Re-opening the School of Pharmacy: Possibility?

Hussein Cheaito

Staff Writer


The School of Pharmacy was introduced to the American University of Beirut in 1871. The School was leading in the region at the time and graduated none but the most professional and passionate when it came to the field itself.

Many AUB students wonder why the university lacks a School of Pharmacy today, considering that it was subject to closure a long time ago.

Tunneling into the Jafet Library Archives and interviewing AUB persona and students provided insight into the history of the school itself and the speculations surrounding its closing.

The School of Pharmacy was both prestigious and extremely competitive; out of 173 of applicants every year, only 30 students were admitted.

Testimonials on the School were provided by foreign pioneers in the Pharmaceutical industry like A.R.L Dohme of Baltimore, who spoke of the school’s modernity.

“I must say it is not behind and perhaps is ahead of the Maryland, New York, or Philadelphia College of Pharmacy,” said Dohme, “It is right up to date, and with the most modern equipment [..] and students have a practical four years’ course just like Medicine.”

Pharmacy is not just a business for medicinal drugs, but is about innovation, research, and being humane. The Director of School of Pharmacy mentioned that when Dohme conducted an interview with him.

“Pharmacy AUB graduates’ geographical distribution in the Middle and Near East have helped in the advancement in the profession of Pharmacy in the region, thus contributing to delivery of proper healthcare to the public. Students even took part in government pharmacy services, pharmaceutical education.”

He also commented on the high employability AUB pharmacy graduates had back then.    

Interestingly, the archives section in AUB provided a snapshot of a typical course schedule for a 1st year pharmacy student as seen below, drawing parallels between courses back then and today.

Courses include: Biology 201, Biology 202, Chemistry 201, Physics 204, along with pharmacy core courses.

In other words, courses were not the reason behind the closure of the school.

In the year 1972, the Planning Committee of the School met and passed a decision to close the school for good.

Many protests were held and complaints were filed to re-consider opening the school with no results achieved.

In 1973, members of the Faculty of Pharmacy, including the author of this archival paper mentioned, “We are all stunned by your statement on the school. We all share the feeling that your statement is much unfair to the School, its faculty, and alumni.”

Consequently, Mohamad Ali Kurdi, BSc Pharmacy, addressed the New York Office of the American University of Beirut with the comments.

He said that the academic faculty of the school were a valuable guide for pharmacists inside and outside of AUB. Southworth reaffirmed the modesty of the school.

“Despite the modest means, the school attempted to keep its alumni informed on the advances in the pharmaceutical field through the publication of Apothecary.”  

Because that was only available, the school had influenced the curricula of other schools in the Middle East, as noted in the first conference on pharmaceutical education in the Middle East held in AUB in 1970.

Kurdi Hamilton hoped for a revival of the school but had received no feedback in terms of re-establishing the school.

With no hopes left for the revival of the school, a member of the Program Study Committee noted in 1977, “I cannot help but feel that had I been present at one of the meetings in which that fateful decision took place, I would have succeeded in convicting the committee of the evil consequences of that decision.” He also added that “if the university were to reopen the undergraduate program and modify it to satisfy the needs of the pharmaceutical field and if the undergraduate and graduate programs are properly advertised, we would get enough undergraduate students ready to pay a fee of $4500 and thus make the program even more self-supporting.”

It is worth noting that the amount of efforts put into reviving the school once again after 1972 provides good insight as to how revolutionizing the program was at the time.

Saab Medical Library Librarian, Aida Farha, who is a School of Pharmacy graduate, narrated her own impressions of the School and why she is saddened by the closure today.

Farha said that the building, along with the classes, were very old even at that time.

She recalled how exams were done in parallel with examinations in the United States. The average of exams were always much higher in AUB, which reflected the high competence of the School’s faculty and students.  

The courses, she said, were intensive and lasted three hours. The schedules were fixed and only one elective was permitted.

When asked about the closure, Farha said, “I only know rumors. Some say it was because of the oversupply of pharmacy graduates in the country in which the field reached a point where it has lost its diversity. Other people believe that the building and classes were very old and poorly designed where renovation was always pending due to political conflicts at that time.”

Farha called for the re-establishment of the School and advised the implementation of a Clinical Pharmacy department.

She firmly said that pharmacists are the bridge connecting patients with doctors and their presence is valued and much needed today.

Farha added that pharmacists are knowledgeable about drugs and doctors can sometimes oversimplify the huge impact of drugs on patients.

She also called for the revolutionizing of the pharmaceutical industry as she feels it has lost its true humanitarian value—it needs to be appreciated and people need to be aware of its essentiality, not only its complementarity.

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