In Beirut, an American university battles intolerance

Incivility from US helps focus AUB students on need ‘to be the adults in the room’

April 12, 2019
Getty

In a world seemingly consumed by growing intolerance, a university in the middle of its most historically divided region is hoping to show a way forward.

The American University of Beirut, for much of its recent history, was a place where parents expected their children to graduate from and then quickly leave – finding jobs outside Lebanon.

Now, said its president, Fadlo Khuri, it’s a place where class projects often involve refugee camps, graduates form companies with social service missions, and students from Hezbollah backgrounds can be found signing petitions in support of gay rights.

“We can no longer just educate – we have to change,” Professor Khuri, a Boston-born and Beirut-raised research oncologist, told a higher education conference at Brown University.

That may be a common declaration for a university leader in the West. It’s something else entirely for a university leader in Beirut, an ancient city with a modern reputation for political tolerance that’s often accompanied by great legal and physical risks.

Last Halloween, the Gender and Sexuality Club at the American University of Beirut cancelled a planned party after a top Sunni Muslim cleric, Sheikh Mohammed Rashid Qabbani, publicly condemned the idea.

But the club itself has persisted, as Lebanon and its citizens continue tackling legal and cultural attitudes that enable discrimination.

In fact, these days Professor Khuri appears more concerned about backsliding in the West – and the US in particular – in the form of language and behaviours that sanction intolerance.

“You always have to worry,” he told the Reinventing Higher Education conference at Brown, “when world figures have dropped any sense of decency or collegiality in their tweets and in other things”.

That leads students “to ask the very real question: ‘Gee, if the most powerful man in the world can just rip a dead man to shreds, why can't I attack my colleague who just insulted me?’” Professor Khuri said.

Events in the US are more than just symbolism for AUB, which has US accreditation and operates under a charter granted by the New York State Education Department. As such, Professor Khuri is closely following Trump administration attempts to weaken legal protections for victims of sexual assault.

“This is an issue of not enough debate on universities’ campuses – this is a real threat to equality,” he told the conference.

AUB students appear to be up to the political challenges they face, Professor Khuri said. Some 67 per cent of them vote in student elections, an unusually high percentage among universities, he said. And a campus innovation park includes a provision for participants to voluntarily give back a small share of earnings to those in need.

“The students feel the need to be different – they want to be the adults in the room,” Professor Khuri said. The goal of AUB, he said, was “not just get a job or get into a great graduate school – our kids do that – but it’s to drive positive change and sustainable change in society”.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

登录 或者 注册 以便阅读全文。

请先注册再进行下一步

获得一个月的无限制地在线阅读网站内容。只需注册并完成您的职业简介.

注册是免费的,而且非常简单。一旦成功注册,您可以每个月免费阅读3篇文章。:

  • 获得编辑推荐文章
  • 率先获得泰晤士高等教育世界大学排名相关的新闻
  • 获得职位推荐、筛选工作和保存工作搜索结果
  • 参与读者讨论和公布评论
注册

相关文章

欢迎反馈

Log in or register to post comments

评论最多

Recent controversy over the future directions of both Stanford and Melbourne university presses have raised questions about the role of in-house publishing arms in a world of commercialisation, impact agendas, alternative facts – and ever-diminishing monograph sales. Anna McKie reports

3 October