In The Media

  • December 25, 2016

    The Big Picture of Higher Education

    On an evening walk, while reflecting on the current state of the environment, the economic disparity between the rich and the poor, the mindless wars raging in our midst, the impotency of public institutions in meeting the country’s basic needs, and the destructive behavior of our citizens I became more convinced that the forces of good must ratchet up their constructive and consistent involvement to neutralize the shameful action of man. Life has always been a war between the good and the bad and justifying wars to advantage a group over another, racing to build the more destructive weapon, inflaming civil unrests to control strategic resources, pining neighbors against each to advance wicked agendas, and shaping events, destroying cultures and human experiences to prove twisted narratives are all actions that tip the balance in favor of evil. I am reminded with the theme song, one tin soldier, of the first movie I had ever seen, Billy Jack. The song was “'Bout a kingdom on a mountain … And the valley-folk below … On the mountain was a treasure … Buried deep beneath the stone … And the valley-people swore … They'd have it for their very own…..” The valley people waged a battle in which all mountain people were killed and beside the treasure, the valley people “Turned the stone and looked beneath it … Peace on Earth was all it said…” Setting a distressed mood, the song continues: “Go ahead and hate your neighbor … Go ahead and cheat a friend … Do it in the name of Heaven … You can justify it in the end… There won't be any trumpets blowing … Come the judgment day, ….’


    The euphoria of having a President and a new government in Lebanon must not masquerade the fact that it takes the “whole village” to confront big challenges and solve the mounting problems our communities face. Persons come and go and no matter how brilliant, honest, and committed caretakers are, the greatest threat to human progress is uniformed, unaware, uneducated and irresponsibly misbehaving public. “Ignorance, the root and stem of every evil,” stifles efforts to affect positive change and derails attention from the important to the trivial. Take for example the program that was approved by the government to clean the Litani River. If the sources of pollution are not eliminated, the industrial and domestic waste is not treated before it is dumped into the river, the over usage of its water is not properly regulated, and people’s behaviors are not restrained by moral underpinnings and effective legal instruments, then the effort will be futile. We are told that 70 M L.L. were spent to paint the walls of the Airport road to cover the obscenity of the human mind and hide the manifestations of low level thinking, perilous ignorance and the twisted interpretation of beliefs of a public driven by myths, customs, emotions, and instincts rather than reason, only to emerge soon after.


    Higher Education institutions can influence positive change by refining human habits, finding innovative solutions, offering alternatives and creating new opportunities. A nation cannot be built on the shoulders of individuals, no matter how smart, rich, or inspiring they may be. Leaders and government initiatives are necessary but not sufficient to advance national conditions and improve people’s lives. They need the cadre, the talented, the highly skilled, the empathic, and the morally driven to implement solutions and influence positive change toward a more sustainable future. If we accept the premise that problem solving, moral values, innovation are necessary to cope with challenges, improve conditions and steer events along a promising path, then we must acknowledge the role of higher education as the breeding ground to inspire these human endowments. How well a higher education institution play that role depends on campus leaders capable of directing attention to the important and the ability of all adherents to amass the collective intelligence and wisdom and use the power of the classroom and supporting tools to channel the intellectual prowess of the institution and its disciples into sustainable solutions and morally driven problem solvers.


    A nation’s capacity to meet the human needs and devote attention to development far ahead in time is measured by its transparent governance system, modern infrastructure, robust security measures, and eminent educational system. The strength and endurance of these pillars require systems’ approach, long-term thinking and collective commitment of us all - the government, civil society, educational institutions, corporate groups, intellectuals, media and other forces at play. The proactive nature of higher education dictates that we envisage the future we covet and be the agents to do that what the visionaries of our ancestors did - shatter the “im” from the “impossible” and the “imperfect” for the next generation to carry on and live a better life.


    Ahmad Smaili,

    Vice President for Academic Affairs

    Rafik Hariri University


    Academy Magazine.

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