Leading the Way
AUB Trustee Kamal Shair is one of the world’s leading architecture and engineering consultants. Long involved with AUB, Shair has put his considerable advisory skills to work by accepting a special leadership role as Chair of the Campaign for Excellence to help build the University’s future.
Kamal Shair is senior partner and managing director of the 4,000 member international firm, Dar Al-Handasah Consultants (Shair & Partners). His company has been responsible for many large design and engineering projects in the Middle East: the AUB Medical Center, the Riyadh Ring Road in Saudi Arabia, and the Sonatrach’s Projects in Algeria. The firm is now in charge of reconstructing water resources in southern Lebanon to encourage investment and settlement since the area’s recent liberation. A global enterprise, Dar Al-Handasah also has offices and projects in Africa, Europe, the United States, and the Far East.
Shair also has an impressive history of involvement with AUB, guiding the administration as a trustee and providing strong support to the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA), where, as a professor, he and several colleagues founded his consulting firm. A trustee since 1990, Shair’s giving record to the University is exemplary. In 2001, Shair and Dar Al-Handasah gave AUB $2 million to endow research by FEA faculty. He has also made yearly, generous contributions towards the Dar Al-Handasah (Shair & Partners) Chair in Engineering and is a strong supporter of the Center for Advanced Mathematical Sciences (CAMS).
AUB has now asked this master consultant and leader to chair AUB’s $140 million fundraising campaign. Editor Lynn Mahoney recently spoke with Shair in New York.
Editor: Why did you accept the position of chair of the fundraising campaign?
Shair: I served as co-chair of the development committee for a number of years, so I realized the importance of a major fundraising campaign. With President John Waterbury leading AUB, the recent achievements of the University, and AUB’s approaching 140th anniversary, I feel the time is ripe for the effort. I am a firm believer in the mission of AUB. To carry out its mission, AUB must advance its position as one of the leading educational institutions in the world – and the campaign makes this possible.
In this age of globalization, and its associated risks such as the threats of terrorism and the events of 9/11, AUB has a very special role. It adds not only to its relevance as an educational institution, but also to its leadership in forging a real understanding between East and West. I feel it’s a privilege to serve AUB in what promises to be an extremely gratifying endeavor. We have made a good start, but there is much hard work that remains to be done on the road ahead. This campaign will succeed.
Editor: What is the campaign goal and how will it impact the future of AUB?
Shair: The goal of the campaign is to strengthen AUB as a center of academic excellence. AUB was in a slow state of decline during the civil war years, but managed to preserve itself. After the war, AUB went through a stage of recovery that was a great success. Now we are in a stage of development that has the objective of getting AUB to be among the best in the world and we must raise a substantial sum of money to achieve this goal.
The core of the campaign is to further the University’s new academic plan that was developed by the president, provost, deans, and was approved by the trustees. This plan is comprehensive and balanced. Its main components are buildings—new and renovated, endowed professorships and programs, and endowed scholarships. For instance, an important part of the plan is to create a full-fledged PhD program, which is really the vehicle for cultivating research. At the minimum, I believe we should have doctoral degrees offered at least in one field in each faculty. Then we can expand into other fields. In this age of information technology and communications, the borders of knowledge have broadened and we must continue to develop to be on top—and stay there. Once you stand still, you go backwards. The campaign will ensure that AUB keeps moving forward.
Editor: You made your first visit to campus last year after a 15-year absence. What is your impression of the University, its students, and faculty? How has AUB changed?
Shair: I was most impressed by the energy of the students. Looking at the students on the campus—sitting on the greens, congregating on the steps to the Main Gate and outside College Hall, walking around debating, discussing, and carrying on socially. The spirit on campus is so high! During my visit there was a magnificent reception at Marquand House. Seeing the students—these young, determined, forward-looking people—together with the faculty and administration was just fantastic.
Editor: Any thoughts on the new campus Master Plan?
Shair:The AUB Master Plan aims to utilize the physical aspects of the campus, taking in account its academic mission. Classrooms will be renovated, computers and labs will have the highest technological quality, and student life will be enhanced with the renovation of West Hall, the future Hostler Center, and new dorms. AUB is making a campus—and an education—that befits the 21st century.
Aesthetics are important too. The Master Plan preserves the character of the upper campus, strengthens the green belt, and develops attractive pedestrian walkways. It will create a lower campus equal in beauty to the upper. Another important aspect is the linkage between the main campus and the Medical Center. This connection of the medical school to the main campus is now there physically and psychologically, but a greater sense of integration is needed. The AUB campus will be noted as one of the most beautiful in the world.
Editor: Today AUB faces competition in the Middle East and beyond. How should AUB answer this challenge?
Shair: I do not mean to belittle the role of other universities in the region. But in all honesty, I hope these government-established schools would seriously examine the types of graduates they are producing and the quality of education they are providing. They should be asking if graduating students have adequate analytical and communication skills. Are the students more open to inquiry or are they simply molded? Did they expand their enrollment of students at the expense of the quality of education they offer?
AUB will set the standard for these institutions. One thing is certain, there is NO institution of higher education in the region—no matter how good it is—that will negatively impact the role, mission, and philosophy of AUB. Since its founding, the University has set the tone and standard of higher education and that role will never be taken away. You cannot build history overnight. AUB has over 135 years of experience and achievement behind it. AUB is, and has always been, a productive, progressive, and academically rich institution.
Editor: Turning back to education at AUB. What is the role of AUB and its contributions to the field of engineering in the region?
Shair: As for the FEA itself, I want to see it evolve into a faculty of engineering and technology. I think we can make it, but this requires a considerable expansion in research and development activity. My personal opinion is that architecture and graphic arts should be separated from engineering, and be part of a faculty of architecture and fine arts. Engineering is one of the strongest faculties, as is business, medicine, and health sciences. The deans are all excellent. An area that we need to concentrate on is the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). Certain departments should be strengthened, particularly humanities and social sciences. After all, FAS is the “heart” of AUB because of the University’s commitment to a liberal arts education.
Editor: Tell me about your generous $2 million gift to the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture. Why do you want to encourage faculty research?
Shair: Research is essential for the University as well as growth in the region. Lebanese industry needs a boost. I would like the silicon valley of the Middle East to be located in Beirut and if the FEA expands into technology, AUB will contribute to this. A prosperous Lebanon will be a considerable advantage for AUB and for the development of the region. We want to move towards that.
Editor: Let’s talk about alumni involvement in the campaign. What advice do you have for alumni to become more involved with AUB? Vice-versa, how can AUB do better to involve the alumni?
Shair: There has been a shortage of effort in this area both on the part of AUB and also on the part of the alumni. The University did not always cultivate alumni over the past 135 years nor strongly establish a culture of giving for that matter. Many of our alumni are great supporters, but we need to emphasize the importance of annual giving. This is a cultural change that must happen, but it will take time and effort. We need to beef up our development office and find innovative ways to strengthen the linkage between alumni and AUB.
We must start at the grassroots with the students. As soon as they join the University, students must learn about the importance of philanthropy. We talked about this in the past, but now it is taking place with our Fingerprints Program. A program to install a spirit of giving back to the University through contributions to the scholarship fund. This is worth all the effort.
Visits to campus are equally effective. Once alumni go back for a visit or participate in a reunion and see the AUB campus, they become changed people. Volunteering and getting involved with AUB is another great way for alumni to stay connected—and one can be a good AUB volunteer whether they live in Beirut, Abu Dhabi, Los Angeles, or London. The annual fund is important too. If we raise alumni giving incrementally, like 10% more a year, the process will start to “snowball.”
Editor: Thank you for your time.
Shair: My pleasure indeed.