Why the American University of Beirut?

Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.    ~Nelson Mandela

My last post was about the idea of developing a School of Global Leadership at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon.  Basically I proposed that it was time for the Middle East, the crucible for much of the global conflict over the past several decades, to begin to focus on the development of global leaders whose goal is help guide the world towards greater peace and prosperity.  We have schools of engineering, medicine, nursing, fine arts, computing, design and many other important occupations.  Why not a School of Leadership?  And why not at AUB, the oldest and longest running modern university in the Middle East?  And why not Lebanon?

This blog has created a lot of email traffic and controversy, with many of the comments dealing with the question of why Beirut? And why Lebanon?  Most people couldn’t see the logic of the American University of Beirut as the location for a School of Global Leadership, mentioning much more stable cities where top-notch American Universities are setting up brand new branch campuses. The Qatar Foundation’s Education City in Doha was suggested several times, since a number of American universities have set up branch campuses, including the Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts, the Weil-Cornell Medical College,  Texas A&M’s College of Engineering, Carnegie Mellon University, and most recently, Georgetown University’s Edmund Walsh School of Foreign Service.  And all the buildings and facilities are modern and new.

And of course there were numerous mentions of Dubai as one of the most modern and progressive cities in the Middle East with its ultra-modern Dubai Media City where numerous American universities have established branches, including Harvard Medical School, George Mason University, Michigan State, Boston University Dental School and others.

So why AUB?  And why Lebanon?

There are numerous reasons why AUB, and Lebanon,  is the best place to establish a School of Global Leadership in the Middle East.

  • AUB has 145 years of history, a global brand, and more importantly 80+ thousand alumni, many of whom are spread around the globe yet feel strongly and positively about AUB.  Supportive alumni are what make many of the American universities solid and sustainable enterprises.
  • The Lebanese are enterprising, entrepreneurial people; it’s in their DNA.  After all they were the original Phoenician traders who developed the rules of modern commerce, not to mention the written alphabet.  They are creative, energetic and motivated and if the Lebanese people decided to support a School of Global Leadership at AUB, it would happen.
  • Sure, Beirut is not the most stable city in the Middle East and it is still fundamentally an occupied country with the totalitarian regime of Syria trying to subtly annex the country.  But the spirit of the Lebanese, combined with their global relationships have shown incredible resilience and determination in rebuilding their city, several times.  With the current mood within Syria I predict the days of the Syrian occupation of Lebanon are numbered.
  • Beirut is by far more sustainable than Doha, Qatar or Dubai, or the other “modern” Middle Eastern cities which are essentially fake, with no sustainable commerce or industry and simply propped up by the sheiks and their oil money.  With the majority of the population of these countries composed of foreign workers and domestics, without the largesse of the rulers the entire house of cards would quickly collapse. Beirut, on the other hand,  has been the center of trade and commerce in the Middle East for thousands of years.  It works and has always worked, occupied or free!
  • Lebanon is the most tolerant and accepting of diverse cultures and ideas than any other Middle Eastern country.  A School of Global Leadership could have a good chance for success in the Lebanese culture.  Not so any of the other Middle Eastern locations, where the current American university branches exist at the pleasure of the rulers and for their own personal branding.  At the present having American universities in their countries suits the purposes of the sheiks and kings, making them appear to be modern global citizens.  But as soon as challenges to the ruling status quo begin to happen, as they will when any gathering of students have the opportunity to discuss global issues of justice and humanity, academic freedom will definitely suffer. And then of course there are the Sharia police to help keep everything under control.

Right now I can see only one problem with the idea of establishing a School of Global Leadership at AUB.  It’s not lack of curriculum, it’s not lack of funding, it’s not lack of ability to attract distinguished faculty and staff.  It’s the current AUB leadership.  Are they willing to tackle this opportunity (disguised as a challenge) and use their history and moral imperative as the oldest modern university in the Middle East to take a stand for sane and rational leadership in a region in desperate need?  Or will they continue on their present course of turning out well-educated young men and women?  Either way AUB will win, it’s just the size of the game they choose to play in.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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One Response to Why the American University of Beirut?

  1. Pingback: Why the American University of Beirut? | John R Childress … - University Lebanon | University Lebanon

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