AUB presidential inauguration embraces liberal arts education

Published May 4th, 2009 - 11:59 GMT
Al Bawaba
Al Bawaba

AUB presidential inauguration embraces liberal arts education

Dorman: 'AUB is a series of dialogues; liberal arts education teaches you how to live abundantly'


The official ceremony marking the inauguration of the 15th AUB president on May 3 was all about embracing a liberal education, freedom of thought, and tolerance—the University's recipe for living life more abundantly.


Revived after a 25-year hiatus, the official inauguration of President Peter F. Dorman—who has been in office since July 2008—merged tradition with forward thinking. It also proved to be a forum for celebrating both AUB's legacy and impact on liberal arts education in the Middle East, while simultaneously setting the stage for some exciting developments in academic scholarship through the empowerment of research, enhancing student diversity through financial aid and international recruitment, and promoting a dynamic work culture to allow for greater interaction with Lebanese society.


"As we acknowledge the past--both distant and recent--we resolutely look ahead to the future, pursuing what we believe to be AUB’s destiny and its mission—to be a beacon of higher education that lights the way for the leaders of Lebanon and the region," said Dorman in his inaugural speech.


The new president highlighted the three priorities which he has set for his term in office: empowering faculty through research and fostering interdisciplinary innovation and academic discourse, especially in areas where AUB can excel, such as the study of renewable energy resources and the promotion of a sustainable environment; recruiting a more diverse international student body, particularly young Americans who could benefit from interacting with peers from the Middle East; and creating a responsive campus community to enhance internal accountability as well as interaction with Lebanese society.  Moreover, the new term hopes to target financial aid and increase the number of students who benefit from it, particularly as the world is hit by a severe financial crisis, said Dorman.


"But these three priorities cannot be pursued without heed to the careful balance that must be struck between the imperative to develop professional mastery on the one hand and great leadership skills on the other," added Dorman.


For this reason, AUB embraces a liberal arts education that allows students wide exposure to a variety of languages and cultures, helps them cultivate abstract thinking, master written expression, as well as amass broad competence in the methodologies of arts and sciences, noted Dorman. "This more generalized education is intended to provoke curiosity across disciplines and to instill a lifelong thirst," he said, noting that a liberal arts education "teaches us how to live life, not necessarily how to earn a living."

Addressing "the most important community on campus," Dorman reminded students that they are following in the footsteps of prominent ambassadors and diplomats. "You should expect to leave campus a different person than when you arrived, because AUB offers you much more than the education you came to acquire. It offers you, in addition, a variety of educations, a variety of paths," he said.


"Although it’s possible – superficially – to view AUB as a collection of buildings and people and classes and research labs, it is in essence a series of dialogues, relationships, and interactions. I hope you will feel challenged during your time at AUB," he added.

Attended by a host of senior Lebanese officials, foreign diplomats, and delegates from top-ranking US universities, in addition to 12 descendants of AUB founder Daniel Bliss—other than President Dorman, who is his great-great-grandson—the official ceremony started at around 11.30 am with a procession of flags outside Bliss Hall around the Green Oval. Led by the red-and-white AUB flag, students from 68 countries followed suit, carrying flags of their respective countries. Also participating in the procession were AUB professors in academic regalia as well as delegates from 26 US and European universities, including Harvard University, Columbia University, Boston University, University of Chicago, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


AUB deans and trustees also joined the march towards Assembly Hall, where the official ceremony was begun by Chief Marshal Samir Makdisi, who called on Board of Trustees Chair Thomas Morris to address the assembly. Noting the beginnings of a liberal arts education at AUB in 1901—when it was still known as the Syrian Protestant College, Morris said: "This historic occasion… is a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the mission of this truly remarkable institution."


While later introducing the 15th president of the University, Morris explained the board's choice of Peter F. Dorman, an Egyptologist from the University of Chicago, and a direct descendant of the AUB founder.


"In the appointment of Dr. Peter Dorman as AUB’s 15th president, the board chose a man of integrity and vision, a man with a strong affinity for Lebanon and the region, and someone who shares the enduring commitment of the trustees to the mission of the University," said Morris.


Like Dorman, speakers preceding him also lauded AUB's liberal arts model, praising the University's glorious past and looking forward to working on enhancing its future attributes.


Hisham Tohme, the vice-president of the University Student Faculty Council, spoke on behalf of students, praising the new president's inclusive approach to governing the University. "President Dorman has already demonstrated his interest and willingness to involve students in the future of AUB," he said, noting how students were invited to participate in the search for a provost and to assist in the ongoing accreditation process. "To maintain this healthy and solid partnership, we – AUB students and the AUB president – will have to maintain close ties, listening to and engaging each other, while respecting each other’s rights and responsibilities. And we should do this while pursuing one common goal – our ever-lasting mission to improve education and offer our students more opportunities for a brighter future."


Representing staff, Nursing Services Director Gladys Mouro, who has been with AUB for over 30 years, welcomed the new president, underlining his family's strong ties to the University, starting with his great aunt – Mary Bliss – who founded the nursing school.


Recalling her first impression of the President as "someone who understood the values that had sustained this university over the years and who would encourage us to achieve our vision," Mouro said that many have already discovered in the president a person who "represents hope and security for us, in a world that is full of uncertainty."

"We are eager to embark on this challenging journey with you and to do so with loyalty, commitment, and dedication.  The energy, the faith, and the devotion that we bring will light up our AUB and shine out to the world," she said.


On behalf of faculty, Chemistry Professor Makhluf Haddadin, who was AUB's vice-president for academic affairs for almost 20 years, also welcomed the new president, highlighting his publication record in original articles and books, which have established him as an international scholar in the Old Middle East. "Scholarship is synonymous with a free inquisitive mind," said Haddadin. "Academic research at AUB will witness new heights of excellence under the leadership of the fine scholar you are.

"I firmly believe that excellence in higher education requires an environment that values freedom of inquiry. Lebanon has nourished, defended and promoted this environment. Thus, AUB cannot flourish without academic freedom," he added.


Ambassador Khalil Makkawi, the president of the Worldwide Alumni Association of AUB executive committee, spoke on behalf of the University's alumni. "We alumni graduate with an enormous appreciation for the experience that we have had – and a strong belief that the world would be a better place if more people and future generations had the same opportunity," he said. "AUB … [made] us individuals [who are] committed to creative and critical thinking, life-long learning, personal integrity and civic responsibility, and leadership.”

Makkawi reminded the president of all the successful alumni that the University has graduated, including the 19 AUB alumni who attended the conference in San Francisco in 1945 during which the United Nations Charter was signed. "But I am particularly proud to be an alumnus of a University that celebrates all of its alumni--the ones who stay close to home and the ones who travel the world…"


Before inviting the new president to the podium to deliver his speech, Chairman Morris handed him the beautifully redesigned university mace "which captures both the hope and the light of knowledge that has guided generations of AUB women and men as they look toward the future."

"As an ancient symbol of authority, the university mace also embodies the enduring traditions of the University, the deep roots in Lebanon and the Middle East, the global reach and aspirations, and the commitment of the University to work toward a sustainable and humane world," noted Morris. "On behalf of the Board of Trustees of the American University of Beirut, it gives me great pleasure to present the American University of Beirut Mace to President Peter F. Dorman."


"My primary feeling on this day is one of some amazement… I am humbled by their invitation to lead an institution that has had such a deep and continuing impact in the Middle East for almost a century and a half," said Dorman in his opening remarks, noting the hospitality and friendship he and his wife have been accorded since moving to Lebanon.


Following the official ceremony, a campus-wide picnic was held to celebrate the special occasion. The day ended on a high note with "jam session" and student concert, featuring five AUB-student-created music or martial arts groups: Last Minute, Mashrou3 Leila, Rasta Beirut, Eardrum, Filhos de Bimba Capoeira.

The entire month of May has been declared Inauguration Month and will feature a University Choir performance, the Folk Dance Festival, a sports parade, and the student Outdoors activities event.


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