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An "American University of Beirut" not a "Syrian Protestant College

AUB Logo.jpg

AUB Logo, ca. 1920, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

During this year, the Administration put forth to the Board of Trustees its proposal to change the name of the Syrian Protestant College to the American University of Beirut. the War had given further credence to the College's plan to move further in the direction of a secular Liberal Arts college, to emphasize the virtues of social and public commitment as essential elements of a liberal arts education, to expand its programs to a full fledged university, and to incorporate service to the community along with strong academics and stellar professional schools in its plans and vision. On November 18, 1920, the College officially changed its name to the "American University of Beirut".


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Main Gate of Syrian Protestant College, ca. 1919, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

The minutes of the meeting of the Board of Trustees held to discuss the name change proposal continue as follows: "The  Trustees voted unanimously to change the name of the institution to "The American University of Beirut," applying to the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York for an amendment to the charter which should comprehend the enlargement of function implied in the change of title. This amendment was granted on November 18, 1920. (Appendix F.) The proposal to call the institution a University was not new. As far back as 1901 the Board of Managers had voted to change the  corporate name to "Syrian Protestant University." To this proposal the Trustees had replied that "in the opinion of this Board it is desirable to postpone for a somewhat longer period the taking of the necessary steps to assume the title of 'University.' [...] The war, of course, interfered with the realization of this hope, but it was taken up again at the Trustees' meeting in May 1919. In view of the changed political situation in Syria it seemed better than simply "Beirut University" or "Beirut Christian University," as had earlier been suggested. "Syrian Protestant University" was undesirable for two reasons. The institution was no longer Syrian, for its students came from all the countries in the Near East. It was inadvisable to continue the term Protestant because students and faculty now represented nearly every religious form in the Near East and there was no point in needlessly emphasizing sectarian distinctions. [...]"

SPC Board of Trustees, v. 8, January 30, ; President's Annual Report, v.4. 1911·12, p. 25, AUB Archives.

Main Gate of the American University of Beirut, ca. 1970s.jpg

Main Gate of the American University of Beirut, ca. 1970s, Archives and Special Collections, Jafet Library, AUB

The minutes of the same session continue: "The proposal to broaden the charter and change the name was submitted to the New York State Board of Regents, but though they approved of the charter change they objected to the name. Their position was that they had no right to grant the use of the term "American" to an institution in a prominent location where diplomatic relations might be delicate, and furthermore, to call it the "University of Beirut" might cause misunderstanding with the French or local educational organizations in the city. [...] A flood of letters from Syrians insisting upon the name "American University of Beirut," was the result of this reference, and as it was apparent that this name was the overwhelming choice of those who might be expected to object, the Board of Regents reconsidered its action. The charter amendment was granted incorporating the name which the institution has since borne. The Syrian Protestant College was now the American University of Beirut."

SPC Board of Trustees Minutes, v. 8, January 30, 1902; President's Annual Report, v.4. 1911·12, p. 25, AUB Archives