The American University of Beirut (AUB) has had a presence in New York City since 1863, when the University was first chartered by the state of New York. In April 2003, it inaugurated a new, technologically equipped space that will allow it to better serve its worldwide constituency. The driving force behind this state-of-the-art conference center was Board of Trustees Chairman Richard A. Debs. When Dr. Debs stepped down as board chair to assume an emeritus role in June 2005, the Board of Trustees named the University’s New York headquarters in his honor.
The Debs Center is a vital bridge between the University’s Beirut campus, North America and the United Kingdom. It supports AUB alumni; houses the NY-based staff of the University’s Development Office; develops relationships with US foundations, corporations, and individual supporters of the University; maintains liaisons with governmental agencies; monitors the University’s investment portfolios; and assists with international recruiting of both students and faculty. It is AUB’s corporate headquarters and the site for meetings of the Board of Trustees and its committees, as well as gatherings of other groups that support the University’s operations.
AUB’s New York home is located at 3 Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues on one of the few quiet streets in midtown Manhattan. Its neighbors include The Japan Society and the United Nations complex. Several international organizations and offices, such as the United Arab Emirates, Sudan, Chile, and the European Union and African Union’s missions to the United Nations, have offices in the same building. It is an international and diverse setting—and a particularly appropriate location for AUB.
A committee of AUB trustees and administrators coordinated, planned, and designed the new offices. The group was led by former Chair of the Board Dr. Thomas Q. Morris, and included Eileen O’Connor, secretary of the University; W. Stephen Jeffrey, vice president for development and external relations; and Howard Ray, comptroller. Former Chair of the Board Richard A. Debs provided strong guidance and leadership throughout the process. Elizabeth Debs, a former associate at Synthesis Partnership, a Providence Rhode Island firm that steers organizations strategic planning, institutional identity development, business planning, and evaluation of facilities, served as a pro bono consultant and member of the Design Committee. Ms. Debs is the daughter of Chairman Debs and is currently involved in public housing in Rhode Island.
Murphy, Burnham & Buttrick of New York City was selected to design the space. The firm has extensive experience working with educational clients and has designed facilities for Columbia University, Sarah Lawrence College, and St. Hilda’s and St. Hugh’s School in Manhattan. The architects worked with the committee to create a space that would give visitors a sense of AUB and its history; provide an efficient and open workplace; promote teamwork; and accommodate the many different functions that the University planned for the future, such as receptions, board meetings, and to be a “home away from home” for visiting administrators, faculty members, and trustees.
The center was also designed to include the very latest technology. Improving communications with the campus in Beirut required extensive wiring and the establishment of a video conferencing center. A magnificent teak conference table in the boardroom can accommodate up to 40 people. With its large sliding door, video screen with an image of the AUB seal, and terrace access, the boardroom is ideal for Board of Trustees committee meetings, receptions, dinners, and lectures.
The Debs Center reflects the importance of AUB’s commitment to promote mutual understanding between peoples in the Middle East and the West. When the center opened, Dr. Debs remarked, “I am proud to have been part of this historic acquisition and moment in the University’s history. AUB is one of the oldest universities in the world. In my opinion, we really are a bridge between East and West, and the new center now better reflects that role.”