Haigazian University

Dr. Arda Ekmekji’s Address Founders’ Day (October, 17, 2022): “Live the Ethos”

Oct, 18
Dr. Arda Ekmekji’s Address Founders’ Day (October, 17, 2022): “Live the Ethos”

Mr. President, Excellencies, Distinguished Guests, colleagues, Family and Friends, Dear Haigazian Family.

Today is Founders Day and for the past 67 years, we have been celebrating and remembering all those who laid the foundations of what is known today as Haigazian University. In my message Turning the Page, which I sent earlier this year, I mentioned that Haigazian University is not just a university but a dynamic process that needs, like an exotic plant, to be continuously, nurtured, groomed and fertilized. That is the role of all of us, we who are involved in this process, some call us stakeholders, but I prefer the term custodians or stewards, who have constantly the responsibility of maintaining high academic standards, quality assurance and most of all applied mission, vision and values. In short, the arduous task of Living out the ethos of this university.
When in 1997, President Khanjian invited me to join Haigazian as a Dean, I was then a fulltime faculty at AUB and a bit reluctant to move. He then said “Haigazian is a small institution and in small institutions you grow fast, you get empowered quickly and you achieve a lot since the red tape is short”. That was so true and I will share with you some milestones of this personal empowerment.

The motto of our university is Truth, Freedom and Service. We post that on banners, our stationery, we use it in our orientation and valedictorian speeches. However today I would like to share with you my experience of these values applied and in action.

It is true that we are celebrating today 25 years of my administrative role but my relationship with Haigazian started much earlier as a part time Instructor in 1977. I was invited then by President Markarian and Dean Jimbashian to teach Intercultural Studies. All went well until March 1978, just before the Easter vacation , Israel attacked the South of Lebanon and some 1000 refugees flooded the Kantary area. The whole campus here, the auditorium, the classrooms and this hall turned overnight into a shelter for the displaced. The whole university was mobilized from the President to the janitor. The students took shifts in distributing blankets, getting medication, faculty supervised logistics and the cafeteria remained open serving soup round the clock. The university had shifted from an academic hub to an emergency NGO. The events of that week were reported in the Los Angeles times of March 23 with headlines, Former foes work side by side, Beirut students in Haigazian University help refugees instead of striking. This was my first real encounter with Service in action. Diakonia – It changed my whole perspective of reaching out and probably explains my involvement in numerous voluntary programs later. This unique spirit of Service prevails in all the domains of Haigazian and I witnessed all it through From Financial Aid to the Desert Stream or similar clubs, from the orientation program to advising and counseling. It permeates our curriculum, spiritual life and committees – Service remains a top very much cherished priority.

We often take the word freedom very lightly especially in academic institutions. I would like to declare here that in all my administrative and academic career, never have I been coerced to teach ideas against my convictions, nor to hire, fire, terminate, promote, accept students or bend decisions due to any external or internal pressures. You may say but isn’t that normal? Yes- only if merit is the standard. But remember where we are and how everything is “confessionalized”. Can you imagine being an administrator and not knowing the religion of one of your employees until you have to attend a wedding or a funeral? In a country where you religious confession determines your life from birth to death, to be totally free of such pressures is truly miraculous and is one of the most blessed and cherished values we have and we should all work never to lose and compromise this gift.

Today everybody is clamoring for the Truth. The truth about the explosion, the truth about the Banks, about electricity. We too are partisans of truth. It may however, it may sound pretentious to claim that we are the sole imparters of Truth. It is true that our highly qualified faculty deliver the most advanced information and methods, but there are other truths that are also important to underline. Gebran Khail Gebran in the Prophet said “ Say not I have found the Truth, but rather, I have found a Truth” . Let me share with you A truth about Higher Education and especially Haigazian that I applied learnt and applied over the years.
Again I will go back now to June 1986, it was the last day of Haigazian University in Ras Beirut. The Board of Trustees had decided to move to Jeitaoui in East Beirut. I was giving my last class in Ancient Religions in the last room in the Armenian Library. The room overlooked the adjacent Aresco building which was being stripped by some hooligans or militia men I don’t know precisely. We could actually see their faces as vandalism and robbery were practiced, even the padding of the Air condition ducts was being removed. The students were traumatized as I kept on babbling about sacred kingship in Egypt. Until one of them said. “ Do not be afraid, they are outside, they can’t harm us, we are safe inside” . All throughout the years that phrase stuck in my mind. We are the Inside, on Campus which Campus has a sanctity, a certain sacredness, in Arabic we call it حرم الجامعة. It is the safe haven, the seat of higher values and ethics, and then there’s the outside, an outside which is getting more and more distanced from our realities.

The famous Sudanese writer, Tayebb Saleh Saleh in his famous book Season of Migration to the North موسم الهجرة ال الشمال ؟ – which all our students read said “ No contradiction must occur between what the student learns at school and between the reality of the life of the people.” No contradiction Between the inside and the outside . But what happens when what we teach inside and what is practiced outside are not in alignment? What is the role of a faculty member who delivers lectures on categorical imperatives and human rights in the face of corruption, fraud and untruth? Do we compromise our values? Do we lower the standards of our Founders so that our students do not become misfits in society? Do we bend our standards so that we adapt to our environment, to social media.? To fake news? Do we give up excellence and cater to mediocrity? Do we go with the flow or become swimmers against the current? The answer is clearly No. Our catalogue states that we prepare students to serve in their respective communities and society at large.” Throughout all my academic career I believed that we as a university our aim should not to make the inside resemble the outside but rather strive to have the outside world resemble more and more the values and standards we uphold. A seat of higher education is like a beacon of light and it should shine amidst the darkness it is surrounded with. It is then and only that we can safely assume that we are true custodians of the legacy we have been entrusted with and happily declare that our Founders can rest in peace.

Finally, I would like to thank all who have organized this day and attended. I am truly grateful to God and to all my Board, President, colleagues for their continuous support understanding all throughout theses years. I would like also to thank my family and apologize for all the prime time taken from them to do all the things I had to do elsewhere. Today, the time had come turn the page, and yes although my administrative path has come to an end, the academic track never stops and so I will continue as long as I can, teaching and instilling future generations with values such as Truth, Freedom and Service.
Happy Founders Day and let the march never stop.