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"AUB in 1948" - excerpts of President Stephen B. L. Penrose Jr.'s article for the Whitman Alumnus magazine

Summer 2007 Vol. V, No. 4

"AUB in 1948" - excerpts of President Stephen B. L. Penrose Jr.'s article for the Whitman Alumnus magazine

To the Editors:

My father, the late Stephen B. L. Penrose Jr., was the fourth president of AUB (1948-54). Just recently my brother, sister and I were going through some of the family papers and letters from those years, and we came across an article written by my dad that was as timely then (in 1948) as it would be today. He was writing for his own alumni magazine, the Whitman Alumnus, on the reasons why he was excited about accepting the presidency of AUB in those troubled times. My siblings and I thought you might be interested in reading it.

We all read our copies of the MainGate even though we are not AUB alumni. Our years in Beirut were very special to each of us and we still consider AUB our home.

Mary (Polly) Penrose Colby
Margaret (Dale) Penrose Harrell
Stephen B. L. Penrose, III

AUB in 1948 - excerpts from an article for Whitman Alumnus magazine Spring 1948

"…Perhaps I can say something about the University itself, and I may be able to give a little insight into the reasons for my overpowering interest in it.

For historical background it should be said that the institution is eighty two years old and that it is quite certainly the largest American college outside the United States. Combined as it is with International College, which offers the preparatory work through junior college level, the American University of Beirut now has some 2500 students from four different countries and probably twenty five different religious groups. Its campus stretches for nearly a mile along the shore of the Mediterranean, and I offer a free challenge to any college anywhere to surpass it in beauty. In its entire history the AUB has had but three presidents - and average tenure of twenty seven years - which is a remarkable indication of the devotion to duty which has characterized my predecessors. Furthermore, they were exceptionally able men, who produced in a foreign land an American university with standards and equipment worthy of respect among universities in the States, and with an influence far exceeding that of the majority of them. The medical school used to be known as the best east of Vienna. It may now be, and I hope it will be, the best east of New York.

Of even greater interest than these facts is the situation in which the University currently finds itself. It is riding a knife edge of uncertainty, hone to uncomfortable sharpness by the file of conflicting political interests. It operates in the heart of an area of crucial importance to the world's future, at a time when American prestige in that area is at the lowest ebb in history because of the short-sighted and misguided policies being pursued by our government. If the United States should send troops to protect the proposed Zionist state in Palestine, the University would probably find it impossible to continue operation because of the flaming resentment against anything American which would result.

It may be wondered why I stick my neck out by going to the Middle East at such a time. An answer which is as good as any is that my father taught me never to gamble on a certainty. It is just the uncertainty of the future which makes the position peculiarly intriguing. If there are possibilities of disaster, the opportunities for real service are by contrast all the greater and more compelling. The necessity for maintaining and strengthening all possible counterbalancing influences is overpowering. The American University of Beirut has, throughout its history, been one of the most powerful of these influences.

If the need is great, so also is the opportunity. The new and recently independent states of the Arab world need capable leadership in almost endless supply, just as did the American colonies at the time they became states. These future leaders require not only the first rate technical education which the American University can give; in addition, they should have an unremitting habituation in the application of traits of individual responsibility, stability and uprightness of character, and unselfish devotion to the common welfare to which the University has long been dedicated. Without such characteristics in its leadership any country, no matter how democratic its form of government, will fail to exhibit the spirit of democracy. We could use a good deal more of it in this country right now. It is my hope that the AUB may continue its past success in developing moral strength to support and inspire the intellectual forces of its students, to the permanent benefit of the world.

The record of the University in the past has been outstanding in this regard, as has been that of the other institutions in the Near East College Association. No less than twenty nine of their graduates or former students represented their countries at the San Francisco Charter conference, and large numbers of others are influential in all walks of life in the Near East. But the demand far exceeds the supply. The awakening Middle East is one of the world's greatest areas of opportunity for able men, just as it is also the certain focus of conflicting drives for world power or world peace.

…The opportunity for service overseas is but one side of the coin, the obverse perhaps. The reverse is the deepening of a channel through which an understanding and appreciation of the Middle East can be brought to America. In its new and unaccustomed role of world leadership the United States positively and urgently requires men who know the world from personal experience to aid in guiding the formulation of international policy. It was quite surprising how many of the "experts" on the Middle East who came to Washington or served overseas during the war were former teachers in American colleges in the area. But their number was in reality pitifully inadequate to support the burden which we are now called upon to carry,. If the American University of Beirut can help to provide some of the knowledge and the experience which America desperately needs, it will be rounding out the really vast area of its opportunities.

Now, do you wonder why the place appeals to me?
The Penrose family leaving for Beirut in 1948 (Steve and Peggy with children Dale, Polly, and Stevie).