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Fall 2006 Vol. V, No. 1

Summer, Interrupted

Jean- Marie Cook

When disaster struck, AUB reached out to the community. But what happened on the campus itself during the 34-day war? The first hurdle occurred July 12, when AUB’s smoothly running summer session was abruptly interrupted by the Israeli bombardment and subsequent closing of the Rafic Hariri International Airport.

AUB moved efficiently into crisis mode to secure the safety of students, faculty, and staff; to keep the University as operational as possible; to ensure a continuing supply of fuel, electricity, water, and necessary supplies; and to organize aid teams and projects. By the weekend severely damaged bridges and highways were preventing many students, faculty, and staff from reaching the University. On July 16 the University announced the suspension of all summer school classes until further notice and the cancellation of the CAMES (Center for Arabic and Middle Eastern Studies) summer Arabic program. The hospital would remain open and completely functional throughout the war.

On July 13, AUB revived the Crisis Response Team (CRT), which had been deployed during the second Iraq war in 2003. The CRT’S daily morning crisis management meetings were led by Vice President George Tomey (later to be appointed acting president). Evacuation of foreign students and those with dual nationality was a top CRT priority. Foreign students on campus included international students in regular degree programs, around 80 foreign students enrolled in the CAMES Arabic language program, and around 20 young American children of alumni in the Alumni Association of North America (AANA) summer program. Vice President of Human Resources Jim Radulski and Caroline Chalouhi, coordinator of International Student Services, organized three major evacuations, working closely with US Embassy personnel preparing evacuations for American citizens.

On July 18 some 60-80 students, mostly CAMES students, were evacuated by bus to the port area and then by ship to Cyprus. Another group of non-western foreign students, including Jordanians, Syrians, and Iranians, plus a few American students who had missed the first student evacuation, left overland through Syria on July 21. Some students from Iran, worried about an “American” evacuation, were quickly reassured that all foreign students wishing to leave would be helped. The following day 110 faculty members, their families, and some staff members were taken by bus to the port, and then evacuated by ship to Cyprus.

The CRT was determined to keep the University as operational as possible. All essential data, including student records, were backed up on off-campus servers in Lebanon and in the United States. A satellite link-up was installed to be available in the event of the collapse of IP servers and/or the loss of regular cell phone communication. Luckily, the new HIP (Health Insurance Plan) arrangement allowing subscribers to use MedNet Network Clinics located all over the country, went into effect on July 21.

More than 700 essential personnel (chiefly those working at the hospital, power plant, and Office of Protection) and their families were moved onto campus or to near-by hotels. Families (some of whom had actually lost their homes in the destructive bombing of the southern suburbs) were given two room “apartments” in Penrose Hall; a few professors were moved into vacated faculty apartments on campus. The CRT kept the AUB community up-to-date on housing, food allowances (since cooking was impossible in the dorms), and attendance policies.

“Fuel was my biggest worry, followed by water, and essential supplies,” said Acting President Tomey in mid-August. As the Israeli blockade of air, sea, and land routes into the country squeezed the fuel supply, the Electricité du Liban (EDL) began rationing, providing electricity to all hospitals for only 10 out of 24 hours, forcing AUB to dip into its reserves and raising the specter of shutting down the hospital. The CRT ordered strict conservation of electricity and water on campus, although residents noted little reduction in the use of air conditioning and water. When just a little over a week’s supply remained, threatening evacuation of patients from the hospital, AUB was able to buy some fuel on the local market.

In late July water resources were disrupted when a line feeding Beirut from Damoor was hit. The University managed to purchase some water, and a crisis was averted, but the fuel supply remained a major concern.

At the outset of the fighting, building plans and projects related to the Hostler Student

Center, the Old Out-Patient Building, and Building 56 came largely to a halt. Vice President Samir Maamari, then director of the Facilities Planning and Design Unit, reported the shutdown of construction on eight building projects and five small renovation and infrastructure jobs. The new Scientific Research Building, located near the women’s dorms on lower campus, was within one week of completion, when the war broke out and prevented the delivery of lab furniture. Five proto-type classrooms in the rear of Nicely Hall, designed to introduce the latest classroom technology (flexible seating, moveable chairs, special lighting and projection facilities, wireless connections) to students and faculty were almost ready for testing when the violence began. Day laborers, many from Syria, streamed out of the country. Skilled laborers, technical managers of the construction workers, left their jobs. Contractors’ material shipments were returned or rerouted to Italy, Cyprus, and Turkey, meaning additional cost to the University, which will have to reimburse the contractors for these expenses. Landscaping in front of the hospital’s emergency room ground to a halt. Bids and awarding of contracts also ended. Maamari, who is refreshingly optimistic, urges patience and understanding. “We have had a major hit, but we will be going forward with the job in the shortest and most economical way possible.”

Another victim of the Israeli invasion was the AUB beach, polluted by the massive oil spill from the Jiyyeh power plant, hit on July 13. Black tar soiled the rocks. The AUB beach had already closed a few days into the war, but it remained closed because of a Ministry of the Environment order against swimming in the sea and the risk of contamination from possible carcinogens in the fuel oil. Azmi Imad, head of EHSRM (Environmental Health, Safety and Risk Management) has asked the ministry to include the AUB beach in their internationally funded $150 million clean-up program. Although he hopes that students will volunteer to help, he points out that “this kind of clean-up needs special equipment and chemicals.” He hopes that if the beach is cleaned this winter, it will be ready to open in the summer of 2007.

In a message sent to the AUB community on July 24, President Waterbury concluded, “As you go forward in these difficult days and weeks, remember the 140 years of this institution’s history. AUB has known many hard times including several episodes of famine and civil strife. We have always survived and come back stronger. This time will be no exception."
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