Faculty and Students Embrace “an abundant life”; Winners of Essay Contest Announced
|Panelists at the symposium
Faculty members and students alike argued that a liberal arts education is still marketable these days at a time when specialization and innovation are the focus, during a faculty symposium kicking off Inauguration Month on May 3.
Discussing the theme, “Toward an Abundant Life,” speakers at the event and students in their prize winning essays agreed that multicultural awareness and ethical values are still needed in a world short of people working for the common good.
“Specialization and innovation are needed; but so is multicultural awareness,” said Professor George Fallis, an economics professor and former dean of arts and sciences at Canada’s York University. Fallis, who delivered a lecture titled “Liberal Arts Education in the 21st Century: Anachronism or Vanguard?” concluded that “liberal arts education can be in the vanguard of thinking about undergraduate education for the 21st century, but will have to be a renewed and re-imagined liberal arts education.”
Similarly, the Inauguration Student Essay Contest winner, Edmond Gaspard, a first-year electrical and computer engineering student, also reasoned that a liberal arts education produces a more ethical, open, analytical, and dynamic professional. “A liberal arts education forces engineers to consider the ethical repercussions of their work.… A liberal arts student sees the world as a whole and understands that his or her area of knowledge is only one of many,” he wrote in his essay. “The benefits of a liberal arts education surpass what is concrete or measurable… [it] will undoubtedly generate better members of society. . .who are open to new ideas, . . .willing to stand for what is right, and whose horizons are far broader than their area of expertise.”
Gaspard also found that a liberal arts education could help Lebanese accept each other better. “Let us not forget that ignorance breeds fear and skepticism; in a society that is plagued by hatred and sectarianism, education is the only hope for people to understand each other and go beyond their differences.”
In conclusion, Gaspard said, “AUB has always been a place where difference did not mean inferiority; where diversity is looked upon as a blessing, not an obstacle, a haven for all those who fear prejudice, a home, as Reverend Daniel Bliss stated, ‘for all conditions and classes of men without regard to color, nationality, race, or religion.’ We should all know how blessed we are to seek a more abundant life at the American University of Beirut.”
Gaspard’s winning essay was announced at the Faculty Symposium by President Peter Dorman. The engineering student will receive the $5,000 first prize for his essay, “Liberal Education, a Way of Life.” Second and third runners-up, Lotfi Al Salah, a first-year architecture student, for “Academic Freedom: Overcoming Self-censorship and Promoting Freedom of Action,” will receive $3,000, and Jalal Imran, a first-year biology student, $2,000 for his essay, “Liberal Arts Education: Science with a Soul.” The three also received plaques for their achievement.
The symposium, inaugurated by Education Chair Saouma Boujaoude and Civilization Sequence Associate Professor David Wrisley, included a lecture by Professor Christopher Davidson, from the Center for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies at Durham University in England, and another by Professor Ali Fakhro, the Bahraini education minister.
Davidson addressed the challenges and trends of higher education in the Gulf states, while Fakhro argued for the need for a humanistic approach in Arab development.
The symposium examined whether a liberal arts education is still valid and competitive in a world interested in technical expertise and whether AUB’s liberal arts education compares favorably with other models of education.
“I am sure that this symposium organized by the faculty will be only the beginning of this kind of critical self-inquiry in the University in the coming years,” said Wrisley in his welcome speech. “The examined life is after all, the one worth living, to quote a famous ancient scholar.”