BEIRUT: As Lebanon took a historic leap this month in appointing four women to its newly formed government, gender equality has also been witnessing a tick upward in Lebanese academic circles.
The case in point we will address is at the Lebanese University, the country’s public institution, and the tenure of Jaqueline Ayoub, one year into her appointment as the head of the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences at the University’s branch in Tripoli.
The appointment is no small feat in Lebanon’s second largest city, seen by most in the West as a conservative religious area.
But for the first time in four decades, since the Lebanese University’s inception in 1978, a woman leader has finally broken the glass ceiling and made her way to a position generally reserved for males. At the Faculty, the appointment was fraught with the difficulties and challenges of a patriarchal society and at times it was bound to clash with political, religious and societal tensions.
But despite these complications, Dr. Ayoub's initial start as the new director has displayed a different caliber of leadership who in less than a year has effectively pushed the wheels of progress and nurtured a rich co-operative atmosphere at the faculty.
Her diplomacy has gained her the appreciation and equal support of both male and female faculty members and staff. Taking into consideration the fact that a woman’s potential had traditionally been undermined, Dr. Ayoub has proudly demonstrated how a woman can lead. She has put in place a different teaching atmosphere instilled in her the drive to ensure a healthy learning and teaching environment. As a graduate of the university herself, she has strived to improve what had always troubled her student days such as establishing direct communications channels with students, promoting dialogue and integrating with the local environment.
The open-door policy she has adopted fosters a pleasant interactive atmosphere between colleagues, staff, and students while her contagious enthusiasm has encouraged hundreds to attend seminars every other week, to participate in poetry competitions, and volunteer for the newly initiated university choir. All the more, the faculty’s football team has not only been resuscitated but has scored a trophy in the University’s championship. Dr. Ayoub has also shown unbounded generosity in seeking financial support for students through appropriate aid sources.
Since her appointment, there has also been a boost in several humanitarian and philanthropic activities such as investing in buses and drivers that offer transportation to students in nearby Akkar province. She also personally participated in fundraising events to provide free meals for the neighboring community.
For the University, the growing female role suggests a brighter balanced academic future where a woman’s voice becomes as worthy and as strong as that of a man’s. For us at the English department, of whom the majority are women, this has meant a robust environment and an increased sense of pride at the fact that so much has been achieved in only a few months, and this is only the beginning of her leadership journey.
The university considers itself lucky to have such a unique personality; one who has admirably improved the experience of undergraduate and graduate life and gained the respect and admiration of all who have had the privilege to work with her. In the words of Edith Wharton’s “there are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it” and to us, Dr. Ayoub is both.
Soha El Samad and Savo Karam are associate professors at the Lebanese University and they have written this article on the behalf of the English Department.
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