Fen-Edebiyat Fakültesi Konferans Dizisi Açılış Konuşması

Dear Colleagues, students and guests,

I would like to welcome you to the first lecture in the lecture series that the Faculty of Arts and Sciences has organized to celebrate the 150th anniversary of Robert College and Boğaziçi University.

Let me start with a few words about this history. The idea began on the suggestion of two brothers, James and William Dwight, sons of Dr. Otis Dwight, a pioneer researcher of the Near East for American missionary effort. Their intention was to establish a secular institution of higher learning in Istanbul, entirely separate from the American missionary colony in the Ottoman Empire. A noted New York merchant and a philanthropist of Christian causes, Christopher Rhinelander Robert agreed to supply the funds and the mission of establishing the institution was given to Cyrus Hamlin, the director of the Bebek seminary, a man with a long experience in missionary education in the Ottoman Empire but with his own practical and pragmatic approach to education.

The idea came from the Dwight brothers, the money from Robert and the energy, the oversight and the actual implementation from Hamlin and what immerged was definitely not a missionary school and not a secular school but a school with liberal New England educational lines led by individuals with strong Christian values, and the college opened its doors in 1863 to Bulgarian, Armenian, Greek and other minorities living in the Ottoman Empire.

The integration of the college into the Turkish educational scene possibly begins with the graduation of the first Turkish student Hüseyin Pektaş in 1903. That year there were 320 students from 14 different ethnic and religious backgrounds and of this number only 6 were Turks. During the next 30 years the enrollment went up to 750 and the proportion of Turks rose to more than 50 percent. A major contribution to the integration came from the establishment of the engineering school in 1912. By the early 1950s the college had established its prestige in Turkey and with the increasing demand two new faculties, the Faculty of Arts and Sciences and the Business School were added in 1959.

Established in a tumultuous time and “at the center of the world” (as the college song begins and as the chosen title of our speaker today) the college survived two world wars, the great depression and the fall of an empire and saw the foundation of a new republic, throughout which it never closed its doors for a single day. When it celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1963 the college had reached its widest state of extension with a women’s college on the Arnavutköy campus and a men’s high school and university on the Bebek campus.

For all its continued growth and success the history of Robert College had been haunted by one major recurring theme: the shortage of funds, and in 1970 when it was financially impossible to keep the present structure, the board of trustees decided to keep a co-ed high school on the Arnavutköy campus and to hand this campus and the mission of university education to the Turkish State. So was born Boğaziçi University in 1971. Since then Boğaziçi University has grown to be a much larger institution, with more than 13000 students, about 700 faculty members, four faculties, six graduate institutes, a large graduate school and a school of applied disciplines and in its 42 years established a reputation of its own as the leading university in Turkey, but it has never broken its ties with its past.  The heritage of Robert College and the fact that it grew out of Robert College continues to leave its mark, to inspire its direction and to guide its development into the future.

This is a remarkable history but perhaps the most remarkable thing about the history of this institution is Cyrus Hamlin himself.  As Malcolm and Marcia Stevens said in their article about him, “of all the Americans who journeyed to Turkey in the 19th century, Cyrus Hamlin probably left the most indelible impression. His exploits--a fascinating mix of history and adventure--were the stuff of legend: he built Maine’s first steam engine, he helped feed British soldiers in the Crimean War, he washed their clothes in probably the world’s first washing machine, made out of a beer barrel, and he set up one of the first American Colleges abroad.  Hamlin spent a total of 34 years in Istanbul or its environs, and by the time of his leaving he could claim an amazing diversity of professions as his own: ironworker, mechanic, baker, laundry man, author, physician, architect, builder, businessman, and college president. He was recognized as an intellectual giant and mechanical genius, and had he pursued a career in industry or politics would almost certainly have achieved wealth and fame. He chose instead to devote his life to education – and the influence of his work is still felt in Turkey today.”

I am very proud to think that Hamlin would have derived great satisfaction in the knowledge that 150 years after Robert College was founded, his institution and the university which evolved from it are contributing as much to the well-being of this country as at any time in their history.

I hope this lecture series in the variety of its offerings and the excellence of its content will be seen as a fitting contribution to the continuation of this tradition.


Gülen Aktaş, FEF Dekanı
29 Nisan 2013