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The American University of Beirut

The American University of Beirut
Arab Nationalism and Liberal Education

This history of the American University of Beirut presents a rich 150-year process of conflict, cooperation, and growth that has balanced the goals of American liberal education with the quest for Arab national identity and empowerment.

November 2011
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280 pages | 6 x 9 | 20 b&w photos |

Since the American University of Beirut opened its doors in 1866, the campus has stood at the intersection of a rapidly changing American educational project for the Middle East and an ongoing student quest for Arab national identity and empowerment. Betty S. Anderson provides a unique and comprehensive analysis of how the school shifted from a missionary institution providing a curriculum in Arabic to one offering an English-language American liberal education extolling freedom of speech and analytical discovery.

Anderson discusses how generations of students demanded that they be considered legitimate voices of authority over their own education; increasingly, these students sought to introduce into their classrooms the real-life political issues raging in the Arab world. The Darwin Affair of 1882, the introduction of coeducation in the 1920s, the Arab nationalist protests of the late 1940s and early 1950s, and the even larger protests of the 1970s all challenged the Americans and Arabs to fashion an educational program relevant to a student body constantly bombarded with political and social change. Anderson reveals that the two groups chose to develop a program that combined American goals for liberal education with an Arab student demand that the educational experience remain relevant to their lives outside the school's walls. As a result, in eras of both cooperation and conflict, the American leaders and the students at the school have made this American institution of the Arab world and of Beirut.

  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Administrators and Students: Agency and the Educational Process
  • Chapter 2. The Unity of Truth: Classical and Liberal Educational Systems
  • Chapter 3. Making Men: Religion, Education, and Character Building
  • Chapter 4. Making Women: The Goals of Coeducation
  • Chapter 5. Student Activism: The Struggle for Arab Nationalism
  • Chapter 6. "Guerrilla U": The Contested Nature of Authority
  • Chapter 7. Rebuilding AUB: Reaffirming Liberal Education
  • Notes
  • Bibliography
  • Index

Betty S. Anderson is Associate Professor of Middle East History at Boston University. She is the author of Nationalist Voices in Jordan: The Street and the State, as well as numerous articles on Middle Eastern education, politics, and nationalism.


"The great value of education does not consist in the accepting this and that to be true but it consists in proving this and that to be true," declared Daniel Bliss, founder of Syrian Protestant College (SPC; 1866–1920) and its president from 1866 to 1902, in his farewell address. President Howard Bliss (president, 1902–1920) said in his baccalaureate sermon in 1911, "In a word, the purpose of the College is not to produce singly or chiefly men who are doctors, men who are pharmacists, men who are merchants, men who are preachers, teachers, lawyers, editors, statesmen; but it is the purpose of the College to produce doctors who are men, pharmacists who are men, merchants who are men, preachers, teachers, lawyers, editors, statesmen who are men." Bayard Dodge (1923–1948) stated at his inauguration as president of the newly renamed American University of Beirut (AUB; 1920– ), "We do not attempt to force a student to absorb a definite quantity of knowledge, but we strive to teach him how to study. We do not pretend to give a complete course of instruction in four or five years, but rather to encourage the habit of study, as a foundation for an education as long as life itself." The successors to these men picked up the same themes when they elaborated on the school's goals over the years; most recently, in May 2009, President Peter Dorman discussed his vision of AUB’s role. "AUB thrives today in much different form than our missionary founders would have envisioned, but nonetheless—after all this time—it remains dedicated to the same ideal of producing enlightened and visionary leaders."


In dozens of publications, SPC and AUB students have also asserted a vision of the transformative role the school should have on their lives. The longest surviving Arab society on campus, al-`Urwa al-Wuthqa, published a magazine of the same name during most academic years between 1923 and 1954 and as of 1936 stated as its editorial policy the belief that "the magazine's writing is synonymous with the Arab student struggle in the university." From that point forward, the editors frequently listed the society's Arab nationalist goals. In the fall 1950 edition, for example, al-`Urwa al-Wuthqa's Committee on Broadcasting and Publications issued a statement identifying the achievement of Arab unity as the most important goal because "it is impossible to separate the history, literature and scientific inheritance of the Arabs" since "the Arab essence is unity." Toward this end, al-`Urwa al-Wuthqa pledged to accelerate the "growth of the true nationalist spirit" among the students affiliated with the organization. In describing education as an activist pursuit, the statement declares, "To achieve political ideas which are aimed at our nationalism it is necessary for we as students to seek information by many different means." In this call, the AUB Arab students must take on the task of studying the Arab heritage as thoroughly and frankly as possible so that when they graduate they can move into society with solutions to the many problems plaguing the Arab world.


Since the school's founding in 1866, its campus has stood at a vital intersection between a rapidly changing American missionary and educational project to the Middle East and a dynamic quest for Arab national identity and empowerment. As the presidential quotes indicate, the Syrian Protestant College and the American University of Beirut imported American educational systems championing character building as their foremost goal. Proponents of these programs hewed to the belief that American educational systems were the perfect tools for encouraging students to reform themselves and improve their societies; the programs do not merely supply professional skills but educate the whole person. As the quotes from al-`Urwa al-Wuthqa attest, Arab society pressured the students to change as well. The Arab nahda, or awakening, of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries called on students to take pride in their Arab past and to work to recreate themselves as modern leaders of their society; the Arab nationalist movement of the twentieth century asked that students take a lead in fighting for Arab independence from foreign control. The students streaming through the Main Gate year after year used both of these American and Arab elements to help make the school not only an American institution but also one of the Arab world and of Beirut, as the very name, the American University of Beirut, indicates. This process saw long periods of accommodation between the American-led administration and the Arab students, but just as many eras when conflict raged over the nature of authority each should wield on campus; the changing relationship between the administration and the students serves as the cornerstone of this book, for it is here where much of the educational history of SPC and AUB has been written.


American Education


The American University of Beirut (AUB) is an institution of higher learning founded to provide excellence in education, to participate in the advancement of knowledge through research, and to serve the peoples of the Middle East and beyond. Chartered in New York State in 1863, the university bases its educational philosophy, standards, and practices on the American liberal arts model of higher education. The university believes deeply in and encourages freedom of thought and expression and seeks to foster tolerance and respect for diversity and dialogue. Graduates will be individuals committed to creative and critical thinking, life-long learning, personal integrity and civic responsibility, and leadership.


The liberal educational system extolled in this April 2007 mission statement describes a program long in development on campus. In opening the school, Daniel Bliss and his colleagues pledged to unite together the teaching of the most modern of literature and science with a commitment to the principles and beliefs of Protestantism. In 1866, this combination did not pose difficulties; the schools after which Bliss modeled his program struggled to connect similar elements within what was considered the American classical educational program. While Harvard, Yale, Amherst, and other East Coast Protestant colleges did not seek to convert their students in the same way SPC hoped to do, they did teach a curriculum that enveloped all knowledge within Protestant denominational precepts. They believed in a unity of truth that taught students knowledge as a holistic concept; religious precepts confirmed science, the humanities, morality, and ethics. In this arena, Julie Reuben states, "the term truth encompassed all 'correct' knowledge; religious doctrines, common-sense beliefs, and scientific theories were all judged by the same cognitive standards. Religious truth was the most important and valuable form of knowledge because it gave meaning to mundane knowledge." In combination with the extensive in loco parentis regulations imposed on every campus, the old-style American Protestant colleges enclosed students, mind, body, and soul, within the campus walls, within the school's religious theology, and within a curriculum circumscribing what the schools' leaders considered the only knowledge valid for higher education. Teaching within a unity of truth meant teaching for conformity. Students passed when they reproduced what they had been told; they excelled when they explained why something was true.


When Daniel Bliss opened his school, he followed the model of his colleagues back in America by establishing a fixed curriculum that left little room for debate, critique, or analysis; rather, professors taught students how to understand the truth proffered to them. Eschewing the Greek and Latin classics prevalent in American colleges of the day, Daniel substituted English and French, and delivered the whole program in Arabic. He required that all students, regardless of religious faith, attend Christian services and Bible study classes. The school converted almost no students, but the students were immersed in evangelical Christianity; no part of the curriculum contradicted the school's Christian precepts. As Bliss declared in his farewell address in 1902, religious "belief without knowledge may become a degrading, wicked superstition; with knowledge, it becomes a rational faith, soaring far above the knowledge from which it started in its upward flight." Bliss did not attempt to compel religious conversion, but he did hope the students would embrace Jesus Christ as their role model.


Difficulties arose, however, as changes bombarded the colleges back in America; in the second half of the nineteenth century, new scientific discoveries and pressures from the increasingly industrialized society forced schools to broaden their course offerings and rethink their pedagogical theories. New Land Grant universities opened in America after 1862, offering a mixture of professional and academic courses and serving as competition for the old-line Protestant colleges. To remain relevant in American society, the older colleges had to remold their structures and redesign their goals. What emerged was a new American liberal education system based not on teaching a fixed body of knowledge, but on the inculcation of the skills required to analyze data. The history of SPC and AUB reflects this pedagogical transition. When the school became the American University of Beirut in 1920, its Christian proselytizing mission officially ended; liberal education henceforth defined the fundamental aims of its program and served as the focal point for most of the debates and conflicts that occurred between the administration and the students throughout the rest of the twentieth century.


In liberal education, students succeed when they learn how to validate and produce knowledge on their own; the professor's job is to demonstrate the tools for doing so. As such, liberal education espouses methods for scholarly discovery, constructed in discussions of opposing viewpoints; an event may certainly have happened, but it can be examined from, for example, a Marxist or a gender perspective. The foundational notion that great men produce history starts to crumble when one begins to analyze how women or people whose names do not appear in the written record have influenced local or national events. Even scientific subjects requiring verifiable facts have techniques for generating new questions through discussion, analysis, and experimentation. As a 1945 Harvard University report summarized, the primary goal of liberal education is to teach students how to think; "by effective thinking we mean, in the first place, logical thinking: the ability to draw sound conclusions from premises." In the words of the report, "The objective of education is not just knowledge of values but commitment to them, the embodiment of the ideal in one's actions, feelings, and thoughts, no less than an intellectual grasp of the ideal." Students must be active participants in their own educational experience; in its new liberal iteration, education could no longer mean conformity.


To actuate the culture of free expression necessary for this new pedagogy, the course of the late nineteenth century saw American Protestant colleges officially break religious denominational bonds; once the parameters of truth had become unbound from religion, professors sought to teach their students the tools necessary for constructive debate, discussion, and critique. Potentially any topic could be tackled in the classroom provided the participants understood the rules of tolerance and respect needed to engage it. Even though the SPC religious requirements remained intact until the school changed its name and status in 1920, the school's offerings became increasingly secular under Howard Bliss's tenure. The new liberal educational program and its insistence on free inquiry meant that a religious ethos could no longer validate and bind knowledge together. SPC, as with its American counterparts, could no longer declare all knowledge compatible with Christian precepts.


To foster this classroom atmosphere, the goal of proselytizing for Protestantism at SPC transformed into one of proselytizing for modernity; throughout the course of the twentieth century, the leaders set "making men" as their primary conversion program. When women arrived on campus with coeducation in the 1920s, the discussion expanded to include the proper roles for women in modern society. This transition from religious conversion to a program of character building fit perfectly within the parameters of liberal education because the new program was premised on the belief that with freedom comes responsibility. Only men and women of superior character could truly understand the tasks they were undertaking in the educational realm. As a result, liberal education cohesively integrated tools for validating knowledge, aspirations for professional achievement, and lessons in character development. SPC and AUB delivered not just a curricular program but a comprehensive blueprint for living. In their writings, the Americans at the school made modernity and civilization tangible concepts, their elements universally recognizable, rankable, and unalterably Western. American prophets—President Abraham Lincoln, missionary leader John Mott, politician and orator William Jennings Bryan, oil magnate John D. Rockefeller, and the Blisses themselves—guided followers to what amounted to a successful and modern faith in American educational progress. These men's lives exemplified the honest, hard-working, and innovative skills necessary for success, the essential commandments of an SPC and AUB modernity. If students could live lives as these men had, imbued with strong Protestant American values, they would inevitably succeed, regardless of whether or not they signed on the dotted line of Protestantism. Historian Richard Hofstadter famously wrote that "the United States was the only country in the world that began with perfection and aspired to progress." The Americans at SPC and AUB presented the school's curriculum as a perfect amalgamation of the American religious and educational structures; they tasked their students with understanding that education meant working for perpetual personal progress.


Arab Education and Activism


The opening of the school in 1866 coincided not only with the emergence of the American liberal education system but also with a pivotal moment in Arab and, more specifically, Syrian and Lebanese history. The nineteenth century had dawned in 1798 with Napoleon Bonaparte’s occupation of Egypt for three short years. A joint Anglo-Ottoman force defeated the French in 1801, but the invasion had the long-term effect of catalyzing action in both the Ottoman Empire and Egypt; the two governments hoped the introduction of westernizing reforms would forestall any such European incursions in the future. The Ottoman sultans in Istanbul and Governor Muhammad Ali in Cairo trained new conscript peasant armies using European guidelines, opened Western-style schools for specialized military and professional training, and codified new secular laws following European models. The Ottoman Empire also instituted the Tanzimat reforms, which sought to break down the traditional millet system. In it, each of the many religious groups living in the empire had its own legal court. The sultans and their advisors hoped the Tanzimat reforms would equalize the legal status of the religious groups of the empire. By so doing, they envisioned the emergence of a new kind of Ottoman citizenship.


In neither region did these programs work as intended. The British occupied Egypt in 1882, and the French conquered much of the rest of Ottoman North Africa during the same period. The European powers militarily and economically infiltrated the Ottoman Empire during the course of the nineteenth century; World War I caused its final demise. The millet system was replaced not with a shared Ottomanism but with a fractured nationalist landscape. In Egypt, a protonationalism began to emerge among graduates of the new schools and recruits in the new military; by the 1870s, supporters had gathered behind Colonel Ahmad `Urabi's revolt against the authoritarianism of the Egyptian government. Thereafter, a vibrant Egyptian nationalist movement fought against British rule. In the Ottoman Empire, national identities formed among all the ethnic groups, with the predominantly Christian Balkans region proving particularly contentious. The area that would become modern-day Syria and Lebanon in the twentieth century, and the birthplace for the majority of the students attending SPC and AUB, saw violence break out in the massacres between Muslims and Christians in the 1860 civil war. Muslims fought against what they felt were the disproportionate benefits accruing to Christians because of Ottoman reforms and European intervention; Christians struggled to gain an equality promised them by the Ottoman sultans but still elusive in practice.


In response to these atrocities, the societies and governments of Syria and Lebanon followed divergent national paths. In Damascus, the 1860 civil war catalyzed an intensified local and Ottoman effort to build schools and open up career opportunities for Muslims, matching the effort already begun among the Christian populations by foreign missionaries. Subsequently, young educated Arab Muslims and Christians formed the backbone of the nahda, an Arab nationalist and intellectual movement that began in the second half of the nineteenth century. Students of SPC and AUB became active members alongside colleagues educated in comparable institutions. In Mt. Lebanon, a system of political sectarianism rather than national cohesiveness emerged. A decade-long occupation by the Egyptian government that began in 1831, followed by the European and Ottoman decision to partition Mt. Lebanon into Christian and Druze Muslim sections, disrupted the power balance and helped catalyze the 1860 civil war. Henceforth, Mt. Lebanon would receive special administrative status within the Ottoman Empire under the protection of European supervision. Religious affiliation would determine political access; the large numbers of religious groups represented in Mt. Lebanon translated into a dispersion of power to many different actors and agencies. In terms of AUB's existence in Beirut, this development translated into little governmental control over the school in Lebanon. AUB's administrations have had to negotiate with the Ottoman, French, and Lebanese governments over the years concerning accreditation issues, but otherwise have experienced few real threats to independent status.


New national and sectarian identities in the Middle East could not have arisen without another of the unexpected consequences arising from the Ottoman and Egyptian reforms; out of the new institutions emerged a new elite stratum, a “bureaucratic bourgeoisie,” to use Fatma Müge Göçek's term. New types of schools not only provided the practical training this group needed as it forged new positions within the reforming states, but also helped its members gain a consciousness of their vanguard status in an era of rapid change. Prior to the onset of the nineteenth-century reforms, Selçuk Akşin Somel reports, "the educational aim of the pre-modern Islamic school system at the primary level was the inculcation of basic religious knowledge to students, particularly the learning of Qur\'anic verses by heart," while at the next stage, in the medreses, students extended their study of religion, taking courses in Arabic grammar, arithmetic, Qur\'anic commentary, and Islamic philosophy. For further religious study, a small number of students moved on to Islamic universities such as al-Azhar in Cairo; government schools in Istanbul provided specific skills training for future military leaders and civil servants. Little in this educational structure required students to produce knowledge for themselves; the focus at most levels was on the memorization of data already accredited by either religious or military scholars. Graduates funneled into preset occupational paths based on their educational experience. Once the Ottoman and Egyptian governments launched their westernizing reforms, these schools quickly proved inadequate for the training required for the many new positions created. Memorization of the Qur\'an no longer served as sufficient primary education; students now needed advanced linguistic and scientific skills to gain access to the geography, mathematics, history, and military tactics so necessary for leading modern governments and armies.


In this pursuit, the Ottoman government allotted heavy resources to primary and secondary schools; in fact, Selim Deringil goes so far as to write that "in the second half of the nineteenth century the Ottoman Empire came into its own as an 'educator state' with a systematic programme of education/indoctrination for subjects it intended to mould into citizens." The premier secondary school, the Galatasaray Lycée in Istanbul, once also known as the Mekteb-i Sultani, opened in 1868 and gradually became a twelve-year preparatory school. Its curriculum followed the French lycée system, with courses on natural sciences, law, philosophy, and classical European languages taught in French. Arabic, Persian, and Ottoman Turkish literature; religion; Islamic and Ottoman history; geography; and calligraphy were taught in Turkish or the languages under study. In 1909, the Mekteb-i Mülkiyye-i Şahane, originally the Imperial Civil Service School, became a special university faculty. More generally, the Ottomans opened idadiyyeschools, which provided three to seven years of secondary schooling for students in such cities as Damascus and Beirut. The Ottoman state opened fifty-one secondary schools throughout the empire between 1882 and 1894. The Ottomans also opened schools specifically designed to educate girls for the modern era, although at a slower rate than for the boys. At the private level, religious leaders and merchants established schools to educate their own constituencies in the new style. One of the most famous in the Arab world was the National School in Damascus, the Maktab `Anbar, which educated many members of the new Arab bourgeoisie in the nineteenth century. It became a tajhiz (preparatory school) in 1918, and, according to Philip Khoury, it served as "one of the principal centers of nationalist activity during the 1930s"; in addition to modern science and Western philosophy, "the history of the Arabs and their fundamental contributions to the progress of world civilization was taught in the most exacting national terms."


State and private actors built up an impressive array of schools in Beirut in the second half of the nineteenth century, making the city a particularly active center for education and intellectual discourse and an ideal location for SPC and later AUB. Butrus al-Bustani, a Maronite Christian convert to Protestantism, opened al-Madrasa al-Wataniyah, the National School, in 1863, with the hopes of bringing all of Lebanon's religious groups under one educational umbrella. In the first years of SPC's existence, al-Bustani's school served as its official preparatory school. The Ottomans established a branch of the Sultani Lycée (Mekteb-i Sultani) in 1883 and soon enrolled the sons of the most prominent and wealthy Beiruti families. al-Madrasa al-`Uthmaniyah, the Ottoman College, opened in 1895, providing a curriculum ranging from religious studies to introductions to astronomy and the natural sciences, all taught in Arabic. Beginning in the late nineteenth century under the rubric of the Maqasid Islamic Benevolent Society, Sunni Muslim notables in Beirut organized a series of schools for boys and girls as "a modern Arabo-Islamic alternative to the mission schools."


The problematic nature of the aims of the nineteenth-century Ottoman and Egyptian reform programs was reflected in the educational system. As Benjamin Fortna writes, "The late Ottoman state assigned education the conflicted task of attempting to ward off Western encroachment by adapting Western-style education to suit Ottoman needs." Education of this type was built upon "the principle that education was inherently a powerful commodity, able to transform society either for good or bad, depending on whose education was being provided." Furthermore, as Göçek explains, government leaders saw their schools as mechanisms of control over the students passing through the classroom. The Ottoman leadership hoped the educational experience would facilitate a blurring of the lines between the old religious millets and encourage the graduates to work together to aid the sultan in his reform efforts.


In fact, the opposite occurred for many of those so educated. As Göçek notes, "The main distinguishing trait of this bourgeoisie was its ability, for the first time, to wrest resources away from the sultan's control." While Göçek is speaking specifically of the new bourgeoisie's relationship with the Ottoman sultan in Istanbul, her words also apply throughout the Arab provinces, as new students found they were not beholden to old feudal, tribal, and commercial leaders in the same way as in the past because of new job opportunities available to them. Mimicking Western curricular goals translated into a delegitimization of older forms of knowledge and with it expressions of loyalty to those who had been the purveyors of the older styles of intellectual authority. In all of the new schools, state and private donors followed much the same path that American education took in this era; their curriculum fractured the religious unity of truth that had dominated Middle Eastern schools for more than a century. The graduates of these schools had skills few others had obtained; these skills in turn gave their owners leverage against the state and, in many cases, the traditional leaders, who no longer held the same level of influence in the Ottoman provinces. Even when graduates took government positions, their skills gave them a degree of independence their predecessors had not experienced. Given the proliferation of Western commercial and consular contacts, increasing numbers of graduates did not have to look to the state or to the old guilds or merchant houses as the proper realms for their careers; they now had many more opportunities completely disconnected from these agencies. Graduates could sell new products to the Europeans, work for European firms and consulates, and, with European loans, open their own silk or textile factories without resorting to the strict rules set down by the guilds. As a result of these opportunities, new educational institutions did not produce a united Ottoman citizenry but a bureaucratic bourgeoisie that sought opportunities wherever they could be found.


Foreign missionary activity in the Arab world both supplemented this local educational effort and accelerated its effects. Local agents followed the standards for modern education set by the missionaries; mission schools helped expand the ranks of the new bureaucratic bourgeoisie, particularly among the Christian populations of the region. Catholic missionaries had long worked throughout Mt. Lebanon; they extended their influence as the nineteenth century began. The American Board of Commissioners of Foreign Missions (ABCFM) set up a station in Lebanon in 1820, followed by the American Presbyterians in Egypt in 1854. The British Church Missionary Society (CMS) was established in Egypt in 1825, later spreading its mission to the Ottoman Arab provinces in the Eastern Mediterranean. The missionaries immediately introduced elementary schools and, by the 1840s, had opened secondary schools as well. In mid-century, the missionaries started founding colleges, with Robert College opening in Istanbul in 1863 under American aegis and the Université Saint-Joseph established in Beirut in 1875 by the Jesuits. Roderic Davison reports, "By the eve of World War I an unofficial count put French Catholic schools in the Ottoman Empire at 500, American schools at 675, British at 178. The French schools enrolled 59,414 students, the American schools 34,317, and the British 12,800,” not to mention the smaller enrollments for German, Italian, Austro-Hungarian and Russian schools. Adding to these totals, American Presbyterian missionaries launched the American University in Cairo (AUC) in 1920. The Beirut Female Seminary, founded in 1835, had evolved into the American Junior College for Women (AJCW) by 1927.


All these schools galvanized young Arab students and graduates to form the intellectual backbone of a nineteenth-century movement in the Arab world trying to articulate an empowered Arab identity. This Arab nahda challenged young Arabs to take pride in their historical and linguistic heritage while simultaneously preparing themselves for a modern world dominated by the West. As Albert Hourani says of the shared consciousness this Arab bureaucratic bourgeoisie espoused, "There is a new self awareness and, linked to it, a new and more active interest in the political process, a new concern to take part in the movement of change and determine its direction." As enunciated in dozens of newspapers and journals published in Damascus, Beirut, and Cairo, Arab writers called on their brethren to reclaim their history and language as pivotal elements defining who they were. At the same time, European power could not be ignored; these writers grew up in a world infused with potent Western models. As a result, a contradiction of sorts lay at the foundation of the nahda; its proponents extolled the Arab past as the key to keeping Arabs together in the present while often elevating Western guides as the most influential for their futures.


A typical narrative trajectory produced by nahda writers took the Arabs from the pinnacle of civilizational success in the medieval period to a long fall into backwardness, ignorance, and servility under Ottoman rule. The nineteenth-century exposure to Europe made them acknowledge their weaknesses and forced them to articulate solutions, often of Western origin, to the many problems weakening Arabs and the Arab world. In regard to the awakening many writers defined for this period in the Middle East, Reinhard Schulze states that the nahda “required a concept of cultural decadence, for how else was the claim to cultural renewal to be justified?" Stephen Sheehi attributes what he calls the "obsession of Arab and non-Arab thinkers" with "failure" to the very definition of modernity used in the late nineteenth century. In this iteration of "cultural decadence" and "failure," Arab writers explained that the encounter with the West had prompted the Arabs to realize that their society had fallen behind on the historical continuum; modernity itself required that there be a progression from backwardness to progress. Nahda writers held to the belief that the Arabs needed to find the correct mix between Arab historical pride and Western civilizational dynamism. Each writer balanced these competing forces differently, but all sought to write a prescription for building a successful Arab society for the future.


This was the era of the American self-made man, whose fictional narrators, as Tom Pendergast notes, "referred not to a static figure but to an entire narrative of becoming." All over the Middle East, too, Arab writers provided guidelines for individual Arabs trying to determine who they ought to become given the Arab and Western models on display. As Elizabeth Kassab reports, "On the whole, Nahda thinkers were eager to grasp the secrets of progress, to understand what lay behind Europe's advancement and superiority in the hope of adopting it to their own societies" while also asking, "How was one to define Egyptian, Arab, or Muslim culture with respect to European culture?" Keith Watenpaugh identifies a middle-class penchant in Aleppo for "being modern," as its claimants "incorporated into their daily lives and politics a collection of manners, mores, and tastes, and a corpus of ideas about the individual, gender, rationality, and authority actively derived from what they believed to be the cultural, social, and ideological praxis of the contemporary metropolitan Western middle classes." Furthermore, "by being modern, its members declared their intention to take a preeminent role in the production of knowledge and culture, not just for themselves, but for society at large." Beth Baron reports that the women's press in Egypt in this era, dominated by Syrian and Egyptian women, articulated an ethos for "improving the domestic environment"; in this iteration of a woman's proper role, "young girls had to be formally instructed in an age of science to run a home properly and raise children well, tasks that were no longer meant to be entrusted to others. Domestic work became professionalized with its own schools, texts, journals, and a jargon." As a result of these articulations, Arab men and women writers of the nineteenth-century nahda generated a shared consciousness of the need for dynamic change within themselves and Arab society at large. They wrote guides for the modern leaders they felt they and their colleagues ought to become.


As the twentieth century dawned, the European powers increased their colonial encroachment throughout the Middle East, forcing Arabs to face yet another era of negotiation about their individual and national identities. The British and French had already colonized North Africa and Egypt prior to the end of the nineteenth century; after World War I, they divided up and colonized much of the rest of the region, arbitrarily handing out national identities without consideration for the relationships already existing in the Arab world. The West had for decades provided the guideposts for modernity; European civilization had dominated the imaginations of the young people going through schools like SPC. The new colonial realities after World War I diminished that appeal and forced the newly colonized to evaluate yet again the relationship between Arab and Western civilization.


During World War I, the quest for a new Arab identity took political form in the Arab Revolt Sharif Hussein and his son Faisal led against the Ottoman Turks. Faisal and his Arab army liberated Damascus from the Ottoman forces in October 1918 and set up an Arab government there, but the colonial powers had different plans for the region. The British government had promised Hussein, in the Hussein-McMahon correspondence of 1915–1916, that an independent Arab government would arise if the Arab Revolt succeeded in defeating the Ottoman army. However vague the British may have been in their promise to Hussein, the end result came as a betrayal to the Arabs who had supported the revolt. Instead of an Arab state, Britain and France chose to colonize the Eastern Arab world, working under the aegis of the new League of Nations to establish colonial mandates. French troops ousted Faisal from Damascus, captured the Syria mandate, and broke it up into provincial segments, following a divide-and-rule policy. Along the coast, France combined the old provinces of Mt. Lebanon and Beirut with areas to the north and south to create Greater Lebanon. Britain took the Palestine mandate and quickly divided it into two, with Palestine to the west of the River Jordan and Transjordan to the East. In Palestine, Britain applied the Balfour Declaration of November 2, 1917, promising to encourage the establishment of a Jewish homeland there. Britain united together the provinces of Basra, Baghdad, and Mosul to form the new country of Iraq, bringing Faisal in to serve as its new king. Britain and France both maintained their colonies in North Africa and Egypt.


Suddenly, by colonial fiat, Arabs became Lebanese, Jordanians, or Syrians, but those particular nations had no historical narratives, no flags, no anthems, and no unique ethnic, religious, or linguistic structures. No one in the new mandates had demanded that these political arrangements be made, but the interwar period saw the introduction of institutions associated solely with these new state structures. Despite the artificiality of these new areas, new state institutions did succeed in bringing people into the national projects during the mandate period; vested interests became indebted to these borders and institutions and so worked to solidify them. These borders have never been permanently erased and national identities have formed within them. Over the course of the twentieth century, new national definitions gradually differentiated Lebanese from Jordanians from Syrians.


Even as these new loyalties were slowly forming, the larger pan-national Arab identity did not disappear, but in fact became a potent tool of political opposition against the mandate governments. Activists in every country heaped approbation on local leaders who had agreed to work with the colonial powers and, by so doing, they steadfastly maintained their power and wealth despite many calls for a more equal distribution of resources. Students served as particularly enthusiastic actors lobbying for Arab political unity as the best possible solution to the problems existing in all the new Arab states. Young people at schools like AUB and the newly founded Egyptian University (1908) and the University of Damascus (1923) joined political parties such as Hizb al-Istiqlal (Independence Party) and the League of National Action, calling for Arab unity to destroy the weaknesses wrought by colonial political divisions. Arabs also became fervent proponents of Palestinian rights during the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine. Palestine, in this iteration, was a cause all Arabs should support because it was the beating heart of the Arab body; political divisiveness could only facilitate Zionism. In their writings, these young men and women envisioned a united Arab world that would harness its collective powers to alleviate poverty, break down the autocratic nature of governments, and force the Europeans and Zionists out of the Middle East.


When Egypt and the other Arab countries achieved political independence at the end of World War II, young activists attacked their governments for continuing their elitist policies and accused them of being incapable of protecting Palestine from the Israelis. Young and progressive leaders like Gamal Abdul Nasser of Egypt sparked passionate feeling when they mobilized their populations to support the political and socioeconomic revolutions they fronted. The Ba`th Party of Michel Aflaq and Salah al-Bitar, as well as a series of Arab nationalist parties, articulated the intellectual rationale for replacing the separate mandates with a united Arab nation. All these leaders rallied their citizenry to support the recovery of Palestine and the continuing liberation battles being waged throughout North Africa, all of them articulated through the perspective of Arab nationalism. Educational systems expanded, and professional and technocratic job opportunities proliferated. Supplementing the universities already in existence, Lebanese University (1951), Baghdad University (1957), and the University of Jordan (1962) provided new opportunities for higher education throughout the Arab world. Arab students all over the region enthusiastically protested on behalf of Nasser's policies and against those imposed by the West, with the United States slowly displacing Britain and France as the chief obstacle to Arab progress. People throughout the Arab world saw the 1950s as an exciting moment in history, when the Arab world could truly claim its independence. Fayez Sayegh, a political science professor at AUB in the 1960s, writes of the brief union of Egypt and Syria between 1958 and 1961:


For the first time in centuries, Arab forces have now appeared on the stage of Arab life ready and able to remake Arab history. For the first time in many centuries, Arab leadership has asserted itself as the principal actor on the stage of Arab life, abandoning alike the observer's seat and the spectatorial role formerly assigned to it. No longer is Arab society content with reciting a script written by someone else, or with suffering meekly during a performance, supposedly its own but actually designed neither for its enjoyment nor for its edification. At long last, the Arabs have now emerged, in their own homeland, as the makers of their own history.


This message could have been articulated ten or fifteen years earlier, for it expressed the young Arab desire for empowerment over Western imperialist policies and reactionary Arab governments.


When Israel occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in the June 1967 war, leftist students of the day turned away from leaders like Gamal Abdul Nasser, who had fronted the Arab nationalist movement of the 1950s, but continued to maintain their enthusiasm for the Arab revolution he had promised. In this new phase, they looked instead to the Palestinian fedayeen groups now taking the lead in the fight to regain Palestine and foment the Arab revolution. The different Palestinian militia organizations—Fatah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (DFLP), and others—took the lead in militarily attacking Israel. They did so from formal and informal bases in the surrounding Arab nations; in the process, they came into conflict with the Jordanian and Lebanese governments, which were opposed to such military exercises. They also gained enough credibility and support to take control over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), founded in 1964 but dominated by Nasser until the 1967 defeat. University students all over the region, such as those at AUB, passionately supported the Palestinian efforts.


Student Agency


Generations of students at SPC and AUB brought these individual and Arab national identities on to campus as they negotiated their relationship with the school's administration. Year after year, they embraced the school's programs; while doing so, however, they never served as passive actors, imbibing unconditionally the educational programs proffered to them. As at any educational institution, students do not participate in most of the discussions about the curricular program. However, throughout the long history of university life around the world, students have demanded of their administrators that they receive the right to engage with the educational process and its decision-making bodies. In these instances, students have seen discrete successes over the short term but much larger gains over the long term. As Philip Altbach explains, "There is often a tendency to judge student movements on the basis of the direct impact that students have. But this is too simplistic; the impact of student activism is often less direct and less immediately visible. Students might contribute an idea that does not yield results until years later." Altbach points to student success in breaking down in loco parentis regulations on American campuses by the 1950s and early 1960s as one example. Furthermore, "As students mature, they frequently bring some of the values and orientations learned on campus to the broader society. It is virtually impossible to quantify these less dramatic trends, but they are nonetheless quite important in assessing the impact of student activism." Students may be the consumers of a product constructed by others but only they can gauge the success of the programs thus enunciated, only they can determine whether the administrative aspirations for them have been met.


In the case of SPC and AUB, the students extolled the freedom of thought and expression so integral to the American conception of the educational program; they also enthusiastically used the tools acquired in the classroom to analyze their own shifting society. In just one exemplary quote, Munif al-Razzaz could report of his experience as a student in the 1930s:


Our minds were opened, but not only by reading books and articles. This was a cultured air . . . [and the encouragement of] participation in all elements of life, things not obtainable in the classroom alone. There was an air of discussion, in all possible discussions, and in all world topics. What we understood and what we did not understand, the interchange between all types of study and specialties and the interchange between students from most areas of the eastern Arab world, with some inoculation of foreign students. . . . All of that left in myself a new influence. It took my life and ideas and my mind into a new direction, similar to what happened to many of the other students.


The educational project of SPC and AUB encouraged such intellectual exploration as the only viable path for individual educational attainment. From their first protest in 1882, students took the lesson of active participation presented to them in the classroom and catalyzed the transformation of their relationship with the school's authority figures; they wrote their own educational coda on the pillars the school's leaders built. Students did so in petitions during the Darwin Affair of 1882 and the Muslim Controversy of 1909, in their own magazines as of 1899, and then as they took their debates into West Hall, the Milk Bar, and Faisal's Restaurant throughout the twentieth century.


For many years, the school's American leaders posited that the primary reason for opening the school was to impart their superior culture to a group of students in desperate need of their enlightenment. As Ussama Makdisi writes, the American missionaries arrived in the area in 1820 with a preconceived notion of a chasm "between an advanced, tolerant 'Judeo-Christian West' and its intolerant Islamic antithesis." Makdisi notes, "The idea of American missionaries as pioneers required that the Ottoman Empire be seen as an extension of the fabled American frontier, a semi-barbarous landscape in need of colonization and enlightenment by rugged 'American' individualism, liberal education, and above all religious toleration." Presidential speeches and writings indicate that this vision of the dichotomy between East and West flourished at the school and survived well into the twentieth century. For example, SPC president Howard Bliss said of the Syrians at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919,


They are intelligent, able, hospitable and lovable, but, together with the sure defects of a long oppressed race—timidity, love of flattery, indirectness—they also have the defects of a people who are face to face with the results of civilization without having passed through the processes of civilization. They lack balance; they are easily discouraged; they lack political fairness, they do not easily recognize the limitations of their own rights. They must therefore be approached with sympathy, firmness and patience. They are capable of nobly responding to the right appeal, and they will grow into capacity for self determination and independence.


Given these impressions, the early presidents of SPC and AUB frequently expressed their hope that the school's graduates would become student missionaries, spreading the Protestant American civilizational template to their own backward societies.


The students initially accepted this civilizational construct; between 1899 and the mid-1930s, students wrote their own narratives of modernity, building on both the civilizational template disseminated by the Americans on campus and the Arab writers of the nahda. Their focus was on the Western traits they, as modern men and women, should acquire. In their publications, they debated the characteristics of masculine and feminine modernity, seeking out the path to progress so many of their colleagues outside the Main Gate likewise sought. The students looked to the American leaders of the school as unique authorities over the proper blueprint for modernity. With a reenergized Arab nationalism guiding them by the 1930s, the students still sought out character transformation but no longer favored the old Western models; they increasingly emulated heroes from their own society. By the 1950s, students pushed to allow Arab political and national identity to become part of their educational experience. As a result of this long negotiation between the administration and the students, the school still models the American liberal educational structure, but it has become an Arab institution as well.


In 1866, all the students enrolled at SPC came from Ottoman-controlled Syria (the modern states of Syria and Lebanon). Students from the area officially designated as Lebanon after 1920 have comprised the largest individual group of nationals on campus in any given year, usually representing between 40 to 50 percent of all students. Syrians, as a separate category, have typically made up about 10 to 15 percent of the student body. Egyptians registered as about 19 percent of the students in 1904–1905, but gradually dropped in number thereafter. By the 1950s, Egyptian students accounted for only about 1 percent of the student body, in large part due to the increase in higher education opportunities in Egypt as well as a strong Egyptian nationalist ethos which encouraged students to study at home. Palestinians gradually took the second spot, increasing their enrollments from 11.3 percent in the 1920–1921 academic year to an average of 29 percent in the 1930s. In the 1950s, Palestinians and Jordanians together accounted for 22 percent of the student body.


The dominant student discourse throughout the school's life has been pan-Arab, reflecting the Arab origins of most students and the intellectual milieu which evolved over the course of the school's existence. When students wrote about how they wanted to be transformed by their educational experience, they generally spoke of themselves as individuals or as Arabs. The longest running organization representing the Lebanese students was Rabita, the Lebanese Student League, founded after the 1958 Lebanese crisis and functioning on campus through the 1970s. Even with this organization and the large numbers of Lebanese citizens represented on campus, Lebanese concerns never held much sway in the campus space until the outbreak of the Lebanese civil war (1975–1989). When specifically national issues came to the forefront, particularly those related to Palestine from the 1930s forward, or those related to Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt starting in the 1950s, the call to aid their causes came wrapped up as an Arab one. The Americans encouraged the construction of a space of tolerance for all religious and national groups represented on campus; liberal education necessitated breaking down any such barriers that might impede freedom of speech and discussion. Elie Salam (\`50) said of the school in his era, "It was a very exciting period and we all came from [a] very provincial background, all the students at AUB. The good thing about AUB is that for the first time a Christian Orthodox from this area meets a Sunni Palestinian or a Sunni Beiruti or an Iraqi and they are all searching for their identity and for their dreams, and so it was a very intense acculturation period for the students at AUB." The students turned this situation into a space where Arabness diluted the differences between students; Arabness recognized common problems and solutions for the Arab world as a whole. The students, as Arabs, wrote about the need to gain the education necessary for leading their countries to independence and political unification. As a result, when examining the most common political positions in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, students wrote most frequently as Arabs, not as Lebanese, Syrians, Palestinians, or Egyptians.


University Writings and Writers


Between 1866 and 1920, the faculty and the administration were one and the same; after that point, when the administration began to take on a separate corporate identity, individual faculty members holding positions within the administration spoke in the name of that administration in all formal university documents and statements. Individual faculty members have left few of their views about the school, the administration, or the students in the written record. As a result, this book primarily addresses the relationship between the administration and the student body, for only their voices provide sufficient coverage for analysis. In this book, the terms administration and leaders designate the dominant ideology emanating from the administration at any moment in the period under study, by definition reflecting the opinions of the faculty members who chose to accept administrative posts. Only those students who put names to bylines, held student office, wrote memoirs, recorded interviews, or are otherwise readily recognizable have been identified by name in this book. Over the years, student publications queried many a student about his or her opinion; those students have not been individually singled out in this text. Memoirs and oral interviews have been used sparingly because they tell the story of the school with the benefit of hindsight, not contemporaneously. Examining the evolution of the educational process requires an analysis of its elements as they were taking place, not as graduates think back and reminisce about their school days. With these considerations in mind, throughout this book the term students applies to the most active and prolific of the writers, political leaders, and demonstrators on campus, while also denoting large and often majority support for the ideas they expressed. Most of the book examines the realm that began as the Literary Department, became the Collegiate Department, and is now the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, because the school's core pedagogical elements developed there.


To analyze the prevailing administrative opinions, this study investigates the many presidential speeches archived at the school. The speeches cited at the beginning of this chapter are useful and necessary because they spell out the meta-narrative of the school's identity. These statements encapsulate the public persona of the institution and provide a framework for the gradual and smaller changes that occurred on campus year to year. In the case of SPC and AUB, they posit the need for students to be holistically transformed by the school's program, guided by Protestant and American educational models and their progenitors on campus. In these statements, the presidents articulate what they hope the school will bestow upon its students.


Faculty meetings, presidents' reports, letters to the board of trustees in New York, course catalogues, and the alumni journal al-Kulliyah lay out the actual process by which SPC and AUB shifted its program from proselytizing for Christianity to proselytizing for an American template for modernity, transitioning from the remnants of the classical American educational system to one based in liberal education. These documents illustrate how these developments took place and focus on such decisions as those that expanded elective offerings and established separate departments for each discipline. These decisions, while small in and of themselves, allowed for the teaching of new tools for validating many truths rather than the understanding of one; they created the liberal education system when they opened many legitimate gateways to knowledge. These sources also lay out a picture of the ongoing and changing relationship between the administration and the students, because every major event on campus makes an appearance in these texts. Under Daniel Bliss, discussion of the intersection of religion and science in the Darwin Affair appears alongside lists of the many punishments meted out for students breaking curfew and climbing over the walls. Under Howard Bliss, during whose tenure Muslim and Jewish students walked out of chapel and Bible classes in spring 1909, these documents illustrate the search for the basal elements of the school's educational program. Under Bayard Dodge, speeches lay out the man the students ought to become as a result of their AUB experience. And under Samuel B. Kirkwood (1965–1976), annual reports detail the many moments of student rebellion. In general, these documents are aspirational rather than expositional in that they outline the programs the authors hope will enhance the educational experience for the students; they do not illuminate how the students actually responded.


For sources on student opinions, the school's archives contain dozens of publications. Students published a magazine or newspaper for part of almost every year between 1899 and 2010, failing to do so only in the years 1918, 1921, 1922, 1947, 1948, and between 1974 and 1997. From 1899 to 1932, students—individually, in small groups, through the venue of student societies, and as class assignments—issued handwritten and then typewritten magazines. In 1906 alone, the students published sixteen different papers, the largest output in any given year of the school's existence. The longest running magazine of this era was the Students' Union Gazette, published by the elected Students' Union and issued irregularly between 1912 and 1932. The Union had as its aim "the cultivation and development of public speaking and parliamentary discipline among its members." The earliest of these papers were in Arabic, but increasingly appeared in English; a small number of editors chose to publish in French or Armenian. Several papers combine two or more languages. Christians began this era comprising almost 90 percent of the student body; they ended the period representing about 50 percent of it. Because of their dominance on campus in this era, Christians make up the largest group of identifiable authors of these early student magazines. Students typically produced two copies of each issue, with one copy left at the library and one available for distribution among the student body. The AUB archives contain very few complete runs of these early publications because many have been lost to time; however, in total, the library collection includes issues from sixty-three separate student magazines published between 1899 and 1932. From 1933 to 1946, students issued al-Kulliyah Review; the Arabic Society, al-`Urwa al-Wuthqa, published its own magazine from 1923 to 1930 and again from 1936 to 1954; from 1949 to 1974, Outlook served as the primary student newspaper, with the Civic Welfare League (CWL) contributing Focus from 1952 to 1965. Outlook reappeared in 1997, filling a campus publishing gap left empty since 1974.


Faculty advisors supervised all of the student magazines and newspapers, but this does not negate the student agency displayed within them. Student writers used these papers to articulate their views of the school and the role they hoped to play in the dynamic world outside the Main Gate. Between 1899 and 1932, faculty censors could not have persuaded the students to be so effusive about SPC and AUB aspirations for them if the students had not ascribed to the same ideas. The years of constant attack against the school's administration in the pages of Outlook could not have occurred if faculty censorship had weighed too heavily on the paper. If the faculty had dictated the goals of these papers, the students would not have been so enthusiastic in using them as an outlet for articulating their political, national, and educational identities. Further, the students did not produce narratives marginalized from the larger debates developing outside the school's confines. Students found affirmation for their analyses in the newspapers published throughout the region, many of which treated the quest for modernity and national identity just as the students were doing. Faculty censors assuredly played a role in these papers, but the world which the writers produced for their readers comes primarily from the pen of the students. Since 1899, these student writers have offered a cohesive written narrative of the issues affecting their academic lives by laying out guidelines for their own individual and group ambitions. Their goals frequently matched those set by the administration, but the students just as often wrote narratives of their futures independent of those mapped out by the school's leaders. As a result, the students present themselves as strong voices of authority concerning the educational experience they were imbibing and also, in their minds, constructing. Empowered by the school's educational programs and their own Arab concerns, they demanded that they be accorded respect as equal citizens of the institution. As these student publications show, students have for a century and a half forged their own way of fulfilling the motto emblazoned across the Main Gate: "That they may have life and have it more abundantly".




In 2009, President Dorman said of the school, "Although it's possible—superficially—to view AUB as a collection of buildings and people and classes and research labs, it is in essence a series of dialogues, relationships, and interactions." This book examines these "dialogues, relationships, and interactions" to show how they influenced the evolution of the school's educational program; embedded in this story is the evolving debate about the nature of authority wielded by American and Arab interlocutors on campus and off. In the long periods of accommodation between the administration and the students, as well as the relatively short periods of conflict, all the actors generated change in the educational programs at SPC and AUB. Study of the school's educational history proves how adaptable the school's pedagogical focus has been. Alterations in American education shifted SPC from classical to liberal education; changes within Arab political and intellectual spheres forced AUB to become an institution perfectly fitted for Beirut. Administrative and student voices helped make these transitions take place.




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