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Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Endows a New Center for American Studies and Research

AUB’s Campaign for Excellence, which is less than a year old, recently received a major boost when Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Abdulaziz Alsaud of Saudi Arabia made a $5.2 million gift to establish a Center for American Studies and Research (CASAR) at the University. The gift was announced on June 4 at the Movenpick Hotel in Beirut, where Prince Alwaleed and AUB President John Waterbury signed the memorandum of understanding establishing the center, which will be a focal point for activities at AUB to increase knowledge and understanding of the United States in the Middle East.
The prince presented President Waterbury with two checks, one for $5 million and another for $238,000—the first to be used to establish an endowment fund to support the center’s ongoing operations, and the second to be used as seed money to set up the center.
In announcing the gift, Prince Alwaleed spoke eloquently of his “affection and esteem for AUB and for the role it has played in the development of the Middle East.” He paid tribute to the University’s founding fathers and their dedication to “assist individuals in their search for self-discovery, to instill a sense of mutual respect and tolerance within a community, and to sharpen the notion of civic responsibility.” These themes echoed recent statements by President Waterbury who, when launching AUB’s five-year $140-million campaign, highlighted the significant role that AUB has played—and continues to play—“in spreading the values of tolerance and mutual respect that are central to the mission and character of the University.” Although those values have always been worthy goals, he said, they have never been more important than they are today.
Prince Alwaleed, in commenting on the timeliness of the gift, expressed his hope that the center will deepen Arab understanding of the United States, as well as “bridge the gap that emerged between the United States and the Arab World on the heels of the tragic events of September 11.” It is clear that the prince believes the center— and the similar one he recently established at the American University in Cairo—will play an effective role in accomplishing that aim. There is critical need in the Arab world, he said, for continuous and systematic study of American history, civil society, governmental institutions, law, politics, economics, political parties, and interest groups—more so now than ever before. He contrasted the “tireless study and investigation of virtually every facet of Arab life” by AUB’s founders with the absence today in Middle Eastern universities of “viable centers” devoted to the study of other peoples and cultures.

 



Professor David Koistinen, who teaches courses on American history in AUB’s Department of History and Archaeology, agrees that there is a need for—and an interest in—this type of program at AUB. He says that he has noticed among his students a real hunger for courses on American history and society. Although many AUB students are familiar with the United States and many aspects of American culture, they often lack a sophisticated understanding of the nuances of American politics and society. Prince Alwaleed, in his statement, spoke of the “glib and sweeping generalizations that one constantly hears about the United States, very often from people who should know better.”
Although planning for the new center is still at a very early stage, Provost Peter Heath reports that Prince Alwaleed’s gift will make it possible for AUB to recruit faculty with expertise in a number of disciplines, including American foreign policy and domestic politics, as well as American literature and popular American culture (film, media, etc.).
In accepting the gift, President Waterbury spoke of AUB’s historic mission to be “a bridge of understanding between the Middle East and the United States. The center will foster teaching, research, and conferences focused on the dynamics of American history, society, and politics.” He noted that Prince Alwaleed’s thoughtful and generous gift would enable AUB to build a program that will be unique in the region. The president, who has spoken of the importance of AUB’s regional mission on a number of occasions, said that the center will “allow us to forge links with other educational institutions in the region and in the United States.”
For many years, AUB has attracted Americans who were interested in learning more about the Middle East. One can imagine a time in the not too distant future when AUB will become a magnet for those in the region who are interested in learning more about the United States.