Winter 2008 Vol. VI, No. 2
Inside the Gate
Views from Campus
Founders Day Student Essay Contest
Political vs. Institutional Values: AUB as a Beacon of Hope
Do aub’s politically active students share the institution's
values or do they share the values of their political mentors off campus?
Is there a difference?
these political temperaments arrives at the start of every
year we spend at AUB: Student Representative Committee (SRC) elections.
These two weeks spent campaigning and recruiting are the pinnacle of political
strife on campus. Almost every student becomes a vendor, selling their
political values and those of their leaders to every possible fellow classmate.
Like their mentors, these campaigning students become advertising experts
during this chaotic interlude of the semester. However, regardless of
the pandemonium that results from the crowd of hundreds of students eagerly
waiting to hear that their faction has succeeded, that their campaign
was paramount, that they represent the future, AUB remains impervious.
The values that the institution of AUB promotes and those that the students proclaim in defense of their political mentors during elections are clearly poles apart. The University endorses freedom of expression and thought, and respect for dialogue. On the other hand, the politicians find means to silence their adversaries and dupe their followers so that they may prevail. We as students of this institution are not simply products of one of these value systems, but a profoundly complex combination of the two. We are indeed political animals, as depicted by our actions in those aforementioned two weeks saturated with commotion and disarray. Yet, it has been years since AUB has seen severe aggression, violence, or extremism on its grounds as a result of this voting period. As a university that has embraced diversity and boasts students holding flags of every color, it has also succeeded in implementing a system of mutual respect and understanding. Whether it is through strict disciplinary measures, unyielding security, or simply building reverence for the integrity of the institution, even the most politically charged students remain composed. They are indisputably influenced by their political mentors’ ideals, and have yet to embrace true tolerance for their political rivals. However, they choose the path of diplomacy and compromise rather than that of hostility because they are equally swayed by certain values of AUB.
Though Ernest Benn described politics as “the art of looking for trouble, finding it whether it exists or not, diagnosing it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedy,” it is an inevitability that permeates our daily life in Lebanon. Many have asked why AUB must also be plagued by this overabundance of politics, which reaches the extent of livening up tedious classroom attendance taking. The answer is simple. AUB is an integral part of the district surrounding it, as well as the society it is composed of. It has admirably chosen to be representative of its environment despite the incongruity of being an American university in such an atmosphere. However, its mission must not end here, but, instead, be two-fold. AUB must first understand that avoiding politics in a nation like Lebanon is an unattainable ambition. Subsequently, and regardless of this, our beloved institution must continue its duty of endowing its students with its values and fighting against the sectarian divisions that the politics of our country seem to define more clearly everyday. Though AUB has not yet succeeded in this undertaking in full, it could and does provide a beacon of hope for the future of Lebanon: the youth. We can only aspire that it will remain up to the task.
Focus on… IFI
The Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs (IFI) aims, says Director Rami Khouri, to create “innovative, exciting, and satisfying mechanisms to generate the best possible interaction between the policy-making world and the world of research and ideas. We see ourselves as pioneering a process not very well developed in the Arab world—to actually try to influence public policy through serious research and mutually satisfying interaction... Everyone benefits. It’s a win-win situation. We learn from them and they learn from us.” Khouri explained why the institute was set up at AUB: “We’ve discovered that the best absolute asset that we have—the competitive edge, the comparative advantage—is the research work of the professors.”
The institute was officially established at the opening ceremony held on December 14, 2004 in Issam Fares Hall. At the symbolic “ground breaking” at the site of the projected IFI building on the grounds of the Gulbenkian Infirmary on campus, no earth was turned, but a plaque was placed where the institute’s building will stand. AUB professors and interested members of the community took part in brainstorming meetings in 2004 and 2005. Exploring what such an institute should do, they decided it should highlight research interests of AUB professors and find ways to bring that research to the attention of policy makers.
Rami Khouri, former Harvard Nieman Journalism Fellow, currently editor-at-large at The Daily Star, senior fellow at Harvard University, and lecturer at the University of Chicago, Northeastern University, and AUB, took over as part-time director in late August 2006, aided by Research Assistant Sarine Karajerjian (BS ’04, MA ’08) and Researcher Josiane Bechara (BA ’07). Despite the limited temporary quarters in the Diana Tamari Sabbagh Building, and the small staff, excitement at the institute runs high, as possible projects are introduced and discussed. An Advisory Committee and a Steering Committee consisting of members from AUB and from the Fares Foundation provide direction and counseling for the institute.
Asked about the institute’s achievements thus far, Khouri said, “We’re attracting high-powered people and are asked to go and talk to people in high places. People are looking. They see us as a serious place. We provide an entry point into AUB. As we try to plan events of interest to both faculty and students, we attract people from outside the University as well… We launched the Bill and Sally Hambrecht Distinguished Peace Makers Lecture Series on October 22 with a lecture by Peruvian Alvaro de Soto, a diplomat with 25 years of experience as a senior United Nations official, envoy, and mediator.” The series will feature ten highly experienced international political mediators who will not only give public lectures, but also meet with faculty and students and hold workshops with various conflict resolution practitioners from all over the Arab world.
Another initiative, the Ambassador in the Academy series, will bring resident, and roving ambassadors to multinational institutions to AUB for a day. The ambassadors will give formal lectures and meet with students and members of faculty and staff. Current British ambassador to Lebanon, Her Excellency Frances Guy, gave the first lecture in the series on December 10, “More Fraternity than Friction: The Role of Values and Policies in Relations between the United Kingdom and the Arab and Islamic World.” IFI plans to host ambassadors on campus approximately every two months.
Khouri sees the current work of the institute in two distinct areas: routine activities such as lectures, panel discussions, and conferences, and broader programs ongoing for years, some of which might eventually “be spun off as separate institutes.” Khouri explained the importance of the word “forum” in the recently approved Arab Region Research and Policy Forum on Climate Change that was launched in mid-February. “We called it The Research and Policy Forum on Climate Change and Environment in the Arab World, because we want to draw on AUB and other high quality researchers to impact on policy as the end result of our work. We called it a forum because it brings together in a number of different ways, researchers, government officials, members of the private sector, NGOs, international donors—everybody who’s interested.”
The Steering Committee recently approved, in addition to the Climate Change Forum, the Research and Policy Forum for Arab Youth-Related Issues, and Policy and Governance Aspects of Palestinian Camps throughout the Middle East, a research-based integrated regional project which will look at camp-host community issues stemming from, in some cases, 60 years of the existence of the camps. The youth forum will examine behavioral problems of youth, along with “incredibly creative, innovative, and productive youth who are among the leading entrepreneurs in this region—creating jobs and linkages with the world economy.” Still being developed is a study looking at public policy-making and the role of think tanks throughout the region.
In 2009 Khouri hopes to frame a project dealing with the relationship between the Arab World and the whole of Asia. Khouri distinguishes between such ongoing programs based on research, on the one hand, and lectures and panel discussions designed to stimulate interest, raise issues, and contribute to public discussion, on the other.
Asked whether the institute has yet made any impact on the policy makers, Khouri replied, “It’s too early yet.” But he is planning “to provide a place where, for example, if a minister were to step down from government, we would invite him or her to become a fellow in our institute. We’re planning to do that . . . and we’re also looking into asking people who are actually serving in government to take a few days off, come to AUB as a fellow, and just talk to people informally and brainstorm.”
At the Issam Fares Institute, researchers and policy makers work hand in hand.
“We’ve discovered that the best absolute asset that we have— the competitive edge, the comparative advantage—is the research work of the professors."
Pulitizer Prize winner and Washington Post correspondent Anthony Shadid has been appointed as the IFI’s first resident fellow and writer-in-residence for the 2007-08 academic year. While at AUB, Shadid will participate in IFI activities and conduct research for an upcoming book. Anthony Shadid’s “journalism has consistently set very high standards of both professionalism and humanism. He combines sensitivity, insight, and accuracy in a manner that allows readers around the world to appreciate the complex realities, rather than the fleeting superficialities, of Middle Eastern societies. His presence at the Issam Fares Institute and AUB will be an asset to the entire university community,” said IFI director Rami Khouri.