BEIRUT — The American University of Beirut said today that it may have to close for the first time in its 120-year-old history because of deteriorating security.
University authorities issued a statement from the board of trustees in New York, saying protection of students has become an impossible task.
"If the university cannot accommodate all students seeking education, regardless of their religious and political affiliation, then it should not continue," the statement said.
A group of Christian first-year medical students protested earlier this month, saying they felt unsafe at the campus in Muslim West Beirut. They asked to be allowed to pursue their studies in the Christian eastern sector.
To Complete Year
The university statement said they will be allowed to complete their first-year studies in East Beirut but added:
"If the first-year medical students in East Beirut are unable to continue their second year in West Beirut, then the medical faculty will close down, and this will apply to all other faculties."
The university--founded in 1866 and considered at one time the most prestigious in the Middle East--has about 5,000 students and 400 academic staff.
During Lebanon's 11-year civil war, its lecturers and students have been targets of kidnapings, assaults and assassinations.
Most of its foreign teachers have left after a series of kidnapings of Westerners in West Beirut, many connected with the school, over the last two years.
The Christian medical students had asked that they be allowed to study at university offices in East Beirut because they had been harassed by gunmen while crossing the Green Line to reach West Beirut and the campus.
"We consider the violent means used to keep students away from the campus the most dangerous attack against academic freedom ever faced by the university," the statement said.