An Interview with President Peter Dorman about the Forthcoming Inauguration Celebrations
As his inauguration as fifteenth president of the American University of Beirut approaches, President Peter F. Dorman reveals his expectations and impressions of the inaugural celebrations, and explains how they serve his vision and sincere hopes of placing AUB in the forefront of higher education in the Middle East.
Dina Abou Salem: Whose idea was it to revive the inaugural tradition at AUB?
Peter Dorman: I wish I could tell you, but Iím sure it must have been in the minds of the trustees all along. And itís actually one of the things that was mentioned to me almost right away when I agreed to sign on as president. It was raised initially by Stephen Jeffrey [AUB Vice President for Development and External Relations], who stressed the importance of planning for such occasions.
DAS: Were you in favor of holding the inauguration celebrations, and if so, why?
PD: Yes. And as for timing, there were a number of options to be considered, initially. It was a good time to do it when the trustees are on campus [May 2009]. And it was perfect because the Academic Affairs Committee of the trustees always come in May to review promotion files and most of them [board members] will be present at AUB then.
DAS: How will the inauguration celebrations impact the University in your opinion? In other words in what way is it a long-term investment for AUB?
PD: Inaugurations are kind of strange and to some extent unique things. Very few institutions other than colleges and universities carry these inaugurations out. You rarely hear about inaugurations in banks or big companies or engineering firms, for example. But universities hold them for a variety of reasons, and AUB is very much in that stream. Inaugurations are a way to link the present activities of a university with its history and tradition, as itís been observed over the past. Itís a way of acknowledging important transitions at the University.
Inaugurations generally involve ceremonies or symbolism that reflect [a universityís] history. We want to reflect on our past and discuss what we are doing now in the light of our 140 year history..., and we want to look around the region and place AUB within its present context in light of what is happening in the Middle East today. It is also a way for us to cast a wider eye over the educational landscape...to confirm the fact we are more than a faculty and their students. We have a much longer tradition with alumni who feel very strongly about their university.
We also want to reach out to the parents of current students who are keenly interested in what is happening to their children. We want to acknowledge the hopes that they have for their futures. We want to acknowledge the contribution made by our staff, such as the nurses and doctors working in the hospital, the groundskeepers who daily clean the campus, the clerical and support staff who work in administrative and faculty offices, and all others without whom this university would not be able to function. It takes a lot of people to run a university, and the inauguration gives us an opportunity to acknowledge them.
We tried to make it a participatory event as well. I feel this is an occasion in which everyone is involved. It is a way for AUB to position itself in the community. For example, we invited presidents of other universities and scholarly societies.
DAS: What does the inauguration mean to you?
PD: It is just a wonderfully joyful occasion for me and Iím hugely gratified and humbled finding myself at the center of this celebration. Iím absolutely delighted that all my brothers and sisters are going to come. Many of them are traveling from the United States. Several of their spouses are coming. Iíve got nieces who are coming. My cousins are coming. These people are making a long trip to Lebanon to be a part of this ceremony. It is a way of bringing my family together. As you know, my family has a strong connection to Beirut. For them to come back for this special day is going to be wonderful; itís a wonderful feeling. But it is also a way for the broader AUB family to come together to celebrate.
DAS: From your experience with inaugural celebrations at universities in the United States, how will AUBís compare?
PD: I have been involved in a couple of inaugural ceremonies, not directly but as an observer. [Ours] is very typical of what happens in big universities. It is quite typical of the inclusiveness of these kinds of inaugurations. People are probably wondering why we are going through all this trouble. We havenít had inaugurations in a long time. This is a new kind of event which people are trying to get their minds around. I hope they come to realize that it is a way of celebrating the uniqueness of the University.
DAS: What messages do you expect the inauguration celebrations to convey?
PD: I think we are trying to position AUB in the context of its history as we look forward to the future. But also, the inauguration gives us an opportunity to acknowledge the many different people who have made this institution such a great one.
DAS: What ideas do you hope to communicate in your inauguration speech?
PD: Itís mostly written...and mostly draws from the themes I just mentioned.
DAS: Where do you want AUB to be in the future? In this respect, how will this inauguration serve the latter vision?
PD: I want and very much hope that AUB will be in the forefront of education in the Middle East. I think we are positioned to move forward on a number of fronts, and part of that will include new leadership; as you know we are looking forward to a new provost and a new dean of medicine. I think these are leaders who bring with them a lovely addition and potential to this University. Part of that vision includes increasing scholarship aid, increasing our ability to recruit excellent faculty from all over the world, increasing the diversity of students on campus, and improving the infrastructure of the University. All of these are falling into place, and Iím very positive about that.
DAS: Is there anything you would like to add?
PD: I would encourage everyone to come if they possibly can to participate in some aspect of the weekend. There is going to be a wonderful faculty symposium on American education in the Middle East on Sunday afternoon. There will be concerts. There will be lunch following the inauguration. Iím hoping for good weather, too.