On Monday, February 28, His Eminence Anoushavan Tanielian, Prelate, welcomed Rev. Dr. Paul Haidostian, president of Haigazian University in Beirut, Lebanon, at the Prelacy headquarters. As former graduates of Near Eastern School of Theology in Beirut and Princeton Theological Seminary in New Jersey, they shared past memories and discussed the current situation in Lebanon in an amicable atmosphere. Dr. Haidostian shared his thoughts on the University, the situation in Lebanon, and other topics in an interview with Crossroads.
CROSSROADS: Would you please give us an overview of Haigazian University? How many departments does it have, how many students, and can you share other information?
When the University opened in 1955, there were 43 students enrolled. Student enrollment reached 650 before the start of the civil disturbances in Lebanon in 1975. The present enrollment is approximately 600 with a faculty and staff of 170. So far, the University has granted the Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Business Administration, Bachelor of Science, Master of Arts, and Master of Business Administration degrees in various fields to almost 4,500 students.
Haigazian University has four faculties which in turn have various departments, as listed below:
The Faculty of Business Administration and Economics: Business Administration and Economics; The Faculty of Humanities: Arabic, Armenian, English, History, Music Art, Religion and Philosophy; The Faculty of Sciences: Biology, Chemistry, Medical Laboratory Sciences, Physics (Natural Sciences); Computer Science, Mathematics (Mathematical Sciences) and The Faculty of Social and Behavioral Sciences: Christian Education, Education, Political Science, Psychology, Social Work, Sociology.
Also, Haigazian University offers Normal Diploma (Teaching Diploma) and has The Center for Continuing Education, which provides courses in Teacher Training Program and The Adult Education Program.
Naturally, since the University’s foundation, its development has been tied to life in Lebanon. What is the impact of the current crisis on the institution?
The impact of the current Lebanese crisis on Haigazian University is manifold. The first impact is on the students of Haigazian University whose parents or whose families have not only lost the chance to use their money in their savings or the banks, but also their ability to pay tuition has been reduced drastically. The other impact is that the level of comfort of young people, their sense of hope, and then their sense of planning for the future has been reduced dramatically.
The impact on the faculty and the staff has been tremendous and stressful in various ways. Their salaries have lost up to 90 percent of their purchasing value while the energy crisis has increased their expenses to pay for transportation. The level of comfort in their homes or in their shops has fallen because of extended electricity blackouts, shortage of various types of basic needs, including medical ones and others. Some faculty from every university have also left Lebanon or have changed jobs that pay fully in US dollars.
The situation created by Covid has forced children to home-school while the staff or faculty need to come to work on campus.
The next challenge on the university has been on students and teachers’ ability to focus on their work due to the tremendous stress caused by politics, the economic crisis and daily challenges in the country amid hopelessness. And then are the many, many challenges on the university administration, basically the inability of the university to collect tuition and the loss of funding from various sources that were mostly local. Additionally, the University is unable to use its savings in the banks as some of the university funds were in Lebanese banks. That created some additional pressure given the limited income and donations globally as a result of the economic problems in other parts of the world.
How do you rate Haigazian University and the quality of education it offers in terms of academic choices in Lebanon?
In Lebanon today there are more than 45 universities or colleges. About one third of these are members of the league of Lebanese universities, usually the more prestigious universities in the country. The older ones also try to maintain high standards. Obviously Haigazian, being a 67- year-old university, enjoys prestige. How can one judge, however, how seriously a university is regarded in an educational system?
There are at least two factors to consider. One: how well our graduates do in the job market, and in that area, I guess our university graduates have proven over the years that they can excel in the job market and that they could be competent. They are committed and bring valuable contributions to the workplace wherever they are, whether companies, schools, the private enterprise, or the government. The second way of deciding whether a university provides good education is to see where alumni go to pursue graduate studies and how well they do. Again, over the years, we have noted that many Haigazian graduates have excelled in graduate work, whether in other universities in Lebanon, or in Europe, or Canada or the United States and so many of them have already reached high positions in academia all around the world.
In addition to this, we are proud to say that Haigazian University enjoys very high regard in the official circles of Lebanon, in the various ministries and governmental circles, but also in the social circles. Basically, Haigazian is regarded as a very good university, especially with its focus on serious education. And second, it fosters a nurturing atmosphere, and we refer to it as a family atmosphere.
What is the contribution of university graduates to Lebanese life?
There are many dimensions to the contribution of Haigazian University graduates to Lebanon. On the one hand, Haigazian University, the student body and student experience represent a homogenous atmosphere where people of all backgrounds come together and they learn how to live together with understanding and peace. This later translates into life in society in a very positive way.
The other contribution by Haigazian University alumni is to Lebanon and the job market. Today, high numbers of our graduates are working as teachers and administrators in schools of various backgrounds in Lebanon, universities, and the various ministries of the government, but also in the private sector as well as banking.
The Haigazian University graduate is usually regarded as hard working and a valuable member of society. We cannot give specific numbers, but these are the general impressions that we receive from the job market, and we are proud of our graduates whether they are in Lebanon or outside of the country.
Is there anything you would like to add?
We are very well aware that Haigazian University exists in a country with great potential and great history, but also in a region with high levels of conflict and failure. These days the main advice that I can give, however, is that if there is change in the world, it will come with proper education, proper education on the highest levels. Education is not only academics; education is also the social interactions of the students, the formation of a community of thinking where people can be critical, but at the same time understanding people who can work together in teams who can learn from each other, and who can contribute to the welfare of the ones sitting next to them in the library, in the classroom, in the yard, or elsewhere.
Thus, my main message would be whoever works in education, whoever wants to contribute to the welfare of society, has to maintain a high degree of hope. Our hope is not in the condition of a country.
Our hope is in the plan we have to educate and is in the mission we feel in the Christian sense, in the social sense in the national sense, the plan, the mission, we have to contribute to the welfare and to the future of our societies, especially in the lives of the young ones. This we say for Lebanon and for every country in the world.