The Syrian Protestant College and the Great War (1914-18) > 1917 > A struggling College: Temporary Closure and Change of Curriculum

As the United States entered the war in April, 1917, official diplomatic relations between the US and the Ottoman Empire were severed. As a result, the Ottoman Vali of Beirut, Azmi Bey, ordered President Howard Bliss to close down SPC. The College was closed (with the exception of the Dental School, perhaps due to Dr. Dray's good standing with the authorities, as Dray had performed a successful and difficult surgery on Azmi Bey's jaw), classes were interrupted and the gates shut: however, two weeks later, the American Ambassador in Istanbul, Henry Morgenthau, persuaded the Ottoman Government to revoke the decision, and classes at SPC resumed as normal. In that same month, the Director of the American Press, Mr. Asad Khairallah, who had been deported to Adana by the Ottoman authorities, was released upon a personal intervention from Jamal Pasha, following a request from President Bliss. One can only wonder at the skilled diplomacy behind these two decisions, and at the good relations that Jamal Pasha seemed to have with both President Bliss and with the American Consul, Mr. Morgenthau.

 

 

SPC Main Gate closed in 1917
SPC Main Gate closed, 1917, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library , AUB

 

 

 

The Ottoman Government also agreed to allow Americans and their official representatives to leave Lebanon by way of Syrian and Turkish ports. Among the group that departed was the Consul General in Beirut, Mr. Stanley Hollis, the American Vice-Consul, as well as many SPC Faculty members with their families.

American Counsel Farewell Letter, May 6, 1917
American Counsel Farewell Letter, May 6, 1917, AUB Archives Collections, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library , AUB

During these hard times, the College administration was concerned not only with keeping the College functioning, with the safety of its Staff, Faculty and students, but it also had the foresight to reassess its educational standards and requirements with a view towards instilling excellence and meeting changing social needs, both in line with its pre-war plans, and as dictated by the challenging realities surrounding it.

With much foresight, the College established an "Efficiency Committee" whose mission was to work on ways to improve student and faculty productivity, to attract the best possible students, to improve its professional schools, and to devise programs that can prepare students to the competititve and highly developing world of medicine and science. It was decided that prospective medical students would be subject to an examination in addition to their secondary certification, that a fifth year of study be added to the Medical School Program, and that a Deanship of the Medical Department be installed, thus giving the Medical School the support, independence and foresight planning it needed to flourish and grow.

Change in Medical Curriculum  August 20, 1914
Change in Medical Curriculum August 20, 1914, Howard Bliss Collection, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library , AUB

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