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Spring 2009 Vol. VII, No. 3

From the President

The following letter from the president touches on themes contained in the speech that President Dorman delivered on Monday, May 4, during the event celebrating his inauguration as the 15th president of AUB. You can read the full text of his address in the center of this magazine.

Dear Alumni and Friends,

During the Inaugural Ceremony on May 4, 2009, I identified what I consider to be AUB’s three most critical priorities: to foster an intellectual community on campus that thrives on collegial discourse and interdisciplinary innovation, to achieve a dynamic and diverse student body, and to cultivate a responsive campus community.

AUB must achieve these priorities without weakening its longstanding and deep commitment to provide its students with a liberal arts education that requires a wide exposure to a variety of languages and cultures, the cultivation of abstract thinking, the mastery of written expression, broad competence in the methodologies of arts and sciences, and participation in civic activities. We must acknowledge that, especially in economically troubled times such as these, the development of such talents does not directly enhance a student’s ability to master the skills that will provide an adequate living in the present-day marketplace—nonetheless, these personal capabilities lie at the heart of AUB’s undergraduate mission.

If there is no practical utility in a liberal arts education, then why should any institution of higher education, including AUB, continue to embrace its values? This question has been hotly debated in academia—and was one of the topics addressed during a faculty symposium on campus during the inauguration weekend.

If practical utility is all that a university should offer to its students, AUB would quickly become little more than a trade school. But the undergraduate experience spans the only years when young men and women are given the luxury to look beyond the confines of the professions in which they hope to succeed and ponder the foundations of their own lives. So many questions urgently press on us: what is the proper relationship between the individual and society? How do the intangibles of religious belief affect our lives? How do we define ethnic and social identities? To what extent is the perception of nature linked to the nature of perception? How are we limited by the linguistic and conceptual structures we employ? Can we grow beyond the boundaries that were set for us as children? What responsibility do I bear for supporting or changing the community and environment in which I live?

The specific answers to these questions matter less than the fact that they have been asked. It was Socrates who said, during his trial for heresy, that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” And indeed, many alumni have told me that the liberal arts experience at AUB opened their world and transformed their lives. Although AUB has inevitably changed over the years, it remains dedicated to the core values of the liberal arts and to the ideal that inspired our founders: to establish a university that would produce broad-minded and visionary leaders.

I look forward to working with all the communities that make up the AUB family—students, faculty, alumni, staff, and friends—to seek ever onward for an abundant future and an abundant life.

Peter F. Dorman
President, American University of Beirut