American University of Beirut

President's Speech - Dr. Richard A. Debs

​Dr. John Waterbury's Speech
Introducing Dr. Richard A. Debs 
June 25, 2005

When we relaunched honorary degrees at AUB we established informal categories in which we would seek to honor individuals in any one year. We had in mind the fields of arts, media and culture, academia, public service, and business achievement. We could have awarded Richard Debs an honorary degree in any of those fields, but lately he has achieved fame as one of the Morgan Stanley Eight. These gentlemen, all senior advisers and executives of the firm, have led a highly publicized and successful campaign to oust the current CEO. In the course of their campaign, the US press has dubbed them the "eight grumpy old men" - so maybe we should institute a new category of "honorary degree for grumpy old men," and, in the name of gender equality, grumpy old women, too.

Richard A. Debs is an advisory director of Morgan Stanley and a member of its International Advisory Board. He joined Morgan Stanley in 1976 as the founding president of Morgan Stanley International to develop the investment bank's international business, now a major part of its global activities. Before that, he was the chief operating officer of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, where he also served as an alternate member of the Federal Open Market Committee. Through his consulting firm, R. A. Debs & Co., formed in 1988, Dr. Debs has been involved in a variety of business and philanthropic activities.

He is Chairman Emeritus of Carnegie Hall and continues to serve on its Executive Committee. He also serves as a trustee of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, the Institute of International Education, and the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.

He is past chairman and a member of the New York Stock Exchange International Committee, the US Chairman of the Bretton Woods Commission, the vice chairman of the US-Saudi Business Council and a member of the Group of Thirty and chairman of its Study Group on Eastern Europe. He has served on advisory committees of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development.

He graduated summa cum laude from Colgate University in 1952 and holds an MA and a PhD from Princeton, where he was a Ford Foundation Fellow. A member of the New York Bar, he is a graduate of the Harvard Law School as well as of the Advanced Management Program at the Harvard Business School. He was a Fulbright scholar in Egypt, where he subsequently held a joint Harvard-Princeton research fellowship.

Dr. Debs is married to Dr. Barbara Knowles Debs, former president of Manhattanville College and of the New York Historical Society. I think I owe a great deal to Barbara. As a former university president, married to the chairman of the Board of Trustees of AUB, I suspect that Barbara may have given her husband a president's eye view of issues that Dick and I were confronting together. This is pure surmise, but thank you, Barbara.

Ladies and gentlemen, in 1997 I was recruited to the presidency by Dick Debs, and it has been my privilege to work with him ever since. I have learned a great deal from him, but I only skimmed the surface of his experience and wisdom. He is a man of constant surprises. Do not try to put him in a box; he is exceedingly hard to catalogue. Despite his often blunt modus operandi he is extraordinarily sensitive and nuanced in his understanding of difficult situations. His long tenure as chairman, longer than any chair since the 1930s, is testimony to that fact. He led the board and the University through the critical years of rebuilding following the civil war. He recognized the critical challenge of rebuilding our faculty in the wake of the war and helped the University to meet it. He has led the University in its campaign for excellence, enabling AUB to clear the threshold, unprecedented in our history, of $100 million in gifts and pledges with more to come. We all owe a lot to this man, more than an honorary degree can accurately reflect. Tom Morris and I are grateful that we will have his steady presence and advice to guide us even after he leaves the chairmanship in a few weeks.

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