WASHINGTON — Responding to a debilitating exodus of faculty from the American University of Beirut, U.S. alumni of the beleaguered institution have launched a program to attract scholar-graduates of the school to teach at its campus in Muslim-controlled West Beirut.
"The brain trust has migrated out of the university, leaving a big vacuum over there," said Raja Srour, president of the university's Los Angeles Alumni Committee and one of the program's organizers.
He said that attracting new professors to the university is "a matter of survival" for the 120-year-old school, which has lost 50 of its 400 faculty members since 1985 because of threats of violence and spiraling inflation.
Since early 1984, four university employees have been slain, including President Malcolm H. Kerr, and five others have been abducted by extremist organizations.
One Hostage Freed
David P. Jacobsen, administrator of the university's hospital, was released 11 days ago by the Islamic Jihad organization after 17 months in captivity. His release by the pro-Iranian group was arranged after the United States shipped military equipment to Iran, U.S. sources have told The Times.
Thomas Sutherland, dean of the agricultural school, is still being held hostage by Islamic Jihad, and another extremist group, Revolutionary Justice Organization, claims to hold Joseph J. Cicippio, the university's acting controller, who was abducted on campus on Sept. 12.
Srour said that, although there are dangers for Americans working in Beirut, replenishment of the faculty is necessary to maintain the university's educational and cultural tradition.
American University, founded in 1866 by Protestant missionaries from the United States, is considered one of the leading American institutions in the Middle East and offers students from the Arab world a secular education and exposure to Western values.
Letters Sent Out
Alumni officials this month sent letters to 3,000 graduates in North America soliciting information on scholars who might be interested in teaching in a visiting capacity at the school. The letters also sought $5 million in donations to help finance a beefed-up faculty.
However, one former faculty member said that anyone accepting a faculty position there would have to have "suicidal tendencies."
Marius K. Deeb, a political science professor who left the school in 1983, said the situation in Beirut for U.S. teachers is unbearable. Deeb, who now teaches at Georgetown University's Center for Contemporary Arab Studies, said he left because "with a wife and child, I felt I couldn't possibly live in West Beirut," adding that "many of my colleagues have been threatened or kidnaped."
Nevertheless, the university's director of alumni affairs for North America, Nimr Ibrahim, said he is confident that the program will be successful.
"Our alumni are very loyal," Ibrahim said. "We have enormous good feelings. Now we are trying to translate that good feeling to help the university."