Learning in Lebanon... Learing about Lebanon... Learning about Learning... Learning about Life

This site is about my experiences and thoughts as a visiting professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB).

Early in 2009 I was privileged to receive an Australian Endeavour Executive Award for placement at AUB from October to December 2009.

I've come to Lebanon with a number of specific objects, including:

# To build links between AUB and the University of South Australia (UniSA), where I work as an academic developer;

# To research concepts of scholarship and the ways in which academics engage with the Scholarship of Teaching in an Arab context;

#To exchange ideas and approaches to Teaching and Learning with my colleagues at AUB; and

# To better understand the ways in which an institution like AUB fosters student and social inclusivity.

My disciplinary background is in "Near Eastern Studies", with a special interest in the Syriac New Testament and the history of the Eastern Church. Hence, being in Lebanon will hopefully afford some great opportunities to explore various avenues of interest in those areas.

I will be posting articles on these topics, and probably a few others as well. Needless to say, I am responsible for the opinions expressed on this site, and such opinions do not purport to represent the views of AUB, UniSA or of the Endeavour Awards program.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Beirut a culture capital

The article reproduced below is taken from the AUB corporate web page
(see: http://www.aub.edu.lb/news/archive/preview.php?id=100422).
Author: Henry Matthews, Editor, Office of Communications, AUB.

I attended this presentation last week. Though a general survey, Mr Salam made some valid points about the historical and contemporary role of Beirut in integrating cultures of the region with those of the West. One point he made that deserves further consideration, is that cultural diversity or 'freedom', far from destabilising, actually enhanced Beirut's ability to adapt to the enormous challenges faced by Lebanon, especially over the last thirty years. The claim is not without merit, though I suspect that there remains a significant gap between what the local intelligentsia may believe about the virtues of cultural diversity and the tribal realities on the ground.  Educational strategists may be interested in his identification of some of the vocational areas that Lebanon needs to develop.

The speech was given on the ninetieth anniversary of the AUB Women's League - an impressive group of women graduates, many of whom have gone on to exercise leadership and influence in Lebanon. They kindly welcomed me to their meeting, and I must add that they really know how to put on a good 'spread'.

Salam: Beirut will continue being the capital of cultural freedom

AUB President Peter Dorman and Minister Salam

Beirut became the Arab world's hospital, university, and publishing house because its freedom attracted Arab petrodollars and politicians, and Beirut is The New York Times' number one clubbing city in the world.

These facts were highlighted by then-Minister of Culture Tammam Salam in his lecture, "Beirut's Cultural Role in the Middle East," delivered at the monthly meeting of the Women's League on November 2.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Three days in Libya

Libya does not figure prominently in Australian consciousness. The older generation may hearken back to a time when in the Libyan desert, Aussie Diggers fought with the Allies against the Italians and Germans for control of North Africa. However, more recent perceptions will tend to be shaped by Libya being often in the news it for what may be called the ‘wrong reasons’. However, as I discovered last week, in company with colleagues from Australian universities, Libya is a beautiful and interesting place, with enormous social and economic potential.

We were part of the ‘Study in Australia’ Education Exhibition, a two day road show for about fourteen Australian universities, which was held at El Fatah University, Tripoli, from 28–29 October. The exhibition consisted mainly of information booths manned by international and marketing staff from the universities. In addition, Victorian and South Australian State Government representatives were in attendance – SA being stylishly represented by Jane Osborn, currently based in Dubai. Indeed, SA was particularly well represented, with UniSA, Flinders University and the SA Government together demonstrating that Adelaide is consolidating its position as a major centre of Australian higher education.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Mall-based learning

There were two sensations when EK433 touched down last Tuesday at Dubai. The first was that of relief. Over the years I've learned to tolerate flying, but it is an experience to be enjoyed inestimably more in the passing than in the performance. The second was that small thrill I feel each time I return to the Middle East.
That sensation was heightened by the anticipation that attaches to being somewhere new. Although I had been to the UAE before, I had not visited Dubai previously. As I think about it, that does appear odd. Dubai is well known to many Australians as a port of call, and it has developed as a major hub for people heading in all directions across the region. But for reasons best known to my travel agents, I always by-passed it when heading out this way. Hence I was happy for the opportunity afforded by a scheduled appointment to have a couple of days to look around.

How does one describe Dubai? Adjectives and similes must be multiplied. In some respects it feels like an arid version of Hong Kong. The skyline is said to resemble that of Chicago. Buildings and construction works abound. Who fills all these places? Can anything possibly be left over for Doha’s similar foray into futurism? There are some impressive and stylish works of architecture, but more generally in the extensive up-market, conspicuously consumerist and ostentatious parts of the city, it is as if Doctor Moreau has manipulated a monster hybrid by blending the gene pool of Disneyland with that of the Arabian Nights. Still it remains that in quieter parts and in the back streets, an array of unmistakable sights, smells and sounds reassure one that, whatever else Dubai may be, or imagine itself to be, it is an authentic Arab town. Alas, the germ from which all this has sprouted is to be seen only in sepia images on the walls of the municipal museum. However in Dubai, the Emirate Arab identity has not been lost with the long vanished fishing village, but rather has been transformed (at least on the surface) by a breathtaking experiment with the contemporary.

Some will argue that Dubai is more a global than regional phenomenon. In particular, they will point out that a great deal, if not nearly all, the sweat, ingenuity and sheer hard work of constructing, energising and sustaining this desert metropolis has been provided by imported cheap labour, particularly from the Indian subcontinent, and stimulated by the intellectual capital of the West. That hardly can be denied. But the fact that Dubai has imported the labour, skills and know-how required to make its transformation, does not make that transformation any less impressive. Neither should that consideration mitigate the profound local contribution—be it the impressive vision that drives this city, the money that has made such a transformation possible, and above all the aspirations which Dubai attempts to address.

Given these considerations, it seemed to me that Dubai may have something to say about the impact of higher education on Arab societies. I did not have the opportunity to visit any of the universities in Dubai, so I will not comment on how those institutions may (or may not) consider their role in terms of Arab perspectives on scholarship or on impacting the socio-economic, cultural and intellectual development of the Arab States. However, I did have the opportunity to discover something of interest in a shopping mall.