September 7, 2019 – Under the high patronage of the President of the Lebanese Republic, His Excellency General Michel Aoun, and in the presence of his representative, the Lebanese Minister of Economy and Trade, His Excellency Mansour Bteish, Notre Dame University-Louaize (NDU) held its annual Founders’ Day at the Bechara El-Rahi Theatre on the Main Campus.
Notable members from across Lebanese society were in attendance, including: His Excellency Deputy Mustafa Al-Husseini, representing Speaker of the Parliament of the Lebanese Republic Nabih Berri; Her Excellency Deputy Dima Jamali, representing Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri; His Excellency Bishop Hanna Alwan, representing His Beatitude and Eminence Cardinal Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi Maronite Patriarch of Antioch; Commander of the Lebanese Armed Forces Joseph Aoun; along with various military figures, ministers, MPs, religious representatives, CEOs, NGOs, and school principals.
This year marked the second installment of the Holistic Presidency: a broad initiative under which various NDU projects are launched with the goal of strengthening Lebanon’s governmental, societal, and academic development. Last year saw the launch of the Institute for Internet and Technology Addiction (INTA) which came to full fruition in August 2019.
This year the Holistic Presidency launched its new initiative: “Inclusion.” Inclusion is the practice of ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, ethnicity, or disability, has equal access to an education which caters to their specific needs. Adopting inclusive practices means recognizing the widespread inequality in the world and taking steps to address it. As per the University’s Mission, NDU is committed to fostering an environment where all are welcome, regardless of ethnicity, gender, or creed, and as such is already working towards a fully inclusive environment.
The meeting began with an opening prayer by the Most Reverend Abbot Maroun Chidiac, Superior General of the Maronite Order of the Blessed Virgin Mary (OMM), and a welcoming speech by Majid Bou Hadir, Director of Public Affairs and Protocol at NDU. The welcome was followed by a video demonstrating INTA’s progress since it was announced last year.
After the video, NDU President Fr. Pierre Najem gave his Founders’ Day speech on the nature of inclusion, the work needed to be done in Lebanon, and implementing inclusion at NDU. “In addition to offering quality education and exceptional service to our students from the day they step into the campus until after they graduate, we believe that our societal role is also a significant element of our success … We pride ourselves on having 50% of women in staff and faculty positions, and 64% of students at the graduate level are female as of AY 2018-2019. Moreover, 44% of our alumni are female; however, 54% of the overall alumni holding graduate degrees are women. Our university is also proud of having students from 67 nationalities, and thus acts as an oasis for various cultures and civilizations. True to its academic mission and social duty, NDU is embarking today on an educational inclusion journey. We are launching this initiative and extending our hands to all private and public stakeholders in our country, particularly the sectors of education and higher education … We need to return to the core mission of education and to respect the right of every individual to access education, knowledge, and work. Our institutions should be places that unite differences and individualize curricula to meet the needs of different students and support them to succeed and fulfill their dreams.”
Fr. Najem also reflected on the work NDU was doing to help provide students with disabilities equal access to education: “The Department of Academic Advising, which is an integral part of the Student Affairs Office (SAO), was established last year to assist undergraduate students facing academic difficulties. This year, we will inaugurate, in partnership with Smart Kids with Learning Differences (SKILD), another department to cater for students with special educational needs.
Thanks to this partnership with SKILD, and to the collaboration with its various offices and departments—Academic Affairs Office; Council of Deans; SAO; Human Resources; Communication; Marketing; and Information technology— NDU will train its faculty and staff members in best practices to support students with special needs and offer them quality service.
Through its Division of Continuing Education, the University will offer specialized courses for educators and teachers, who need to update their competencies and skills to keep abreast of the latest developments in special education and of innovations in education technologies.
We also aim to offer a special diploma to assist persons with learning difficulties and cognitive challenges, who could not obtain the high school diploma (baccalaureate). They can thus learn life and social skills, such as defending their rights, using public transportation, managing their money, dealing with banks, among other things. This will enable them to enjoy a relatively autonomous life and to integrate effectively and efficiently into society.”
Fr. Najem’s speech was followed by a video on the work NDU has done to support its students with disabilities, and a performance by the NDU Choir, with pieces composed exclusively for the occasion.
Finally, HE Minister Bteish gave a speech on inclusion in Lebanese society as a whole: “We [Lebanese], who we were partners in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, cannot move away from Lebanon’s role in respecting Human rights, especially with regards to the most vulnerable or marginalized members of society.
We say publicly: No to discrimination of any kind, yes to diversity, difference, and excellence; yes to gender equality; yes to equal opportunities for people with special needs; yes to ensuring the right to education, work, and development for all people …
Lebanon needs all our efforts and to rally around common national goals: political, economic and social. Inclusion is at the forefront of our social goals, because it is the gateway to partnership and the key to the enrichment of every member of society.”