TBY talks to Joseph G. Jabbra, President of the Lebanese American University, on the uniqueness of the institution, expansion, and cooperation with the private sector.
TBY What are the main advantages in having a regionally diverse background in the education field?
JOSEPH G. JABBRA This is something that I am so thankful for. I have a French education. After spending 19 years in Canada, I moved back to the US in 1990. This gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizons. People aren’t satisfied with their own culture nowadays—they need to be exposed to different ways of life. For me, diversity is very enriching. The more you know about different people, different cultures, and different views, the richer you are in terms of your thinking and contributions to society. I tell people that if you speak two languages, then you are the equivalent of two people, three languages, three people, each thinking differently and bringing different points of view to bear upon the issues at hand. I consider myself lucky to have been exposed to so many cultures.
How does this ideology influence Lebanese American University (LAU)?
LAU’s history tells the whole story. The vision of our founder started in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1834. Her dream was to travel to the shores of Beirut and establish an institution for the education of women in the Ottoman Empire. In the first year there were three female students. The institution grew not only because of the vision, but there was also the will and determination to do something good. Above all of this, there was the passion to do something for others so they may have a better life. The school became known as LAU in the 1990s with two major campuses, one in Beirut and the other in Byblos. LAU has now seven schools including a School of Medicine and a School of Pharmacy. Our School of Pharmacy is the only one outside the US that is accredited by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education (ACPE).
What makes LAU stand out from other places of higher learning in Lebanon?
About 20% of our student body comes from 86 countries around the world. It’s not a religious-based institution; it’s for everyone. The mission that makes this institution unique is as follows. There is an incredible and unshakable commitment to excellence in everything we do. This institution is a role model not only for Lebanon but also for the world because we don’t discriminate on the basis of religion, politics, or socioeconomic status. For students, faculty, and staff, if you qualify, and you are ready to work very hard to teach, work, and study here, we welcome you with open arms. For the students who don’t have the means to come here, we find it not only our responsibility but also our obligation to help them find the means. We give over $12 million a year in financial aid, and we are going to increase that number to $14.5 million in the next couple of years because we want the institution to be socio-economically diverse. Another unique feature of our mission is that we educate the whole person. We pay attention not only to the academic side, but also to the maturity and personal growth of our students. We don’t want graduates with no social skills who can’t really establish links and relationships with other people. Interpersonal skills are very important nowadays. Additionally, all of these components do not mean anything unless they are guided by a very robust ethical compass. Ethics are being eroded even in the best of democracies, and I think it’s the responsibility of institutions like LAU to restore ethics to where they belong in our lives.
What have been some recent additions to the university?
The Byblos campus was established in the 1990s and it has most of the professional schools. The Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury School of Medicine was a major addition to the university; it was established in association with Harvard Medical International. Three driving forces determine the success of any institution in my opinion, especially in education. First is the ability to articulate and establish a clear vision of what it is you want to do. Second is the will and determination to implement that vision. The third is a burning passion to grow. These three elements were hard at work in establishing the School of Medicine. Our first aim is to produce graduates that provide the best medical care to their patients in accordance with international standards. Our second is to foster the ability to establish interpersonal, professional, and ethical relations with patients, patients’ families, and colleagues. Third, we want to develop the ability to deal with sensitive issues such as death. Fourth, we aim to instill an unshakable commitment to ethics; the integrity of a doctor is essential. This includes issues of money. A doctor should make enough money to live comfortably and provide for his or her family, but they are healers, not businessmen. Lastly, we want to produce doctors who are role models in society in terms of health issues.
How do you participate with the private sector to provide graduates in the areas it needs?
It is important to be in close contact with the private sector because we need to have feedback about our students. In my opinion, a university cannot be an ivory tower separate from society. It must be a part of society, responding to all the challenges that society has to face. A university is a place where society does its thinking.
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