Message from Dr. Jabbra on the State of the University

In a letter to the community, LAU President Joseph G. Jabbra expounds on the current state of the university.

By Editorial Staff

“This year will be remembered as the year of triumph over adversity thanks to the solidarity of the LAU family, the support of our community, the resilience of our students, the loyalty of our alumni, and the resourcefulness and dedication of our faculty and staff.”

Academic Year 2019-2020 will stand out in the annals of LAU as the year of perseverance and resolve. It will be remembered as the year of triumph over adversity thanks to the solidarity of the LAU family, the support of our community, the resilience of our students, the loyalty of our alumni, and the resourcefulness and dedication of our faculty and staff. No words can fully convey the depth of the pride of the university in its sons and daughters who stood firmly behind our beloved institution. LAU has an overwhelming feeling of gratification and gratitude towards each of you.

The year started with the uprising in October followed by road blockages, bank closures, and the liquidity crunch in whose wake we experienced the de facto devaluation of local currency. To top it all, the country was swept by the Covid-19 pandemic and the government mobilization decisions that resulted in near institutional paralysis and severely interrupted our daily lives. Economic conditions continued to worsen creating a level of hardship that many families found themselves unable to cope with. 

The university wasted no time springing into action. Our wonderful faculty body and the faculty senate immediately rose to the occasion, our diligent staff body instantly mobilized, our deans spared no effort to help their students, and our senior administration worked around the clock to ensure smooth uninterrupted university operations whatever the odds. In this heartwarming display of resolve and resilience the role and guidance of the Board of Trustees was of paramount importance. The result was a spectacular success for LAU much to the credit of our close-knit family. 

All along, our foremost priority was, and continues to be, the welfare of our students, their right to complete the academic year, finding ways to help the many among them who need help, and making available to them and their families an integrated support structure. All of this was achieved in flying colors and, as usual, LAU came out second to none in the country.

Thanks to your concerted effort, our students received most if not all the help they needed. We seamlessly switched to online delivery and led the country on this new path. What we did was a fine example of cooperation between the academic divisions, IT, SDEM, and practically every other unit of the university. The spring semester was flawlessly completed.

Nor was student support limited to online delivery. Extensive counseling services, helplines, faculty and learning resources access, deferred payments, installment plans, fee settlement in local currency, increased financial aid, and flexible grading options were all part of the package. These achievements were, in addition to university-supported enhanced internet capacity at home to make sure that all our students enjoyed equal opportunity irrespective of location, financial means and family circumstances. Even before the spring semester was concluded, we were already planning for an online summer program with marked additions in financial aid. Such additions were made possible through severe austerity measures by the university including cuts from the operating budget to the tune of over $5 million to support our financial aid budget.

The end of AY 2019-20 saw LAU set a fine example in crisis management, shift much needed resources from the operating budget to student support, defer and put on hold most capital projects all in the interest of preserving what is most essential to us, namely giving our students the great learning experience they so amply deserve. We surpassed every other institution in the country by allocating over $50 million to financial aid covering 65% of our students, launching an Emergency Financial Aid Fund, and making direct loans available to our students. LAU has already decided not to introduce any tuition fee increases for the next academic year. This is the second time we do that in four years. Currently we are addressing the challenge of having to deal with multiple exchange rates, which has a devastating effect on tuition fees and the families of our students. It has an equally harmful effect on our operations and poses a menacing threat to our sustainability.

The fight against Covid-19 saw LAU assume a leadership role. Our LAU Medical Center-Rizk Hospital quickly built capacity to become one of the country’s major assets in the fight. A whole new section was readied at the hospital and our mobile clinic has been everywhere in Lebanon dispensing free PCR tests and promoting health care awareness. The Covid-19 Emergency Fund launched by LAU was a great success. Much like our faculty body of which they are part, our physicians and nurses set new standards in dedication and community service. 

Planning is already underway for our gradual return to working from our offices in a phased manner with all necessary social distancing precautions in place. More details will be coming your way very soon. Preparations for online summer delivery have been all but completed. While we hope that we will be back to normal by fall, efforts are progressing in earnest to have in place contingency plans for all possibilities. Part of our preparations for fall is to come up with a fair and flexible tuition payment scheme that safeguards the welfare of our students, faculty, staff and the sustainability of our operation. LAU is a university with a big heart that feels the pain and angst of all its stakeholder constituencies.

We have many bright spots. But many as these are, they do not dim the fact that LAU has a long list of serious concerns and challenges. Our concerns during this academic year were not limited to students. The rapid erosion of the purchasing power of our faculty and staff is a major concern for us. We are working with the faculty senate and the staff council on exploring possible measures and a university committee is busy at work reviewing the situation. This deep concern on the part of the university echoes a similar concern at the BOT level. Many are the burdens we will have to share but the university will undoubtedly bear the brunt and try to lighten the load of others as much as possible.

The pressing needs of our students, faculty and staff top the list of our priorities. Additional resources for financial aid, finding ways to continue with vital capital projects, attracting and retaining top students as well as outstanding local and international faculty members are all pivotal concerns weighing heavily on us. As tuition fees continue to be by far our main source of revenue, we are naturally concerned about the ruinous impact of Lebanon’s economic crisis and the region’s as well. The threat posed by this level of uncertainty cannot and should not be underestimated. We are doing our level best to reduce this uncertainty to manageable proportions.

LAU is a proud, defiant and determined institution. We recognize danger and acknowledge threats only to find creative solutions and surge forward. We have a history of turning adversity into opportunity and menacing ordeals into promising new beginnings. We derive new hope and courage from the fact that in the midst of turmoil, LAU smoothly handled its presidential succession and Dr. Michel Mawad was selected as our new president-elect. Great institutions do not bend, let alone break. They simply rise above the storm. Dr. Mawad will assume leadership on October 1, 2020 with overwhelming goodwill and high hopes pouring in from all directions.

As we conclude a very difficult academic year and get ready for another, LAU recognizes the gravity of the crisis afflicting the higher education sector in Lebanon. We are profoundly affected by the suffering around us and fully cognizant of the fact that more difficult times might still be ahead.   We stand firm in our commitment to doing all we can to guarantee the sustainability of our beloved institution, help our family, and our community. We have been together for well over a century and together we will prevail.

On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the President’s Cabinet, the Council of deans, and on my own behalf, please accept our warm thanks for all that you do for LAU. Keep well and stay safe with your families and loved ones.

With my best wishes for better and happier times ahead.