BIG PLANS

Lebanon 2016 | HEALTH & EDUCATION | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Joseph G. Jabbra, President of the Lebanese American University (LAU), on embracing technology at the university, the challenges of Lebanon's brain drain, and the importance of having international links with other institutions.

Joseph G. Jabbra
BIOGRAPHY
Joseph G. Jabbra assumed the presidency of LAU in 2004. Prior to that, he served as Academic Vice President at Loyola Marymount University (LMU) in Los Angeles from 1990 to 2004. He had earlier served as Vice President, Academic and Research, at St. Mary’s University (SMU) in Halifax, Nova Scotia, from 1980 to 1990. Dr. Jabbra earned his law degree at the Université Saint-Joseph in Beirut, and a Ph.D. in political science from the Catholic University of America. He is the author, co-author, and co-editor of a combined 12 books.

What are some of the new projects being carried out at both of your campuses?

Providing our students with an environment that stimulates ideas and innovation is important to us, and in line with our current strategic plan. As a result, we are completing a major facility for engineering labs and have started construction on a new library at our Byblos campus with a USD25 million investment. We recently acquired the surrounding land to our Byblos campus with an investment of USD50 million, raising the total size to 300,000sqm. At our Beirut campus, we plan to refurbish our Gezairi Building to house the headquarters of the School of Architecture and Design and also plan to build a new facility for our School of Arts and Sciences.

How is LAU applying technology and innovation to its programs?

Embracing technology to improve education and innovation are our core values. In this spirit, LAU was the first university in Lebanon to be wireless, and we have made all our classrooms smart. Now, our staff and students can access the internet at any time, using any Wi-Fi enabled device. We understand that it is no longer possible to have a proper education without technology; therefore, we try to keep up to date in every possible way. Plus, we provide training to our faculty and staff to make sure they know how to use the technology.

Lebanon is facing a brain drain problem. How is this affecting the country?

Moving abroad has been part of the Lebanese psyche for a long time. Many of our graduates have left the country and succeeded abroad in a varied number of areas. That said, it is important for our leaders to create more and better jobs for our graduates so that they can continue to contribute to the transformation of the nation. Lebanese people abroad have created an idea of a nation that somehow does not really exist, and yet that keeps them connected to their motherland. We need to build a better society so Lebanese people here or elsewhere identify with it. Between USD7-8 billion enters Lebanon every year in the form of remittances from places as varied as the US, Canada, the Gulf, and Latin America. Lebanese expatriates represent the country in their respective destinations and that alone is a great contribution.

Can you talk about your international links and exchange programs?

International links are one of our most important assets. As an American university with a New York charter and headquarters there, we are truly international, with faculty, staff, and students from all over the world. We understand the value and importance of international connections. As such, we link our institution in order to provide opportunities for our faculty and our students to go abroad. The idea is simple: we have no other choice but to establish linkages with other institutions to give our students the opportunity to have a foreign experience, or we will relinquish and our students will carry the burden.

What are your plans for 2016?

Our goal for the year is to ensure our plans are executed in order to maintain our excellence and continue to be the leading university in Lebanon. We have a capital pool of USD333 million that we need to allocate in the following five years. We have a committee composed of five panels looking at a new strategic plan. The first panel assessed our intellectual capital and how we can use it to continue to improve the university. The second panel was about pedagogy and how teaching has changed dramatically and how we can embrace these changes. The third panel was on tuition and the sources of revenue the university can use in order to alleviate the pressure of tuition. The fourth panel focused on innovation, which is crucial for our students to continue growing intellectually. The final panel explored shared governance and how the different components of the university can participate in the decision making process.