In a career that has exposed me to the widest possible spectrum of experiences, AY 2020-2021 stands out as a watershed in more ways than one. I assumed my office as President of LAU on October 1, 2020 fully aware of what was in store for me and ready for
  President’s Forum: Notes from Dr. Mawad  
Michel E. Mawad, M.D.

Dear Members of our LAU Community,

In a career that has exposed me to the widest possible spectrum of experiences, AY 2020-2021 stands out as a watershed in more ways than one. I assumed my office as President of LAU on October 1, 2020 fully aware of what was in store for me and ready for the challenges that lay ahead. Eight months into this new venture, I can only quote Charles Dickens’ seminal phrase: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …”

We started the year fully cognizant that we were navigating rough waters with few rules to refer to and a high level of fluidity. A combination of uncertainty and anxiety offered little guidance and no reprieve. 

It didn’t take long, however, for LAU’s considerable reserves of energy and determination to kick in and help the institution shift into a survival mode with all resources mobilized to mitigate the most menacing effects of the crisis. 

Feeling that we needed to do all we can to survive the country’s meltdown, my first eight months in office were a great test of resolve and a daily exercise in crisis management. During a few dark moments, it seemed that all was lost and the downhill slide was unstoppable. I have always believed, however, that those who persevere will eventually carry the day.

And so it was for me during these difficult eight months: constant oscillation between overwhelming challenges, piecemeal crisis management, and planning for a post-crisis surge. What made it all worthwhile was the LAU ethos of inquisitiveness, leadership, family spirit, willingness to take risks, inherent hope, and ability to learn fast, bounce back, and hit the ground running. 

This rare spirit of resilience and resourcefulness allowed us to score many an achievement in a year where our declared objective was mere survival. In the midst of the despair we were able to: 

  1. Become quite adept in online delivery covering nearly all our offered courses virtually for the first time in the history of the institution. 

  2. Find ways to sustain our faculty research output under the most unconducive of conditions. 

  3. Renew one key accreditation (AACSB), and gain a new one unprecedented in Lebanon (ACPHA for the Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management) and sustain a level of cultural activity that attracted tremendous attention throughout the country and well beyond. 

  4. Keep fees at the LBP 1,500 level for fall 2020 and, when we had to adjust to LBP 3,900 in spring, increase our financial aid allocations from $50 million to $80 million. 

  5. Retain our enrollment level almost intact despite it all and preserve LAU as a magnet for bright young men and women keen on quality higher education. 

  6. Launch several crisis-related emergency fundraising initiatives covering financial aid, vaccination, talent retention, and hospital capacity building among others.

  7. Provide our faculty and staff with a safety net through fresh dollar injections and an advance on cost-of-living allowance. As such measures were introduced, we made sure that no one was laid off or furloughed. We also carried on with strategic recruitments that offered a unique value proposition.  

  8. Make significant moves in the direction of building strategic partnerships, turning LAU into a university without borders, and significantly expand our footprint outside Lebanon. 

  9. Find ways to adapt our financial management systems to a multiple currency situation. Such adaptation covered tuition fees, university budget, fundraising, and every other relevant revenue or expenditure stream. 

  10. Manage to add a major new facility to our healthcare network by commissioning St. John’s Hospital in the Jounieh area as the newest addition to LAU healthcare resources. A new LAU health system is born.

  11. Lead the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic by operating two vaccination centers in Beirut and Jounieh, raising $1.25 million for vaccine acquisition, and spreading health awareness and help in the country through our unique mobile clinic. 

  12. Make provisions to vaccinate free of charge ALL LAU students, faculty, and staff as well as a sizeable number of community members. This will allow us to look forward to a normal new academic year in fall 2021.

  13. Proceed with a few vital capital projects that were already at an advanced stage at the onset of the crisis: Gezairi Building, LAU Medical Center-St. John’s Hospital, the new surgery clinic, and the new ER at LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital are good examples. 

  14. Support the LAU NY center that serves as an academic and cultural hub projecting the LAU mission across the oceans. 

  15. Live up through sustained activity to LAU’s reputation as a beacon for advocacy and research on gender equality and celebrating women’s achievements in a variety of key areas. 

At the personal level, my most valuable lessons were related to the transition from being a physician responsible for patients, a dean responsible for a School, to being a president responsible for an entire university under the mightiest of challenges. It was, and continues to be, a grand learning exercise fueled by the need for instant problem solving guided by moral fortitude and an exacting sense of mission.

As the year draws to a close, I feel privileged to serve at the helm of an institution as great as LAU, surrounded by dedicated colleagues and united with them in pursuit of one major goal: wrenching recovery from the depth of the crisis and setting anew on our destined course of excellence in higher education delivery, research and patient care. 

My first year in office taught me valuable lessons, foremost among which is that participative leadership is at the heart of holding institutions together and turning debilitating crises into promising opportunities. Together we stand united and strong. 


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