Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

New Horizons: American University of Beirut

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

New Horizons: American University of Beirut

Article excerpt

New Horizons: American University of Beirut

When you are 125 years old it's probably not a bad idea to have a facelift. Walking on the campus of the century-and-a-quarter-year-old American University of Beirut (AUB) gives one the feeling that most of the 60 buildings on campus are being renovated, remodeled or even rebuilt.

Project Facelift, scheduled for the early '70s, was shelved as 16 years of war raged through the country and local and regional powers made AUB's survival the university's first and only priority. But the construction fund was waiting in the wings.

On Nov. 8, 1991, a van packed with explosives destroyed the main administration building, ripping off one facade and leaving the building structurally unsalvageable. Professors' personal archives, university records and telex machines were just some of the things extracted from the wobbly building. Then the AUB community watched as the building was reduced to a parking lot over subsequent months. Many friends of College Hall still pause at the site to pay their respects to its memory.

Project Facelift Begins

On Nov. 8, 1992, Project Facelift began. Under a bright blue sky, Lebanese President Elias Hrawi laid the cornerstone for the new College Hall.

In ceremonies held in the chapel, a message from AUB President Frederic Herter was read. "We meet today not to give recognition to the infamous act of a year ago which destroyed our cherished College Hall, but rather to reaffirm our solemn commitment to the future of the American University of Beirut."

Herter, who governs AUB from New York due to the U.S. ban on travel to Lebanon, also thanked those who helped AUB raise the funds needed. The U.S. government, which has pledged $3 million to the reconstruction of College Hall, was represented at the ceremonies by U.S. Ambassador Ryan Crocker, whose public appearances remain limited because of security concerns.

Herter quoted AUB's first president, Dr. Daniel Bliss, at the cornerstone-laying of the first College Hall on Nov. 28, 1871: "This college is for all conditions and classes of men without regard to color, nationality, race or religion. A man white, black, or yellow; Christian, Jew, Mohammadan or heathen, may enter and enjoy all the advantages of this institution for three, four or eight years, and go out believing in one God, in many gods, or in no God. But it will be impossible for anyone to continue with us long without knowing what we believe to be the truth and our reasons for that belief."

The first College Hall was completed in two years, at a cost of $9,800. …

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