BEIRUT: In the first such ceremony for 25 years, students and faculty at Lebanon's oldest higher education institution, the American University of Beirut (AUB), celebrated on Monday the presidential inauguration of Peter F. Dorman. Dorman, an American citizen, became AUB's 15th president at a crowded formal ceremony attended by several Lebanese politicians, including Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and MP Saad Hariri, diplomats, students and alumni. Giant television screens broadcast the ceremony around on the AUB campus, where students were given a two-hour hiatus from classes to participate in the festivities.
"In the appointment of Dr. Peter Dorman as AUB's 15th president, the board chose a man of integrity and vision, a man with a strong affinity for Lebanon and the region, and someone who shares the enduring commitment of the trustees to the mission of the university," AUB's Board of Trustees chair, Thomas Morris, said in his address.
Dorman's historical ties to Lebanon and AUB run deep: his great great grandfather, Reverend Daniel Bliss, founded the university in 1866, and his great aunt Mary Bliss established the university's Nursing School. Dorman himself was born at the American University Hospital and lived in Lebanon, where his father worked for the Presbyterian Mission, until shortly before the 1975-1990 Civil War.
His childhood travels around the Middle East inspired him to pursue a celebrated career as an Egyptologist, and today Dorman is one of the foremost experts on Ancient Egypt. Before being appointed AUB President, Dorman chaired the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations at the University of Chicago.
"My primary feeling on this day is one of some amazement," said Dorman in his inaugural speech. "I am humbled by their [board of trustees] invitation to lead an institution that has had such a deep and continuing impact in the Middle East for almost a century and a half," he said, noting the "powerful attraction" that AUB and Lebanon has exerted over so many in the past decades.
Dorman pinpointed the three priorities of his term as empowering faculty members through research, attracting an internationally diverse student body, and the cultivation of a responsive campus community that puts emphasis on internal accountability. He hoped AUB would foster inter-disciplinary innovation in the study of renewable energy resources and environmental sustainability.
"But these three priorities cannot be pursued without heed to the careful balance that must be struck between the imperative to develop professional mastery on the one hand and great leadership skills on the other," he said. Citing the global financial crisis, the new president also said he intended to increase AUB's financial aid program to ensure educations for the brightest minds in the Middle East.
"As we acknowledge the past, both distance and recent, we look resolutely ahead to the future, pursuing what we believe to be AUB's destiny and its mission: to be a beacon of higher education that lights the way for the leaders of Lebanon and region," Dorman added, noting the lasting impact America's model of liberal arts education on the Arab world.
Marking his inauguration, over 25 events will be held at AUB over the course of May under the theme, "Toward an Abundant Life."