Exclusive Interview with AUB President Fadlo R. Khuri, MD

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AUB is the leading teaching-centered research university in Lebanon & the Region based on the American liberal arts model of higher education. With more than 9000 students and 800 full time faculty members, since its foundation in 1866, the University is a beacon for freedom of thought & expression, creative & critical thinking, integrity, leadership & civic responsibility.

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AUB President Fadlo R. Khuri, MD.         Photo AUB

Led by the dynamic President Fadlo R. Khuri, MD, since he assumed office in September 2015 (officially inaugurated on January 25, 2016) many projects have been successfully launched & completed.

President of AUB, Dr. Khuri’s career is an inspiring journey between Lebanon and the USA. Formerly executive associate dean of research and chair of the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University’s School of Medicine. He also served as deputy director of the Winship Cancer Institute of Emory University.

Dr. Khuri is also a professor in the Department of Hematology and Medical Oncology at Emory University School of Medicine and editor-in-chief of the medical journal Cancer.

Dr. Khuri was motivated to return to Lebanon to assume the position of University President by his family’s strong attachment to the country and the University with a special commitment to Education, Excellence, Merit, Transparency & Accountability.

With a passion for research, President Khuri has authored more than 350 peer-reviewed articles and more than 50 editorials and perspectives in leading journals. He has also written more than 100 reviews and book chapters. President Khuri received many awards in recognition of his scholarly achievements including the 2006 Nagi Sahyoun Award of the Middle East Medical Assembly, the 2013 Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Memorial Award by the American Association for Cancer Research, and TAKREEM’s Scientific and Technological Achievement Award in 2015. He was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2014 and a full member of the Lebanese Academy of Sciences in 2015.

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AUB Campus 

Today, President Khuri engages the AUB Community, Students, Staff & Faculty through regular updates on the administration’s activities, student life, grants, research, campus events.. Under his leadership, AUB has formed partnerships with other universities in Lebanon, and strengthened long-standing relationships with institutions in Lebanon and around the world.

Despite his very busy schedule, his dedication to achieving a healthy work-life balance allows him also to enjoy quality time with his family, friends, as well as the beloved AUB Community.

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AUB President Dr. Khuri       Photo AUB

KAMSYN was warmly welcomed by AUB President Dr. Khuri in his office 5th floor, College Hall, to draw a detailed perspective on the subjects below:

I-      University Ranking & Regional Graduate Employability

II-     Tobacco Free Campus & Medical Center

III-   Growing Role of Accessible Education Office & IT Office

IV-   Academic Tenure

V-    AUB’s window to NYC via its Office the Debs Center

In a world where competition is getting stronger, one of the main criteria talented students look for prior to applying to a University is its Ranking & the Graduate Employability factor. How does AUB stand in this respect ?

Many criteria are taken into consideration to determine University Rankings, especially by QS (Quacquarelli Symonds) which are the most nuanced, thoughtful, detailed & accurate in our view.

This is because they don’t strictly go by size or reputation only. They go by citations per faculty member, how many of the papers are senior authored, international reputation and what the employers think of our students, how many courses are accredited, does the faculty publish in high impact journals, is the research impactful, is it cited, etc..

So by those rankings, for the 1st time, AUB ranked 1st in the Arab World out of more than 1,000 universities that were reviewed. A hundred were ranked, 8 of those hundred were Lebanese. What is also most important is that AUB is the Top Ranked University in the Arab World in terms of Employability of its students. AUB’s Alumni are also successful and do really well. From a total of 150 Universities worldwide, AUB ranked 41st and is the only Arab University in the Top 150 from South Africa all the way up to Siberia, the Western tip of China, through the Western tip of Greece.

That indicates our graduates do exceptionally well: they are desirable, they get jobs, keep them and they lead. Rankings are not everything; still we believe this is a confirmation of our excellence. We were also delighted to see several other Lebanese universities ranked among the top 100, in particular Université St-Joseph (USJ).

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AUB Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy & International Affairs 

Tobacco’s negative impact on health and link to many cancers has been demonstrated through extensive scientific research. As a Medical Expert in Lung and Head & Neck cancer, what is your Vision of a Tobacco Free Campus? How does AUB keep its campus a clean environment and students safe from the Tobacco nuisance?

From my knowledge of the data, sadly, tobacco related diseases each year lead to the deaths of a hundred times more people than wars. If wars can be prevented, then should also the act of picking-up cigarettes, cigars, arguileh (waterpipe)… The marketing constraints and tough federal guidelines in the United States, that have led to the reduction in tobacco consumption from 54% down to 14% over the last five decades since the Surgeon General’s Report 1965 on tobacco causality & disease, do not exist beyond the US, Western Europe, Canada and the developed world. So, the tobacco companies have refocused their marketing skills and free-hand on the developing world. Therefore, it’s important we make a difference here at AUB.

It starts by being, ourselves, good ambassadors for healthy living, good role models. That’s why we launched this initiative to make AUB Tobacco Free. It’s not just an obligation scientifically & ethically but also morally. I hear from many students that they have started smoking here at AUB, that they did it because their friends wanted to look cool, or they were stressed, and stayed up late studying or working..

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But we need to keep in mind that tobacco substances are addictive and a lot of choices are made under duress: when students are too young, tired, or maybe they are socially unpopular and try to belong to a group. The fact that the products are marketed unethically and immorally in most of the world means that we need to help our AUB Community. Our hope is to extend it later to the Lebanese & Arab community to steer away from tobacco without being judgmental. We have to give smokers the means and evidence to help them quit smoking.

My profession as a physician who spent the vast majority of his life treating diseases (that are predominantly tobacco related) with more than different 15,000 patients has impacted my view on what needs to be done. I have seen the misery; therefore, it certainly helps to have a healthy green environment to reduce exposure of the AUB community to harmful substances.

AUB is committed to accommodating diversity & difference in a safe & respectful environment for all its members, what is the role of the Accessible Education Office and how does it contribute to ensure everyone is treated fairly?

I believe the University has to be a good role model to all our community. The least we can do is to take care of making it more equal for individuals with physical disabilities, learning disabilities, mental health challenges, psychological challenges. I’m happy to say that we are dedicated to developing Accessible Education. We are not perfect, yet we are hiring professionals to destigmatize disability and allow challenged students to succeed. It starts with the little things, like building ramps and making the university more accessible as well as the gym. But also, it includes enforcement programs, like the Title IX program which is a federal statute that prevents gender-based discrimination or harassment. We expand that to ethnic origin, religion, race, disability, sexual orientation.. We should have a campus and a community that judges the other ‘not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character’ as Martin Luther King Jr. once said. Our criteria is merit, sincerity & commitment.

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Quality Education & the future of students depends greatly on the skills & expertise of their Professors. How does AUB retain talented Educators, provide them security and encourage them to bring their contribution to Research? What is the Academic Tenure?

AUB aspires to retain the best and brightest students, faculty, staff & administrators without regard to their gender, creed, origin, sexual orientation, disability.. To do that we have to stretch, even financially. Faculty, students, staff, talented educators are given several years of housing support, moving expenses, competitive total compensation and the opportunity to succeed in research. We increased significantly the resources the AUB and its partners (in this case the Lebanese government) spend on financial support of research. We passed from little over USD 1 million to USD 5 million last year. Part of that is philanthropy, resources from the University (USD 2 million) and from the Endowment. There is also a USD 400 K annual increase from the Lebanese government funding. More increases in foundation grants, philanthropic grants and gifts used to support research.

Tenure is critical because even though there are a lot of good teachers & good human beings; if they are not stellar educators and exceptional in many academic aspects, then the University can’t afford to invest in their long-term staying as researchers for years and potentially decades. That is the hard decision top research universities have to undertake.

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AUB New York Office, Debs Center

21st Century technological breakthroughs have made the world accessible to ambitious entrepreneurs & confirmed professionals. How do AUB students who wish to internationalize their experience, benefit from AUB International Network and opening to the USA; New York in particular?

A lot of universities view their duty from the strictly academic perspective, considering their role ends once their students graduate. However at AUB, we consider this limited view fails to take into consideration the special milieu in Lebanon & the Middle East right now. It’s a challenging milieu and a challenging time for young people wherever they are. Lebanon is a nation that has exported the vast majority of its bright young entrepreneurs and scholars for generations, since certainly the 19th century.

Our Administration and I as a President, don’t believe that this level of export should continue unchecked without additional opportunities being created in the US. This requires getting the brightest students for further education, further training in top schools and companies abroad.

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The focus should not only be on the Western world which was the traditional view of AUB & USJ, but now also on the unexplored East as well (i.e East of the Gulf).

From that perspective, we have launched a series of initiatives through our New York Office, the Debs Center, to present a whole new face of AUB to the world: what do we do to attract new scholars, how do they get highlighted, how do we project thanks to our new state-of-the-art conference room from China to Beirut and beyond. We also have specific relationships we are building and developing with the Université St-Joseph, Lebanon (USJ), the Lebanese American University (LAU) and the Lebanese University. We are also reaching out to other excellent universities in Lebanon.

In the US, we just signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, we are working with Johns Hopkins University and developing a relationship with Emory University.

In Europe, we signed cooperation agreements with Université Paris Descartes, Trinity College of Ireland and University College London.

In Asia, we also signed our first ever Memorandum of Understanding with a Major University in Dalian in China for Arabic language education through our regional external programs focusing on the East. We have helped found the American University of Sharjah and the University of Salalah. This allows us to take advantage of Faculty strengths. For example, we have recruited Mahmood El Batal, who is one of the preeminent scholars of Arabic Language Education. We have just recruited him from the University of Texas and this will allow us to benefit from his scholarship and expertise.

Our purpose is to to keep working on AUB’s visibility and reach as well as sharing the University’s story with the World.

Interview by Sr. Emile E. Issa  KASMYN Founder

   *Sources: AUB Website, Emory Winship Cancer Institute Fadlo R. Khuri biography,  American Cancer Society Website,Wikipedia, Fadlo R. Khuri.

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