American president for Beirut

January 30, 1998

THE FIRST American president of the American University of Beirut to be based on campus since his predecessor Malcolm Kerr was killed in 1984 takes up his post this month.

John Waterbury, who began his tenure on New Year's Day, was appointed last July when the United States government finally lifted restrictions on Americans travelling to Lebanon.

During his preliminary visit to the campus last October, attackers on motorcycles tossed four sticks of commercial grade dynamite into the campus causing minor local damage in a parking lot adjacent to two faculty apartment buildings, but there were no casualties.

But if he has any reservations about the risks of the job - in addition to the death of Malcolm Kerr another president, David S. Dodge, great-grandson of founder Daniel Bliss, was kidnapped in 1982 - Dr Waterbury is not admitting it.

"I am no more apprehensive today than I was when I accepted the presidency," he said.

A former director of Princeton University Center of International Studies, devoted to the research of international affairs, war and peace, and development, Dr Waterbury was editor of the institution's quarterly journal World Politics. He also taught politics and international affairs at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School and earned the endowed William Stewart Tod professorial chair.

"The challenge is what might be called 'damage control' to return AUB to some kind of normalcy," Dr Waterbury said.

AUB suffered immensely during nearly 15 years of Lebanese civil war. "Many faculty members left. The emphasis at the university was on survival, even if it meant improvising and cutting corners."

Beirut was once a hub of Middle East commerce and a playground for wealthy Arab nationals. AUB functioned as the Middle East's premier institution of higher learning, attracting students from inside and outside the region. The student base changed in the troubles and few non-Lebanese came.

Though enrolment is almost exclusively resident Lebanese, Dr Waterbury hopes to attract students from abroad. "If we have first-rate departments and faculty members we will become attractive in many quarters."

Dr Waterbury hopes to promote "junior year abroad" programmes, which once attracted large numbers of students. He hopes some Americans would spend four years there. "There are also the children of many AUB graduates in the US, whom I hope will see the university as an attractive place for undergraduate education," he said.

Dr Waterbury feels his second challenge is planning for the next century. He aims to focus on how best to serve the Lebanese nation as well as the Middle East region.

"Within two years I would like to have a 'mission statement' that will guide me and the university as a whole in fund-raising and recruiting," he said. Dr Waterbury can expect significant assistance. After a 1991 terrorist bombing destroyed historic College Hall and adjacent Jafet Memorial Library, nearly $20 million was raised to rebuild them. AUB alumni, 20 of whom signed the original United Nations charter, and nations throughout the Arab world have shown a commitment to the university's future.

New buildings will have state of the art interiors, but the restoration will entail authentic replication of the original exterior design.

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