Taking up the TorchMore in this issue
An interview with incoming Provost George Nasr
George Nasr took over the provostship in September 2018. Nasr spent almost 12 years as dean of the School of Engineering, steering it through a tremendous expansion in terms of student enrollment, faculty and facilities, and helping ensure the accreditation of its undergraduate programs by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET).
In his academic capacity, Nasr has produced extensive research on a number of engineering topics and was instrumental in forming the Multidisciplinary Energy Research Group at LAU, which has pioneered research on energy modeling and forecasting in Lebanon.
LAU President Joseph. G. Jabbra said of Nasr’s appointment. “We are very pleased to welcome Dr. Nasr to the Provost’s Office and are sure that he will apply the same strategic mindset there as he did at the School of Engineering.”
As Nasr prepares to assume the role of provost at LAU, he shares his vision.
What are your aspirations for this university?
My vision as provost is to provide effective leadership and a collegial environment that will strengthen the reputation and stature of the university through excellence in teaching, learning, research and engagement with the wider community.
This vision encompasses three main areas: teaching and liberal arts education; faculty recruitment, retention, promotion and renewal; and research.
Regarding the first, LAU is currently a regional leader in emphasizing the Liberal Arts Curriculum (LAC), but the depth and breadth of the courses we offer do not reflect this commitment. We need to increase the number of courses, establish an effective administrative structure for the LAC, and integrate the curriculum with the major course requirements. Ultimately, we want to build a global liberal arts-based education to enhance universal citizenship.
My second objective is faculty recruitment, retention, promotion and tenure, and renewal. Faculty are the lifeblood of LAU, and investing in our faculty is a cornerstone of our strategic plan and critical to our continued academic growth as a university. In this regard, my short-term plan is to implement an aggressive faculty recruitment campaign in order to increase the relatively low faculty-student ratios, ensure high academic standards, and stimulate a high level of scholarly productivity.
For LAU to better engage its faculty in meaningful research, we need to provide more resources. LAU needs to attract, retain and develop the faculty responsible for achieving this goal. We need to put in place various measures to encourage faculty to publish and apply for grants. The discussion of possible incentives will include financial and/or in-kind inducements, teaching load, and promotion and tenure policies.
What do you see as the immediate payoff of more research opportunities and more funding for our faculty?
Research is not an option. It is an integral part of what we do as a faculty. Investing in resources will lead to a more dynamic classroom, as the teacher will be able to provide cutting-edge information. It will also ensure better visibility and ranking. A solid research foundation will enhance our positioning and allow us to attract not just more, but better students. We should aim to integrate our distinguished liberal arts education with the rigor of research within our context, without imitating any other university.
I would point out, however, that research should not be understood as a singular project, but comprising themes and niches. We don’t necessarily see ourselves as researchers in every field, but in niches of excellence, which we would boost with resources and faculty. This has already been discussed in the Council of Deans, and each school has identified at least one niche that will be supported by the university.
How will we position ourselves in this global village, Lebanon and the Arab world, where universities have mushroomed?
President Jabbra has recently addressed this issue very forthrightly, by calling for LAU to “become the innovator-university, leading other institutions in the Arab region through establishing a new higher education paradigm inspired by creativity, cross-functionality and entrepreneurship.” In order to reach our aspirations, we must all work together and do our part to differentiate ourselves from the rest. This can and will be done with the help of our committed faculty and staff who genuinely want to advance LAU to the next level.
What is your level of confidence given the conditions in the country?
There is no question that we have to operate within constraints, but while there’s little we can do to change the situation in the country, we are doing our best to adapt to it. In spite of the critical challenges facing the region today, we continue to invest in the university’s intellectual and physical capital, and to make remarkable institutional progress.
Remember also that the university has always demonstrated resilience and a sustained level of excellence during periods of uncertainty for more than a century. Every day is different with its own challenges, but I am confident that together we will forge ahead to greater heights with passion, tenacity and clarity of vision.