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Presidential symposium delves into the status of women at AUB
9/6/2017
Jennifer Muller  |  Office of Communications  |  media@aub.edu.lb  | 
In the presence of members of the AUB Board of Trustees and the university community, a presidential symposium was held on September 5 focusing on the issue of “Women at AUB: Strategic Institutional Initiatives.” 

Women faculty have undoubtedly made great strides since the first female instructor was hired at AUB in 1938. Coincidentally, that woman was Angela Jurdak Khoury, the mother of Board Chairman Philip S. Khoury, who was in the audience. But just how much progress has been made and is there more that can be done to “level the playing field” for women faculty at AUB?  This symposium tackled the important issue of gender equity at AUB and what is being done to address it. 
 
“Today, we no longer ask how far women can go and what they can achieve, but we ask the more pertinent question of how to remove all barriers in offering them equal opportunity,” said Professor Howayda Al-Harithy, opening the symposium.  “AUB, under the leadership of Dr. Khuri, is asking these tough questions, launching institutional initiatives, and putting systems in place towards that end.”
 
During the first of three panels, Title IX Coordinator Trudi Hodges said that raising awareness is key to combatting harassment and discrimination. One major initiative being undertaken currently is mandatory training on AUB’s anti-harassment and non-discrimination policy for all AUB faculty and staff with the assistance of Human Resources. For some employees, the training was given in Arabic, which may be a first for any university.  Ms. Hodges also noted that raising student awareness and involving students in these efforts is crucial.  
 
The Taskforce on the Lives and Careers of Women Faculty at AUB, which was created by President Khuri in December 2015, was the topic of the second panel in which they discussed their methodology, findings, and recommendations. The Taskforce examined the professional status and career trajectories of women faculty and studied their work and family/personal life balance.
 
After compiling data from across the university, the Taskforce found that the percentage of women faculty members has not grown by much over the past 15 years, even though the total number of faculty has more than doubled. In 2001, 25 percent of full-time professorial faculty were women, compared with 28 percent in 2016. This is far below the average of 47 percent in peer institutions.
 
In terms of work/life balance, the Taskforce found that only 14 percent of women felt that they had effective mentoring, and this was not much higher for men at 20 percent.  President Khuri responded to this directly in his closing remarks and said he will be establishing a Mentorship Council in order to improve mentorship at every level and for all faculty, staff, and students.
 
In the third panel, organized by Dr. Lama Moussawi, discussants were women faculty members from various scientific fields. The moderator, Dr. Fida Kanaan, opened the session by noting that the new world economy will be fueled by STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) and yet women are generally underrepresented in STEM fields, which means they will lose out. Professor Najat Saliba from the Chemistry Department, along with other panelists, emphasized the importance of mentors and positive role models in the sciences.
“Even if STEM or the sciences or math seems to be a boy’s club, I think women have a role here. We don’t want men to help us incorporate more women into the STEM field, what we want is for women to bring in their views and their attitudes to make STEM more ‘cool’ and more appealing to women. I think we have a responsibility here,” said Saliba.
 
In his closing remarks, President Khuri discussed some of the concrete steps his administration will take moving forward. In addition to the new Mentorship Council, he announced—to great applause—that he would be making permanent the Commission on the Status of Women at AUB as well as establishing a Title IX Council. He also said that they are in the early stages of considering an early learning center at AUB, which is something many women faculty members requested.  President Khuri concluded by acknowledging that there is much work yet to be done, but that AUB is ready to do it.
 
“We will do our best to ‘walk the walk’ and it starts with knowing where you are stumbling if you are going to walk firmly forward,” said Khuri.​
Story Highlights
  • ​​​In the presence of members of the AUB Board of Trustees and the university community, a presidential symposium was held on September 5 focusing on the issue of “Women at AUB: Strategic Institutional Initiatives.”

 
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