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Winter 2007 Vol. V, No. 2

AUB Reflections

A conversation with E. Terry Prothro

Hanan Zurayk (BA ’73)

When did you arrive at AUB?
I arrived in Beirut in January 1951. I wanted to get some experience doing research in a non-western society. I had been working on comparative social psychology of the Deep South and was very much interested in cross-cultural social research. I also wanted to travel as I enjoyed being in other societies and learning about other people. A close friend of mine who had been at American University of Cairo strongly recommended AUB.

What was your first impression?
I traveled by ship, and my first view of Beirut was a set of beautiful stone houses with red-tiled roofs spread across a hill. I was met by President Penrose who took me to Martin House at the International College (IC) where I lived for a semester.

Where did you teach most of your classes?
When I first arrived, I taught my classes in College Hall. I also had my office there. The first semester I taught at AUB, I had four students. Lutfi Diab, who had a career of his own at AUB, was one of my early students, as was Shafeek Al-Hout. At that time courses in psychology were offered in the Department of Education. A year after I arrived, with the help of Dean Close and Professor Kurani, the Department of Psychology was established. The department took over most of the ground floor of Jesup Hall where I taught most of my classes.

When I became dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, I decided to get to know the entire Arts and Sciences student body, so I started teaching a course in the required set of courses then called General Education, later known as Cultural Studies, and then as Civilization Sequence.

What was the biggest change you noticed while at AUB?
I witnessed the physical and population growth of both Beirut and AUB. In 1951 the campus had fewer buildings. One had beautiful vistas and could see across the bay to the port and to Jounieh. The Hamra area was mostly vegetable gardens and cacti. The landmark there was the Tapline Building. The tramway connected Bliss Street to downtown Beirut.

The neighborhood around AUB was very involved with the University and the community seemed to be English-language oriented. They even had a restaurant called Uncle Sam. Later the University grew in size and scope. The student body expanded to include all Lebanese groups, students from Europe and the United States, as well as from “the Golden River [Morocco] to the Golden Road [the trade routes to the Far East].” The University became the most prominent international university in the Middle East. International professional conferences and research projects flourished and the exchange and visiting programs that were established brought in more students and professors from the United States.

What do you think your students remember most about your classes?
I have the impression they thought I emphasized terminology a great deal. I felt that especially in the field of psychology; especially when you are teaching students whose native tongue is not English, it is very important to clarify all definitions and insist on precision of expression. I think that some of my better students would say that they also remember my “sardonic wit.”

Are you still in touch with any of your former students?
I have been in touch with some of them over the years either by e-mail, telephone, or personal visits.

Did you stay at AUB throughout the war (1975–1990)?
Throughout my years at AUB, I frequently took leave to go to American universities. Among others, I taught at the University of Michigan and was twice a fellow at Harvard University. It was thus not unusual that when the war started, I went to the University of California where I was deputy director of their Education Abroad

Program and professor at UC Santa Barbara. Then the situation seemed to improve in Lebanon and, feeling nostalgic, I gave up my position there and returned to AUB in 1977, where I stayed until 1984.

Do you have particular memories from that time?
Apart from the general destruction and a few narrow escapes from shelling, there is one incident which stands out in my memory. Acting President David Dodge asked me to take our Annual Report and attend the Board of Trustees meeting in New York on his behalf. Despite the war, I managed to cross the ‘green line’ and stayed with some family friends, the Khatchadourians. As I departed, they kindly gave me a bottle of water and some cake which proved providential. I managed to find space on the deck of a freighter bound for Cyprus and that gift sustained me through the next 36 hours. En route, the ship was stopped and searched by an Israeli gunboat and crew. I eventually arrived safely in Larnaca and was able to fly to New York in time for the meeting. It was then that David Dodge was kidnapped in Beirut.

When did you leave Beirut? Have you been back?
After I left Beirut in 1984, I continued my association with AUB (1984-85) as an advisor to the chairman of the Board of Trustees, Najib Halaby. In 1985 and 1986 I was project director and executive secretary of the Planning Council of the Hariri University Colleges Project, which was sponsored by the Hariri Foundation, AUB, and the Consortium for International Cooperation in Higher Education. It was intended to provide a foundation on which, one day, it may be possible to build high-quality liberal arts colleges in Lebanon. Afterwards my association with Lebanon continued as vice president of the Hariri Foundation in Washington DC. The foundation was instrumental in bringing Lebanese students to the United States and Canada.

I visited Beirut in 1998 after a long absence. Although I missed the old Beirut which I knew and loved, I was impressed with the serious reconstruction effort I witnessed. I was very happy to see AUB rebuilt and growing again. I attended the commencement exercises and, as professor emeritus, marched with the faculty and joined them on the podium. It was a special experience that left me with much hope for the future.

What impact has AUB had on your life?
From the moment I arrived in Beirut, AUB became the center of my life. It was the center of my intellectual, administrative, and research work and of course, most importantly, my teaching career. Even when I took time off to go abroad, I was always on leave from AUB, knowing I would return. I met my wife Najla at AUB and our daughter Gwendolyn was born at AUH. I enjoyed the social life Lebanon afforded and made many lifelong friends.

Do you have something you would like to say to your former students?
I hope they realize that they are a very important bridge culturally and intellectually between Lebanon and the rest of the world. I congratulate them on their many achievements to date and hope that they will continue in their endeavors in the United States and elsewhere. I would also like to urge them to go to Dog River and read the inscriptions there to be reminded that Lebanon has always endured and survived, and that “this too shall pass.”