sustainable energy — is very important to us. The facilities department has been doing a lot in that sense, including enrolling one of its staff members in the Pro-Green graduate diploma through our School of Engineering.
In March, we joined the global community in celebrating Earth Hour and turned off our external lights for an hour, reiterating our commitment to reduce our environmental impact and use of natural resources. Energy consumption has been significantly reduced in places like the cafeteria and the student center. Similarly, a major recycling effort is in place, with a committee that has prepared a complete recycling plan that should soon be implemented.
We have completed almost 90 percent of our strategic plan and fundraising campaign (both ending in 2016). What is your vision for the future of LAU?
Excellence, integrity, and assessment are our keywords. We need to continue to improve and strengthen ourselves, especially in terms of academic standards and program offerings.
My vision is to have a university that is second to none with an international stature, and the only way for this to happen is for us to remain truthful to our mission, which stems from our value system: We always search for the truth and have profound respect for human dignity, gender equality and inclusiveness. Everyone counts for us.
In order for us to have the university we dream of, we need to attract top-notch faculty and staff as well as qualified students — who come to us not only to acquire knowledge but to learn about democratic practices, and about serving society.
These values infuse our new strategic plan, in order to propel the university into the constellation of leading institutions of higher education. This institution must continue to be a beacon of hope for all, not only a beacon of knowledge.
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