Following a delay caused by the prevailing health restrictions, Dr. Michel E. Mawad was formally inaugurated as LAU’s ninth president on Friday, March 25 – almost 18 months after he assumed the presidency – at a prestigious ceremony on Beirut campus attended by the Lebanese Minister of Education and Higher Education Judge Abbas Halabi, presidents of universities and leaders of university hospitals, ambassadors, LAU trustees, faculty, staff, alumni, and members of the wider higher education community in Lebanon. The ceremony was also broadcast live over the university’s social media channels.
The ceremony began with the national anthem and Alma Mater, after which LAU Trustee and Associate Professor at the Near East School of Theology Reverend Johnny Awwad delivered an invocation, as Reverend Joseph Kassab had been unable to attend due to unforeseen circumstances.
In her welcome address as master of ceremonies, accomplished journalist and LAU alumna Rima Maktabi (BA ’00; MA ’03) spoke about the value of succession planning and orderly transition – both of which lie at the heart of the American higher education system. “LAU is here to stay and to serve come what may,” she said. “This institution will endure, simply because the day we lose our educational institutions is the day we lose Lebanon.”
Chairman of the LAU Board of Trustees Philip Stoltzfus reflected on how the university has thus far weathered the economic and political storms, underscoring the drain of talent the likes of which the country has not witnessed since the civil war. “What LAU has accomplished during this crisis, under the leadership of Dr. Mawad, is an act of defiance, a profession of faith, and a feat of will and imagination,” he said.
Refusing to accept the claim however that the best talents have already left the country, Mr. Stoltzfus maintained that “the best have remained, seeking to make Lebanon whole again.”
“You will succeed in this task,” he told the LAU community, “and because of you, guided by Dr. Mawad’s vision and leadership, LAU will succeed, enabled by your talent, fortified by your belief, magnified by your ambition, and inspired by your common mission.”
In her capacity as Chair of the LAU Faculty Senate, Professor Mirvat El Sibai underscored the invaluable role of universities as “society’s curators of information” and “the only hope in preserving democracy and promoting a culture that is truly diverse and egalitarian.”
Dr. El Sibai further expressed her faith in Dr. Mawad’s leadership, saying that he was “willing and ready to transcend the current crisis and hopelessness, to inspire a road of staying the course with our morality, and to be courageous with our ambition and innovation.”
Representing the LAU student body, President of the LAU Student Council Alexandre Maalouf stressed the importance of embracing change at a time when his generation is facing multiple challenges. “We are often afraid of change, but LAU gives us hope, despite all that is going on,” he said. Though change comes at a critical time, he continued, “we must learn from it, grow from it, and allow that knowledge to lead the way forward.”
In a tribute to the university’s roots as a women’s college, Director of the Arab Institute for Women Myriam Sfeir gave an overview of historic moments that have come to shape LAU’s legacy as a champion of gender equality. “We have had seven female presidents and acting presidents at LAU, long before some leading educational institutions in Europe and North America,” noted Sfeir.
Social entrepreneur Salah Khalil, who is also the founder of Macat International and the Alexandria Trust Charity, spoke about the value of higher education, especially considering the twin pandemics that the world witnessed recently: coronavirus and the “infodemic” – the spread of inaccurate information. “We need to recognize the unsung heroes of the pandemic: universities with a strong tradition of research and intellectual wandering,” he noted.
In a recorded message, President of Northeastern University and former LAU Trustee Joseph Aoun expanded on the overlapping opportunities and challenges in the future of higher education. Universities must adapt their approach to learning and discovery to the digital age, he said, adding that “we have to help learners become robot-proof by serving them on a lifelong journey of reinvention.”
Taking to the podium, Dr. Mawad began by recognizing the legacy and contributions of the university’s previous leaders. “They inspire in me faith in our graceful God, steadfast commitment to this country and love and respect for its youth,” he said.
Dr. Mawad proceeded to list the key challenges facing the university, which he pledged to address during his tenure.
“While LAU remains true to its past, it will be transformed into a self-sustained, efficient and nimble institution, as imposed by harsh economic and geopolitical circumstances,” he declared.
“The university will evolve from sharply-defined silos of classical disciplines toward cross-disciplinary generic skills, top of which are critical thinking and problem solving,” he continued, adding: “Part of our commitment to reinventing LAU in its second century is creating for our students a learning environment where they acquire self-taught skills.”
Dr. Mawad spoke of five key areas of focus: the overhaul of curricula to reflect the new face of the world; reversing the attrition of faculty, physicians and staff to ensure a sustainable talent pool for students and patients; safeguarding the sustainability of LAU’s business model and its ability to support future expansions; developing a vast research capacity; and enhancing the employability of graduates.
Unbowed by the daunting task at hand, he affirmed that LAU “was here to stay strong, leading, proactive, futuristic, confident, committed to Lebanon and its people, committed to this region, true to its legacy – particularly that of gender equality, proud of its past, but always looking forward to remaking itself.”
It was here “to stay as a hub for innovation, a center of excellence, a culture of service to its community, a bastion for liberal arts education, a mainstay for American-style professional education, and a leading resource for Lebanon in its quest of healing, recovery, and revival,” he stressed. “We are here as a force for good, a leap forward for higher education and quality healthcare, and a glimpse of bright days ahead.”
The ceremony featured a musical interlude by a world-class pianist and renowned gynecologist, Dr. Antoine Karam, who played three piano compositions: the first in honor of Dr. Mawad, the second a dedication to the LAU spirit, and the third a reflection of the challenges that face Lebanon.