To be the president of a major private university with two medical centers in Lebanon today is akin to having several balls in the air with the singular challenge of not letting any of them drop. The picture is rendered infinitely more complex by the fact
  President’s Forum: Notes from Dr. Mawad  
Michel E. Mawad, M.D.

Dear Members of our LAU Community,

To be the president of a major private university with two medical centers in Lebanon today is akin to having several balls in the air with the singular challenge of not letting any of them drop. The picture is rendered infinitely more complex by the fact that what is needed to keep one ball in the air is often incompatible with what is needed to keep another. It is a crisis landscape of pressures and counter-pressures, diametrically opposite needs and demands, and existential risks of almost Sisyphean proportions.

Managing Polarities

To start with, there is the moral imperative that binds us to our students and their families undergoing a major struggle to make ends meet. Many among them can no longer afford to pay their tuition, and substantial financial aid is their only means to access quality higher education. LAU this year has allocated $90 million for the purpose of supporting 70 percent of our 8,300 students. This, of course, is not sustainable over the medium-run and can only result in a steady depletion of our limited endowment. This endowment, to be sure, was put together over many years in order to fuel the growth of the university and not cover its operating expenses. Helping our students secure a future is more than desirable, but we have to find a way to make it sustainably affordable. 

Another polarity with ominous implications for us is the need to retain our faculty and medical talent given the attrition the country has been witnessing. We are running seriously short on the means needed to do so. Retention requires fresh cash in amounts directly proportional to the severity of the crisis, but our ability to secure the amounts needed is becoming increasingly improbable. Most of our students need help, but so do our faculty, physicians, staff, and nurses. To say that the university is caught in the middle of conflicting forces not of its own making is a simple truth we will have to learn to live and cope with. 

Nor do polarities stop at this point. Our escalating fuel bills, maintenance bill, laboratory consumables bills, hospital supplies, research support, facilities, university and hospitals infrastructure, all require fresh dollars on an escalating scale. Meeting these needs and many more is the first basic requirement of a world-class university. Without such provisions, we risk sliding in ways incompatible with our stature as a leading institution. This will have serious effects for us and for the rest of the country. Our first casualty will be our students and faculty who are by far our most strategic asset. Sustaining our high standards is our first obligation to both constituencies and to society as well. Quality higher education has been a major part of the glory of Lebanon and should continue to be. 

And the list of diametrically opposite polarities continues. Our patients cannot meet their medical bills, our international partnerships so essential to our mission need to be financed, our state-of-the-art standards have to be maintained even with our shoe-string budgets, and our capital projects cannot continue to be frozen indefinitely. The myriad polarities we are currently grappling with call on all our stakeholders to work together in pursuit of short- and long-term solutions in their collective best interest. The university has to be always mindful that its first obligation is to its students, their education and their future. No student who is academically deserving should be denied an LAU education. To honor this commitment to our students we should: 

a- Always try to find the funds needed to maintain our liberal financial aid policy to cover a higher number of students and a higher percentage of the fees. 

b- Secure the funds needed for our talent attraction and retention policy to have the best available expertise in the service of our students and patients. 

c- Secure the funds needed to constantly upgrade our academic infrastructure, facilities and resources to be able to deliver high-quality education and healthcare. 

Bitter Medicine

All LAU stakeholders will have to make painful concessions in the interest of sustainability. The university will have to accept the risk of dipping repeatedly into its shrinking endowment on a scale never before considered. Faculty, staff, and physicians will have to accept salaries lower than their earning potential as a sacrifice at least for a certain period. Those among our students who come from well-to-do families will have to accept a bigger tuition burden as a gesture of solidarity with their less fortunate colleagues. The university, whatever denomination it adopts for its tuition, will have to consider a flexible tuition discount policy (financial aid) so that students on financial aid will at no point have to pay an appreciably larger figure than they are paying currently. All students, however, will have to understand that the university cannot continue to meet their expectations without a steady reliable source of fresh cash that will ensure continuity of its operations. Given that the entire country is shifting toward dollarization, it is only a matter of time under the crisis before all major private universities are compelled to shift to a dollar-based tuition. LAU is no exception on this count but will certainly be an exception through the soft landing and helping hand it will provide for its students. 

Let us be totally clear that upholding our high academic standards, our advanced ranking status, our excellent reputation with employees, and our leading regional and international stature is, first and foremost, in the best interest of our students who are the prime beneficiaries of our reputational asset. We are all called upon to work together to preserve LAU so that its second century may be as prosperous as its first. 

The challenge may well be Sisyphean, but our will is Herculean and our resolve is steely. As LAU approaches its centennial in 2024, it braces for a massive renewal process to be as fit for tomorrow as it was for yesterday and is for today. 


Michel E. Mawad, M.D.
Lebanese American University