Winter 2008 Vol. VI, No. 2
After 10 years in the driver’s seat as president of AUB,
Dr. John Waterbury is stepping down. His presence on campus has been characterized
by a decade of extraordinary development for AUB in all areas: academic,
physical, financial, and even psychological. As the first American president
to reside on campus since the 1984 assassination of President Malcolm
Kerr, Waterbury inherited the war legacy that had blighted AUB for 20
years. The challenges were multiple and momentous, as Waterbury himself
reapply for promotion to associate professor. All faculty members from 1998
on had to strictly follow the promotion clock. This was not popular and
led to a series of grievances, but I believe that not only was this the
toughest decision I had to make, it was also the most important for restoring
rigorous standards in our promotion process.”
Thus the tenor of the Waterbury presidency was evident at its inception. This leader would be defined by his relentless scrutiny—reassessing, revising, and reevaluating at every level. It was to win him many devoted friends and certainly some enemies. As Dr. Philip Khoury, vice chairman of the AUB Board of Trustees explains, “AUB is a complicated institution. It is a great institution and has been for a long time, and it is hard, very hard to manage a place like that. There are so many competing interests and traditions, and it is hard to change traditions, eliminate some that aren’t working, and invent new ones. Waterbury has managed to do that and still come out of it standing, as we say, with his head high.”
Achieving accreditation was central to getting AUB back on course after the civil war. Waterbury gives full credit to Provost Peter Heath for steering the University through the initial accreditation process. Thereafter the question that most concerned Waterbury, the Board of Trustees, and members of the Academic Review Committees was how to reposition AUB for the future. Waterbury laid out his own blueprint in his 2004 “State of the University” address. His vision included general education distribution requirements for undergraduates, increased regional and socio-economic diversity of the student body, improved teaching, and more aggressive faculty research. He also stood firm on integrity, accountability, peer review of teaching practices, and scholarly content. In his milestone paper “Future States,” he called for courage and vigilance in striking the balance between teaching and research in order to attract high calibre faculty and students.
Waterbury’s commitment to diversity and financial aid has been key to the University’s new recruitment drive. Current enrolment stands at 7,200 students from 67 countries; almost 2,800 students benefit from a financial aid budget which has doubled in recent years; an ever growing number of scholarship funds, including Merit, Presidential, and Benjamin Franklin, afford different levels of aid to students from Lebanon and abroad, with more to come.
Of course all of this costs money, which is why the success of the Campaign for Excellence (CFE) has been so important. As the $140 million CFE drew to a close at the end of 2007, it had already exceeded its target by over $30 million with more donations and initiatives in the pipeline. CFE Cochairman Dr. Kamal Shair puts it simply: “What has been achieved by the CFE would not have been achieved, crucially, without the John Waterbury factor… his standards, his outlook, and his scholarly approach.”
Waterbury prefers to deflect the spotlight back to others: “The Campaign for Excellence has been an enormous success… A crucial element has been the gradual professionalization of our development effort... We had tremendous support from key trustees who gave the campaign great visibility and legitimacy. I am also convinced that there is a kind of sea change underway in philanthropy in this part of the world. We are seeing at AUB and elsewhere a willingness on the part of the wealthy to give generously to higher education. I think there is a realization that high quality universities are reliable vehicles to honor and perpetuate the name and reputation of prominent benefactors. I think AUB caught the trend at the beginning.”
Examples of this philanthropy can be seen in the proliferation of new institutes, research departments, and buildings which have opened on campus recently and include the Issam Fares Institute, the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business, the Abu-Haidar Neuroscience Institute, the Pierre Y. Aboukhater (Fahed) Medical Arts Facility, the Naef K. Basile Cancer Institute, the CCC Scientific Research Building, the Ray R. Irani/ Oxy Engineering Complex, the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Bin Abdulaziz Al Saoud Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR), the Dar Al-Handasah (Shair & Partners) Architecture Building, and the Charles W. Hostler Student Center. As well as lending support to research, teaching, and interdisciplinary programs, some of the money emanating from these philanthropic initiatives is being used to rehabilitate the campus under the Campus Master Plan.
Some would say that the master plan is the jewel in the crown of Waterbury’s legacy. It includes:
• renovation of 140,000 square meters of existing academic, residential, and sports facilities, along with the sensitive introduction of new buildings and the creation of well designed pedestrian links between all facilities including relocating parking to the perimeter of campus.
• preservation of upper campus as the historic center campus and of middle campus with special sensitivity to the natural landscape
• transformation of lower campus to include the Hostler Center and the Olayan School of Business.
The Hostler Student Center, donated by alumnus Ambassador Charles Hostler, is the largest new building to be built on campus since Nicely Hall in 1961. In anticipation of its completion, Hostler says, “Though the Charles Hostler Student Center at AUB had been in the planning stage for many years, it was Dr. John Waterbury’s leadership that brought this new five-building complex into a completed reality. He is a dedicated, thoughtful, persuasive, and hardworking leader, who has carefully led AUB through many difficult years of expansion.”
“He is a dedicated, thoughtful, persuasive, and hardworking leader, who has carefully led AUB through many difficult years of expansion.”
Ambassador Charles Hostler
Waterbury says that the real challenge lies ahead: “I believe the Campus Master Plan has so far been a great success, but its continued success will be determined by our willingness to abide by the master plan guidelines. These allow some flexibility. They do not tell us what buildings to build or refurbish, or when to undertake a project. They do say if we want to do something, here are the guidelines on space use, energy use, quality of materials, protection of the middle campus and view corridors, massing, vehicular and pedestrian circulation, frontage with our neighborhood, etc. For me the guidelines are sacred.”
Also sacred to Waterbury is his passionate belief in AUB’s regional and socio-economic diversity: “It is an integral part of AUB’s historic mission, and no Board of Trustees has ever failed to endorse it. I have often stated that there has to be a truly regional university in our greater neighborhood, especially at the undergraduate level, that brings students together from all over a region that is increasingly fragmented. The trend in regional higher education is for greater and greater ‘localism,’ even within countries. I want AUB to reflect the wonderfully rich diversity of this part of the world.”
Reintroducing PhD programs was a critical step in promoting AUB’s regional pull. Dr. Philip Khoury sees the move as Waterbury-inspired: “He deserves enormous credit for that, for staying the course, and introducing these. It is going to lift us as a research institution higher and higher, and that will make us more competitive.” For Rami Khouri, director of the Issam Fares Institute, the PhD program represents, “the single most important symbolic achievement among the many achievements of the Waterbury years… The PhD program has broken new ground… [AUB] has gone to a higher level that, I think, clearly makes it the most serious research university in the Arab world.”
For Waterbury this is just the beginning: “I anticipate that we will see a major strengthening of our graduate education (PhD programs) and our faculty research infrastructure and output. I believe that in ten years AUB will be fully justified in calling itself a world-class university.”
Arguably the world showcase for AUB is its Medical Center. Chief cardiologist Dr. Samir Alam describes the success of the CFE in bringing new initiatives to AUBMC. “There are new facilities, including the Aboukhater Facility and Outpatient Department, and the Abu-Haider Neuroscience Institute. We have bone marrow programs and research is being supported as never before... and it is thanks to the efforts of the president, the dean, and their teams.”
Dr. Thomas Morris, chairman of the Board of Trustees shares Alam’s view, “All of these have happened because Waterbury has helped to raise the funds and oversee and approve their development in collaboration with Dean Cortas … With respect to the Medical Center I think he has brought that part of the University closer to the central University, even though he is not a physician nor has he had hospital experience in the past; but he has dedicated himself to understanding that part of the institution and also facilitating its development with new levels of excellence. I think these are evident in the Medical Center in the faculty practice plan and the development of new facilities both in the hospital and in the outpatient area, the renovation of the old outpatient department for practice offices and the changes to Building 76 with its extended facilities and programs.
Gladys Mouro, assistant director for Hospital Nursing Services, whose department recently received the prestigious Magnet Accreditation (only the second such award outside the United States) supports these views. She was thrilled when Waterbury invited her to speak on Founders Day in 2002. “He appreciated what I did, recognized my worth, which was very motivating… He has always supported women.” With female undergraduate enrolment now standing at 49 percent, Waterbury hopes that the role of women will continue to evolve at AUB. “I am quite optimistic. I am eager to see women playing an increasingly important role in all facets of AUB’s life, but we have not ‘favored’ them at all. Women who succeed at AUB do so on their own merits, whether as students or faculty members or senior administrators. What is gratifying is that AUB provides a setting in which they can flourish, where they have real responsibility, and where they feel they have a big piece of the ownership of the institution.”
For Dr. Samir Alam, the reinstatement of the honorary degrees is one of the “highs” of the Waterbury years; he says, “I think this is the thing that brought AUB back in touch with the rest of the world.”
Not content with repositioning AUB on the world map, Waterbury has identified a specific local role for the University with the Neighborhood Initiative—a visionary project to examine ways in which AUB can help shape the changing face of Ras Beirut. “I think AUB can have a major impact given its economic, social, and cultural weight in Ras Beirut. That weight is magnified through our sister institutions in the near vicinity: LAU, Haigazian, IC, ACS, etc. I have said before that Ras Beirut is to Beirut what Cambridge is to Boston, and the analogy holds because of the educational institutions in the neighborhood.”
Dr. Morris sees this project as a key part of the Waterbury legacy, “He is a president who is very sensitive to the environment, going green as everyone around the world is trying to do and he is also involving AUB in the community which I think is a first for the institution in a formal way. I know that he has made sure that that involvement with the community will continue by endowing the program to facilitate that effort.”
Asked if the Neighborhood Initiative is something he would plan to stay involved with, he replied, “If I stay involved it will be mainly as a resident of Ras Beirut.” Thus it is that John Waterbury is preparing to move on. While many regret the end of the Waterbury years, they also celebrate his decision to remain part time in Lebanon and at AUB.
As he contemplates leaving the campus after 10 years, what are Waterbury’s thoughts? Does he have regrets? “Of course. Lots. Too many to recount. I am very demanding. I want things done at a pace which in retrospect is unreasonable. But in a general way the most consistent challenges of the presidency are promoting and maintaining coherent and wellunderstood policies and procedures and secondly in grappling daily with personnel issues—finding the right person for the appropriate job and retaining him or her. In both these areas I have made mistakes.
Finally, I worry that some of the positive changes that AUB has experienced may be reversible. We have developed many good habits in the last ten years, but these habits are sometimes onerous. I hope there won’t be backsliding out of fatigue or indifference.”
In deciding to come to AUB, John Waterbury considered many things, but he gave voice to one of the most compelling reasons: “I felt that after decades working and living in the Middle East I owed the region something more than books and articles. The presidency of AUB was an opportunity for modest pay-back.” Does he believe he succeeded? “Well, as much as someone with my skill set could give back. I would say, from best regional practices point of view, and to the extent I have been able to solidify our practices, improve them in certain areas, then maybe I have paid back a little bit. I am going to try to get a tally of all the students who have graduated in my ten years. It is probably 12–15,000 and I can’t believe that those young people aren’t going to make some difference, somewhere. I didn’t educate them, but I was here, so I will take some of the glory!”
For Waterbury this decade has been “The most important ten years of my life—without a doubt... If I can encapsulate it, I suppose it is simply to say that AUB is a remarkable institution. I knew in the abstract that it was when I became president, but now that I have been inside the belly of the beast, I know it is extraordinary. It has got a lot of problems, but it has truly been a privilege to be the president of this place, and I kind of envy whoever comes next because they are going to find the same thing.”