Summer 2004 Vol. II, Nos 3 and 4
 
 From the Editors
 To the Editors
 AUB News
 Campaign Update
 Behold Beirut Architecture’s
 New Frontier
 The Post-AUB Architectural Life
 An Exact Type
 Architecture and Graphic Design
 Students “JAM”
 Shaping the Landscape of Lebanon
 Blueprint in Action
 Commencement 2004
 Honorary Degrees 2004
 Young Lebanese Musicians Learn
 Lessons from the Master
 More than a Stamp of Approval: AUB
 
Receives Accreditation
 Alumni Profile
 Alumni Activities
 AUB Reflections
 Class Notes
 In Memoriam
 Credits
 Previous Issues


More than a Stamp of Approval: AUB Receives Accreditation

In June, AUB was granted accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. Monica Smith relates how the commitment of the AUB administration, students, and faculty alike ended in success—and opened new doors to self-growth.

It was a process that could have taken up to seven years to complete but took five. It affirms the American University of Beirut as one of the most distinguished universities in the Middle East and beyond. It imposed long hours of work on hundreds, who may have been left tired, but are now immensely energized.

Accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, which was accorded on June 25, 2004, constituted official recognition that the American University of Beirut is worthy of public confidence as an educational institution. “This stamp of approval is a major step in the on-going effort to improve and sustain the quality and integrity of the University’s academic programs and services,” said Provost Peter Heath. “AUB now joins the American University in Cairo and the American University of Sharjah as one of the only three universities in the Middle East currently accredited by regional accrediting bodies in the United States.”

AUB was granted its charter by the State of New York at its inception in 1863. What the University lacked, however, was educational accreditation. Since New York State is geographically located within the Middle States region (which also includes New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands), AUB applied for accreditation by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

Middle States accreditation is an expression of confidence in an institution’s mission and its goals, resources, and performance, based on a review by educational peers assigned by the commission, following an extensive self-study undertaken by the applicant institution. Participating in the review of AUB were top faculty and administrators from several institutions, including Johns Hopkins University, the American University in Cairo, New York University, and Princeton University. The accreditation affirms that the University has met the criteria set by the commission, including its past success in achieving its goals and the proven ability to continue to do so in the future.

“AUB is doing wonderful things,” said George Santiago, the executive associate director of the Middle States Commission on Higher Education. He went even further to add, “The school’s location on the Mediterranean and the quality of its faculty and students make it the Ivy League school of the Middle East.”

The years of work involved in the process of securing accreditation were divided into stages. AUB began the process of applying for accreditation by preparing a pre-application review document substantiating how the institution fulfils eligibility requirements established by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and submitting this document with a letter of intent to the commission in October of 2000. This was followed by the research for and preparation of a preliminary self-assessment document in support of its application for candidacy status, which was submitted to the Commission in March 2001. Upon assurance of that status, a Self-Study Steering Committee was formed, composed of representatives of the different AUB faculties and administrative units and chaired by Provost Heath and Associate Provost Waddah Nasr as Vice Chair. It took another year to prepare the “Institutional Self-Study Design,” which defined the nature, scope, and context of the final self-study document and was submitted to the Middle States Commission in May 2002. After that came the self-study process itself and the preparation and completion of the final draft of the self-study report for submission to the commission for evaluation and peer review.

At each stage, AUB was called upon to analyze and report on what it had done in the past, what it is doing now, and what it hopes to do in the future. Emphasis was placed on three pertinent questions: What is the institution trying to achieve? How is this realized? And how will its successes be assessed?

The final self-study document included six appendices and was divided into fourteen institutional areas that had been overseen by the same number of task teams headed by members of the Self-Study Steering Committee. The first seven areas defined and examined the University’s mission, goals and objectives, integrity, and institutional resources. The remaining seven addressed and assessed AUB’s academic effectiveness, with a focus on such topics as student admission, student services, and faculty.

The accreditation process was the first time in two generations that the AUB community had taken an active role in a comprehensive self-evaluation exercise. And the process has proven indispensable to AUB. As Heath remarked: “From 1956 until now, many reports were created to evaluate the University’s progress, but it was always very much a top-down process. This time, AUB was not reacting to outside forces but working with people from the inside,” adding that it was a bottom-up approach that was inclusive as well as interdisciplinary.

So inclusive was the self-study, according to Elizabeth Vermey, adviser to the Office of Admissions and to the Self-Study Steering Committee, that it involved more than 200 individuals, including trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, and students, who all worked hard to make the process meaningful and beneficial. “The coordination and commitment of everyone was really amazing,” she said. “Everyone I spoke with said they had learned a great deal.”

This process of learning, according to Heath, was the real benefit of the years of work. “The accreditation is a stamp of approval,” he said. “But, in many ways, the process of self-study has been more important than the end it achieved. It has been an incredible growth process… It has enabled us to learn things about ourselves that we would not have been able to learn otherwise.”

Associate Provost Nasr could not agree more. “Pursuing accreditation was an appropriate and excellent growth generator for the University,” he said. Reflecting on the years of coordination and effort involved, Nasr emphasized that while the final accolade is important, the process in itself has been extremely beneficial and indispensable to the University’s development.

Just one example of the required endeavors that led to change and growth was the creation of an overarching mission statement for the entire University, as well as statements for each department. “Although AUB has been mission-driven from its inception, as demonstrated by its commitment to certain values and ideals, the first time such a statement was written down was in 2000 at the beginning of the accreditation process,” said Nasr, “and the course of action that emerged in doing so was invaluable.” He added that the University and each department were not only required to create mission statements; they also had to evaluate the ability of those statements to be realized and successfully implemented.

The accreditation process also provided an opportunity for AUB to gain knowledge about the challenges other institutions face. “We became aware that we were neither behind nor in a situation where we needed to catch up,” said Heath, referring to institutions in the United States. “We learned that other universities have problems very much like ours.”

Not only did AUB rise to the challenge; the work it produced was noted for being above the mark. Throughout the process, the commission praised the University for its remarkable zeal and candor. “Everyone was duly impressed by the manner and passion with which AUB addressed its reports and the self-study process,” Santiago stated, adding that the commission was particularly impressed with the frankness displayed throughout the various stages.

According to Heath, transparency in divulging information was vital. The self-study reports and other pertinent accreditation data were always made public with all reports and papers available on AUB’s accreditation website. “It was an opening up experience,” said Heath. “All of the information was on the table. We were all in the same boat, working together, and this was clearly instrumental in achieving success.”

That success, however, was almost postponed by a circumstantial obstacle that had to be overcome to undertake the final evaluation and peer review component of the accreditation process. Not only did AUB have to face the challenge of being outside the United States;


 

it also had to navigate around the travel advisories placed on Lebanon by the US Department of State, because the Commission’s policy forbade visits by its members to countries with such warnings. Video-conferencing between campus and the AUB New York Office—something the commission had never done before—became the ideal solution. “The University invested capital and resources into making the video-conferencing possible. Sure, there were a few glitches,” said Santiago, “but the process was so successful that we will be using our experience with AUB as a model for future ventures when needed.”

The video-conferencing, said Santiago, is just one example of the passion and initiative that AUB demonstrated throughout the process. “In fact, working with AUB was one of the most rewarding experiences in my six years of working for the Middle States Commission,” he remarked.

While the praise and commendations have been wonderful, Heath was quick to point out that the University does have areas it needs to address, as mentioned in the commission’s report. Specifically, Heath cited the need to strengthen strategic planning, governance, and student evaluations. The commission also called for an ongoing reexamination of AUB’s mission statement to ensure it continues to reflect the institution accurately as it evolves. Finally, there was a recommendation that the University revise its liberal arts program to create more choices for students.

The road to accreditation has set a course for continued growth—and there is no turning back. The University is now committed to undertake further self-study and peer review in the coming years, a process that is mandated to recur approximately five years after initial accreditation and every ten years thereafter to make sure it continues to meet the commission’s standards. 

Commenting on the invaluable experience, Nasr said, “The climate of improvement and change achieved is indispensable.” With an eye toward the future, he continued, “The challenge now is to make full use of our new found knowledge.”

Mission Statement of the American University of Beirut 

AUB is a teaching-centered research university, convinced that excellence in teaching and research go hand-in-hand. Its mission is to enhance education, primarily the education of the peoples of the Middle East, to serve society through its educational functions, and to participate in the advancement of knowledge. AUB bases its educational perspective and methods and its academic organization on the American model of higher education.

The university emphasizes scholarship that enables students to think for themselves, stresses academic excellence, and promotes high principles of character. It aims to produce men and women who are not only technically competent in their professional fields but also life-long learners who have breadth of vision, a sense of civic and moral responsibility, and devotion to the fundamental values of human life. The university believes in and encourages freedom of thought and expression. It expects, however, that this freedom will be enjoyed in a spirit of integrity and with a full sense of responsibility.