Beirut’s cultural importance is embodied in its five major universities, which attract students from all over the Arab world and beyond. Lebanon is home to the oldest private university in the Near East region, which is located on the most beautiful coastal area at the tip of the city of Beirut. The campus covers 65 acres of gardens, 19th century buildings and wooded areas. It has a rich collection of flowers, shrubs and trees, an archeological museum, and a private beach for students and staff, making it the most beautiful campus in the region.
In 1862, W.M. Thomson proposed in a meeting at the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions that a college of higher learning, that would include medical training, should be established in Beirut with Daniel Bliss as its President.
On April 24, 1863, the State of New York granted a charter for the Syrian Protestant College. The college opened with a class of 16 students on December 3, 1866. Dr. Bliss served as its first president, from 1866 until 1902.On November 18, 1920, the name of the institution changed from the Syrian Protestant College to the American University of Beirut. At the end of June 2011, the number of degrees and diplomas awarded since June 1870 totaled 82,032.
Ranked as the number one university in Lebanon and among the top 250 universities in the world by the QS World University Rankings, the American University of Beirut bases its educational philosophy, standards, and practices on the American liberal arts model of higher education. A teaching-centered research university, it encourages freedom of thought and expression and seeks to graduate men and women committed to creative and critical thinking, life-long learning, personal integrity, civic responsibility, and leadership.
The American University of Beirut Medical Center, part of AUB, has received recently institutional accreditation from a leading US medical organization, the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education – International (AGGME-I), becoming the first in Lebanon and fourth worldwide to obtain such recognition.
The cornerstone of College Hall, the first building on the present campus was laid on December 7, 1871. At the ceremony President Daniel Bliss expressed the guiding principle of the college in these words that still resonate true today:
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, Mohammedan 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.
Walking through campus, I tiptoe across memories of years gone by that shaped me into becoming the person I am today. This haven in the heart of Beirut, with its lush greenery, overlooking the Mediterranean sea, has contributed to the wealth of this country, like no other institution has, for the last 150 years, by committing to educating generations, teaching them that the difference between wishing for change in this country and actually being able to do it, is through the approach of higher skills.
Throughout it all, this institution persevered in its vision of education for a better future which is written in stone at its main gate entrance: THAT THEY MAY HAVE LIFE AND HAVE IT MORE ABUNDANTLY. Because as Nelson Mandela so simply stated once “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
So here’s to you, old friend, a pillar of the Lebanese…
An aerial view of AUB campus today: