Why is AUB’s rector selection process shrouded in mystery?

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A banner set up by AUB student protesters during a demonstration in 2013. It states: "Downfall to Mohamed Sayegh [dean of AUB's Faculty of Medicine and VP of Medical Affairs], AUBMC corruption, not on our account." (Outlook AUB)

By: Hussein Mahdi

Published Tuesday, December 30, 2014

The process of choosing a new rector for the American University of Beirut (AUB) has reached the final stages. So who will be the new rector? Who are the nominees for the post? Why are the AUB administration and board of trustees keeping a tight lid on the names, and what role do local Lebanese politics play in the making of the next rector?

The events that AUB underwent in the past two years prompted a number of administrators and senior officials to leave the university, including AUB rector Peter Dorman, who had submitted his resignation to the board of trustees in June. The board accepted the resignation quickly, and so began the journey to find a new rector.

A committee was established to select the new rector, and was given a period of around six months, with the name of the new rector set to be announced in early 2015. A firm was retained to research candidates, and this company has now reportedly completed its task.

The committee is chaired by the Chairman of the Board of Trustees Philip Khoury. In its latest message to the university community, the committee said it was now in the final stage of the process of selecting the new rector.

Who are the ‘finalists’?

The committee has so far kept the final list of candidates a closely guarded secret. However, informed sources told Al-Akhbar that the most prominent nominees are Mohammed al-Sayegh (Vice President for Medical Affairs); Marwan Muasher (Member of the Board of Trustees); and Lisa Anderson (rector of the American University in Cairo).

A source familiar with the process believes that among the three Lisa Anderson may be the candidate who best meets the requirements of the post. Before she was AUC rector, she was provost for academic affairs at the same university.

Marwan Muasher, a member of the board of trustees, holds a PhD in computer engineering. He worked in the press before being appointed to successive ministerial posts in Jordan. He was the official spokesman for the Jordanian delegation to the peace negotiations with the Israeli enemy, and later served as Jordan's ambassador to Israel.

Yet the most controversial candidate remains Mohammed al-Sayegh. His candidature has raised many eyebrows and drawn the ire of a large segment in the AUB community, especially after leaked AUB documents and reports showed the extent of corruption and mismanagement in AUB’s administration and medical center (AUBMC).

Sayegh has met with Lebanese politicians to get their endorsement for his candidacy. Accordingly, there are concerns that the post of AUB rector has been dragged into the narrow alleyways of Lebanese politics, as Sayegh is not an academic candidate, but a quintessentially political one.

Sayegh seems to have benefited from Peter Dorman’s weak tenure as rector. Dorman could not make any independent decision without going back to powerful figures within AUB (including Sayegh himself). Sayegh has also sought to increase his influence and establish broad political ties through his control of AUBMC.

Sayegh started out his bid for the AUB rectorship by visiting a number of capitals to meet with all trustees. He held meetings with Lebanese politicians, including the head of the Future Movement parliamentary bloc Fouad Siniora, parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and is also trying to meet with the head of the Change and Reform bloc Michel Aoun. This is according to informed sources, who told Al-Akhbar that Sayegh has become a serious contender for the rectorship, as he tried to impose himself in the Lebanese way by securing partisan and political support.

Sayegh has reportedly retained the services of a PR firm to develop a strategy for getting the post. The firm also drafts his speeches and helps him secure the meetings he requires.

Following the extensive reports about mismanagement and wastage at AUBMC, Sayegh launched a cover-up campaign. The vice president for medical affairs even hinted that the objections against his candidacy were coming from March 8, as he has been accused of being a supporter of Future Movement leader Hariri.

Sources from inside the university explain that Sayegh sees his allies in the board of trustees as mainly being the businessmen. Since some of them are close to the Future Movement (Saad Hariri himself is a member of the board) and others are close to Najib Mikati (his son Maher is another member of the board), Sayegh is trying to portray himself as the victim of political and sectarian persecution to gain more support.

The committee: Sayegh’s allies

The committee charged with selecting candidates consists of a number of AUB trustees. It is poised to meet in mid-January, to declare the name of the new rector.

Leaked correspondence has shown that Philip Khoury, chairman of the committee and chairman of the board of trustees, is Sayegh’s main ally. The same goes for David Bickers and Ayman Asfari. For her part, Nada al-Zoghbi, the deputy chair of the committee, is a close friend of Mohammed al-Sayegh’s wife. In other words, Sayegh could have already secured four votes out of nine in the committee.

However, there are several reservations coming from the AUB community over the committee’s work, especially on account of the rushed way in which Dorman’s resignation was accepted (no official justification was given for the resignation), and the rushed way a new rector is being chosen (it took a year to select the former rector).

Sources following-up on the issue raised questions about why no acting rector was appointed until a full-time rector is chosen, and about why the committee has no one representing AUB faculty or students. The sources also found it odd that the list of candidates is being treated with “exaggerated secrecy,” asking why the candidates had not come to the AUB campus to deliver speeches and allow the community in AUB to learn more about them.

When Al-Akhbar published internal AUB correspondence known as ‘AUB Leaks,’ Sayegh scrambled to cover up anything that could tarnish his image in the eyes of the trustees. He even resorted to the Court of Urgent Matters to efface anything pointing in the direction of his involvement in corruption and wastage at AUB and AUBMC.

Sayegh went ahead with his candidacy as though nothing had happened. According to multiple sources, Sayegh had a key role in bringing legal action against Al-Akhbar in coordination with lawyer Randa Abu Suleiman, who carried out his requests without going back to any other official within AUB.

Since assuming his current position, Sayegh started calling for reform in AUBMC. He surrounded himself with a number of aides and sacked anyone who tried to stand in his way or influence his interests. To ensure success, he sowed division among AUB professors and AUBMC personnel, inciting physicians against any moves by professors, claiming this would lead to AUBMC’s bankruptcy and would reduce the doctors’ privileges.

Follow Hussein Mahdi on Twitter: @Husseinmehdy

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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