Whenever you recite the following Bible verse: “that they may have life and have it abundantly” in Lebanon, the first thing that comes to a person’s mind is the country’s most prestigious educational facility: the American University Of Beirut.
The moment you walk into AUB’s campus, you are striken by how different it is from the city in which it is found. It’s a piece of land inside Beirut where buildings are, unlike their Beiruti counterparts, being preserved, where trees grow freely (and where cats roam without being disturbed). College Hall, the building that first welcomes you when you enter through AUB’s Main Gate was totally destroyed in a bombing that targeted it in the 1990s. However, the university rebuilt it exactly as it was. AUB was an example of cherishing legacy in a country that is running away from its past as fast as it could do so.
Next to College Hall is a building that looks like a chapel. It has the Protestant architecture of a chapel. It even has an Organ inside. And to make its original purpose even less inconspicuous, it has a Cross on its roof. However, what used to be a church was transformed into what is today AUB’s Assembly Hall – a place where students gather for commencement, concerts, etc…
The change that “Assembly Hall” faced was considered as the ultimate change in the face of AUB, previously known as the Syrian Protestant College, which was founded in 1866 by American missionaries Daniel Bliss and Henry Jesup.
AUB today is a secular campus in a country that is striving to attain a secular situation. It is a place where people from all sects and religions can attend and expect to obtain the best level of education that Lebanon has to offer – and that is a great amount. However, no one expected the decision taken by the AUB administration to change the university’s most famous slogan into one that does not have any religious affiliation.
Yes, the verse “that they may have life and have it more abundantly” will apparently be changed into some other phrase, as part of the university’s new marketing campaign – to “better the university image”.
The questions beg themselves. Does the AUB administration think the current reputation AUB has cannot withstand the fact that its founders chose a very poignant Bible verse to anoint the university with? Do they really think AUB benefits from anything that takes away of its 150 years of history, let alone a meaningless campaign to attract more students, one that will be forgotten in a few months? And do they really think that the current AUB image is improved by changing the verse that is written on its Main Gate as a way to tell all the ultimate purpose of attending the university?
AUB is slowly eating away at what makes it a special beacon in Lebanon and the Middle East. AUB used to be a revolutionary facility where scholastic evolution merged with a sense of historical belonging. It looks like the strings of this sense of belonging are being slowly chipped away by the lure of more dollars flowing in to an already overflown treasury.
You’d think what has already taken place at AUB regarding the separation of religion from the university is enough. The steps taking place today can be described as a form of administrative theophobia.
The improvement of AUB’s image does not start by removing the phrase that would make any AUB student proud to hear. It starts by improving the university programs to a point where they can compete better with universities abroad. It starts with giving us better labs, where we can stretch our wings a little outside the tiny boxes in which we are bound by professors whose knowledge in their courses has been hampered by their sense of megalomania and it starts by getting down from the high-horse this administration has fabricated around itself and realizing that, if AUB continues on the path it’s on, the only way to go is down.