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On Past Presidents and Football Stratagems: Fifty Years of Memories at AUB
Reviews: Small Change in Ancient Beirut
 

Spring 2007 Vol. V, No. 3

Maingate Connections

On Past Presidents and Football Stratagems

Dr. Yusuf Shibl, a senior AUB lecturer in finance, recently published Memories of Half a Century at AUB (Dar Al-Arabiyya Lil-Oloum: 2006), which includes detailed descriptions of many activities that took place at AUB during the last fifty years. Shibl reintroduces many of the professors, staff, and politically active students he encountered, and takes the reader on a tour of AUB’s neighborhood as it once was. Extracts follow.

Editors’ note: Dr. Yusuf Shibl passed away on April 16, 2007. One of the last things he did before he passed away was to work with MainGate on this piece. We’ve included these excerpts as a tribute to his work.

I have spent more than half a century on the AUB campus. I was a student in the Department of Economics for a time and a teacher in the School of Business for a longer time. When I joined AUB as a freshman in 1951, Stephen Penrose was president. He was an unequalled scientist and a forceful speaker with a very strong personality. Samuel Edgecombe, the first dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, was also at AUB then. It was during his term that the university farm in the Beqa’a Valley was established. He actually died at the farm in February 1959, three years after the first FAFS class of 22 students graduated. The second class to graduate included Nuhad Daghir, who only just retired as dean.

Another person I remember from those years was Dean of Engineering Ken Weidner—a man with a strong personality and vision of the future. He maintained a close relationship with his students and led the engineering team in its yearly confrontation in football with Arts and Sciences. In 1961, a failed fourth-year student stabbed Dean Weidner in the back with a knife because he refused to pass him.

At that time, all students met in Assembly Hall (it was called the Chapel then), three times a week at 9:30 am to listen to hymns accompanied by Salvador Arnita at the organ. Every ten days or so, President Penrose would deliver a speech on an academic, social, or humanitarian topic. Penrose died in his prime at the age of 53 at Marquand House in 1954. The entire campus grieved. Thousands of students gathered at Assembly Hall and insisted on carrying his coffin to the end of Bliss Street where an ambulance was waiting. The coffin was taken to the Anglo-American Cemetery escorted by many cars. It was one of the largest funerals ever seen in Ras Beirut.

Subsequently, Dr. Constantin Zurayk was named vice president. I was among the graduates in 1955 who received my diploma from him. At the time the University included the Faculties of Medicine, Pharmacy (it closed in 1965), Engineering, Agriculture, Arts and Sciences, and Business. It also included a number of distinguished Arab and American faculty members in all specialties. There were 3,500 students from Syria, Jordan, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Gulf in addition to students from Africa who were financially supported by the Point Four Program, a US government program that provided aid to developing countries.

Memories of students

I have memories of so many students. Probably the most famous student at AUB in the early to mid- 1950s was Abdelazim Quaraman. Abdelazim, nicknamed Azzoum, graduated from AUB in 1955 with a BA in political science. He should have graduated in 1950, but during his “daring” career he shifted between all the various specialties at AUB. He arrived for graduation in an open-top car, standing to greet the students who had gathered for the ceremony. When his name was called, everyone stood up and applauded. After the ceremony, a huge group of students walked with him to Faysal’s Restaurant where owner Farid Faysal prepared a special dish called the “Azzoum Split.” The next day Azzoum received a telegram from the Jordanian Minister of Economy Hamad El-Farhan, who had been his classmate. It said: “We were surprised and stunned to hear news of your success. Please confirm by asking Registrar Farid Fuleihan.” Ironically, Abdul Aziz went on to have a very successful career. He worked as a public relations official for the US Air Force in Dhahran.

We also had a bright student named Riyad Rida Irani, who graduated when he was

only 19. He later became a distinguished chemical scientist and was eventually named president of the Occidental Company. He is now cochair of AUB’s Board of Trustees and one of the most renowned businessmen in the United States.

Cultural and Sports Activities
Between 1951 and 1955, cultural and sports activities were at a zenith at AUB. There were several cultural associations that were active on campus including Al-Urwa al-Wuthqa and the Civic Welfare League (CWL). Al-Urwa al-Wuthqa was founded in 1918 and was a focus for cultural and political activity. The association sponsored some wonderful cultural events on campus. I remember performances by Halim Al-Roumi and Wadeeh El Safi, also one by Fairuz, and the Rahbani Brothers. Also, the dean of Arab literature, Taha Hussein, visited campus as did Egyptian novelist Mahmoud Taymour, who gave a lecture in West Hall in 1954.

Students staged a large demonstration in March 1954 to protest the Baghdad Pact. Security forces quelled the demonstration harshly: Hassan Abou Ismail was killed and Mustafa Nasrallah was seriously injured. As a result, the university administration ordered Al-Urwa al-Wuthqa Association disbanded. Some students were expelled, and others received a warning.

Sports activity was intense on campus. Among the most exciting events to take place each year was the traditional football match between Arts and Sciences and Engineering. Preparations began on campus with attacks and counter attacks by students from both faculties using water balloons and anything they could lay their hands on as ammunition. Ambushes continued right up until the two teams descended to the Green Field where supporters converged in large demonstrations with drums and clarions. Supporters of the winning team celebrated all night and supporters of the losers went to bed early and dreamed of revenge next year.

These are just some of Dr. Shibl’s wonderful—and some of his earliest—memories of his 50 years at AUB.

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