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French Version


AUB aims to bring back PhD program by 2007

Interview

The American University of Beirut may see some exciting changes in the next few years, including the return of a PhD program, as new board of trustees' chairman Thomas Morris takes the helm of the 140-year-old institution.

AUB is currently gearing up for a major revamping of its facilities, including building a state of the art gymnasium and the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, designed by Pritzker Prize-winning architect and AUB alumna Zaha Hadid.

Morris said AUB's burst of construction is due to a highly successful fundraising campaign that has already raised $120 million of a $140 million goal, with two years remaining.

"It's the most successful fundraising campaign the university has ever enjoyed," he said. "I think that reflects the great support the university enjoys not only in Beirut and the Middle East but throughout the world and particularly North America."

In addition to expanding the physical resources of the university, Morris said the trustees have applied to the State of New York for accreditation of a PhD program, which was offered in earlier times but was discontinued during Lebanon's Civil War.

A team from New York's education department, which certifies AUB, arrives this week to evaluate the AUB's faculty and research facilities before granting approval for the program.

If approved, Morris said he expects students to begin applying in 2007 for three or four PhD programs, which hopefully will increase in number over time.

Morris also said the university plans to increase financial aid, scholarships and loans, a process he described as a "multifaceted effort."

"Certainly alumni have been a particular resource for providing scholarship aid for our students," he said. "The administration has developed innovative student loan programs that are innovative to Lebanon, although certainly not to students in the U.S."

Morris said he doesn't feel AUB's status as one of the best universities in the Middle East is threatened by up and coming institutions in the region, such as branches of top American schools like Cornell and Georgetown opened recently in Qatar.

"If there's anything that makes us better it is competition, so we welcome the arrival of other institutions of higher education in the region," he said.

"But they're looking to compete with us, not the other way around," he added with a smile.

Morris said that, in fact, AUB consistently offers training for academic and support staff in universities throughout the region through its Regional External Program.

He also acknowledged that security concerns pose a constant challenge to higher education in the entire region, especially when it comes to recruiting international students.

"Sure it's a challenge, I think it's a challenge for the whole region, if we had peace throughout the region it would be a true catalyst for recruiting students from abroad," he said.

Morris said the board's biggest challenge, however, will be to "continue to evolve, not to be satisfied with the status quo."

Morris replaced Richard Debs, who served as board of trustees chairman for over 11 years before stepping down at the end of last year.

Beirut 28-02-2006
Meris Lutz
The Daily Star



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