American University of Beirut

A Brief History

​​​​​The tradition of awarding honorary degrees at AUB began 113 years ago when the University was known as the Syrian Protestant College (SPC). Honorary degrees were then awarded irregularly between 1890 and 1969. A long hiatus occurred between 1920 and 1966 and again between 1969 and 2003, doubtless due in large part to the destabilization of the civil war and its aftermath in Lebanon.  On graduation day 2003 AUB started the awards again in a special ceremony in Assembly Hall. The honorary doctorates were chosen in five major areas: Academia, Arts and Letters, Business, Media, and Public Affairs.  

The first six honorary degrees were awarded to graduates of SPC. In 1890 Yakub Saruf, (BA, 1870), one of the six members of the first graduating class, received an honorary PhD.  Saruf taught Arabic and natural philosophy at SPC an​d later edited a scientific and literary journal, Al Muktataf, in Cairo.  He was a teacher, astronomer, translator, and poet.  His fellow founder of Al Muktataf, Faris Nimr (BA, 1874), also recipient of an honorary doctorate in 1890, taught Arabic, algebra, and astronomy at SPC.  Al-Kulliyah labeled him as the "best political writer and orator of the century" (Vol.27, No.1).

Eleven Years later Jabr Dumit (BA, 1876) was awarded an honorary master's degree.  He served SPC/AUB from 1889 to 1923 as instructor, lecturer, professor of Arabic language and literature, and finally as professor emeritus.

Another graduate of the class of 1874, Akhnukh Fanus, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree in 1910.  An orator, lawyer, deputy, and president of the High Council in Asyut, Egypt, he was honored for his great influence in Egypt and the high quality of his achievement.  Also in 1910, Shukri S. Kassab (BA, 1899) received an honorary master's degree for scholarly ability shown during many years of service as assistant librarian.  Murad Barudi (BA, 1874;PhM, 1879) was awarded an honorary master's degree in 1914 for his work in archaeology in Syria.

Two of SPC/AUB's most illustrious founding fathers, founding President Daniel Bliss and Trustee D. Stuart Dodge, were awarded honorary Doctor of Laws degrees in 1916.  President Bliss is remembered for his pioneering establishment of the Syrian Protestant College in 1866 and his 35-year tenure as the College's first president.  D. Stuart Dodge spent much of his time in the United States, but from 1866 to 1921 he was closely involved in affairs of the College as professor of modern languages, and secretary, treasurer, and chairman of the Board of Trustees.  Generous personal grants funded land for two athletic fields and the Observatory.

Najib M. Salibi (BA, 1888) worked many years in the Philippines as a surgeon with the US Army Medical Corps.  In 1920 AUB awarded him an honorary Doctor of Science degree in recognition of his distinguished studies of the history, language, and religion of the Moro people.

The first man to come to SPC on specific appointment from America, Harvey Porter was also the first honorary degree recipient to receive his degree, Doctor of Divinity, from the newly named American University of Beirut in 1920.  Porter served as professor of history from 1870-1914 and was professor emeritus from 1914 until his death in 1923.  He was instrumental in the development of the University Library and the archaeology museum in Post Hall.

Bayard Dodge, who eased the life of the University during the troubled years of World War I as director of West Hall and then became the third president of AUB (1923-1948), was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in 1966.

Philip K. Hitti (BA, 1908) was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree in 1969.  After graduation he taught history at SPC for five years before moving to Columbia University, where he completed his PhD.  At AUB again in 1920, he taught history for another six years.  Known for his many publications, among them the History of the Arabs (1937), The Arabs (1943), and Lebanon in History (1957), Professor Hitti served from 1926 to 1954 as professor of Semitic literature at Princeton University.

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