BEIRUT: Four students were barred from campus at the Lebanese American University Monday following a protest by hundreds of students angry over the school’s latest tuition hikes. LAU’s tuition fees will increase depending on majors and degree type. The increase ranges from 7.3 percent to 15 percent, with the higher percentage increase targeted at students pursuing postgraduate degrees.
Upset at the lack of transparency and flow of information between them and their superiors, students filled the upper level of LAU’s Beirut campus to demand an end to the tuition spikes.
“It is the transparency that is at the core of this protest,” said Hasan Harb, acting head of the student council and one of the protest leaders. Harb graduated last semester and is currently pursuing a master’s degree at AUB.
He told The Daily Star that he and the other student activists had circulated a petition signed by more than 4,500 students from the school’s Beirut and LAU campuses demanding the increase be reversed and the administration more forthcoming.
Harb accused the administration of failing to inform the student body of the changes ahead of time.
“Yes, they may have put it up on the site, but ... unless the student enters the site, and goes through several links, he or she [would not] know anything about a tuition increase,” Harb stressed.
The protest did not come as a surprise. A “town hall meeting” hosted by the administration last Friday to address the controversy ended in a tense standoff after a heated question and answer session. “It ended negatively, so we had to resort to more drastic measures,” Harb said.
Harb and the others were barred from campus Monday after they entered classrooms asking fellow peers to join the protest. Harb was adamant that he, along with three fellow activists, had knocked before entering and politely asked the professors if they could speak to their fellow students.
His version of events was corroborated by at least one student who spoke to The Daily Star.
“My teacher said we could go, he seemed supportive of the protesters. I wasn’t particularly interested in participating, so I didn’t go,” one student said.
Other students, like senior Karim Jammal, described the interaction differently. “They entered and asked if they could speak to us; the professor said yes they were allowed to if they had a special paper allowing them to do so,” Jammal recalled. “When they didn’t, she kindly asked to continue her class, but they ignored her and went on anyway.”
“Not many people left,” he added.
As a result, Dean Raed Mohsen confiscated the four campaigners’ school IDs and temporarily barred them from entering campus. The four are also banned from taking part in LAU Jbeil’s scheduled protest tomorrow.
Despite taking disciplinary measures against the four students, Mohsen claimed he was supportive of the protest, and even tried to help organize it by borrowing microphones and helping with making slogans and banners.
“I spoke to Harb,” Mohsen said. “I wanted to give them tips. I proposed a meeting for last night, but apparently Hasan Harb was too busy with work and disrupting classes.”
According to the dean, the tuition increases are needed to improve the school’s facilities and offerings.
A proposed engineering building including laboratories will cost millions of dollars, he said.
Moreover, he said, as an American-accredited school, LAU needs to maintain an office in the U.S., and the school plans to buy the office space it is currently renting in New York City.
“Pharmacy and medicine majors are required to take some electives and internships in the U.S., which makes buying the land there even more important,” Mohsen added.
The dean dismissed claims that the money would be going to buy space in Downtown Beirut for LAU’s Executive MBA program, adding that the space had been donated by Solidere.
“All the extra money generated from the tuition increases is to make LAU a better university,” Mohsen insisted. “I empathize with the students, let them protest, they have the freedom.”
Students remain unconvinced. Several busloads of LAU Beirut students plan to make the trip up north Tuesday to join their peers at the Jbeil campus for a more organized protest.
“In Byblos [Jbeil] they are more political,” Harb explained.
“Because they are not in an urban environment and a more closed society, the protest will be a big one tomorrow [Tuesday]. I may not be allowed to enter because of what happened earlier today, but expect democracy. That’s what they teach us here.”
LAU’s protest follows a similar demonstration at the American University of Beirut against tuition hikes last month.