BEIRUT: Students at AUB erected some 20 tents on campus Wednesday for a symbolic occupation of College Hall in protest against a proposed tuition hike. It was unclear, however, how many of the roughly 100 students would actually stay the night.
Some faculty voiced support for the occupation, a marked escalation by students in their monthslong campaign against the fee increase. The university insists that a raise in tuition is required to maintain the institution’s high quality operations but has not committed itself to a figure yet.
Passing through the protest camp Wednesday afternoon, however, professor Vijay Prashad said the university’s rhetoric was hollow.
“You hear this language, ‘excellence,’ ‘high quality,’ but what that means in terms of the classroom nobody knows,” he told The Daily Star. “Another way to do education is to develop education with compassion. I haven’t heard the word compassion among administrators as a goal of education in a very long time. They only want to talk about excellence, which nobody can define.”
Watching the camp being set up, Dean of Student Affairs Talal Nizameddin said he thought it was sending the wrong message.
“I don’t like the idea of tents. They have a negative history in Lebanon,” he told The Daily Star, but added that he respected the students’ views.
He questioned the level of support for the occupation and voiced doubt about whether many students would actually spend the night.
“I think a lot of students sympathize, but are they active? Are they really that involved?” he asked. “You can’t have a small minority manipulating [the whole community].”
However, Nizameddin said the students had been “really good, really cooperative” in their dealings with the administration: “They’ve been very civilized, firm and vocal. I think we can respect that and give them the space to do that.”
While initially reticent, President Peter Dorman allowed the occupation to take place after students agreed to certain stipulations, according to Amir Richani, a student leader.
“We had a meeting with Peter Dorman, and actually we had to negotiate some of the terms [of the occupation],” he told The Daily Star.
As per the conditions, male and female protesters are required to sleep in separate tents, alcohol is prohibited and the noise must be kept to a minimum at night.
Richani acknowledged that the camp was largely intended to draw attention to the broader issues rather than actually seize control of any campus buildings.
“It’s really more symbolic than anything else,” he said. “For now, we have to wait for the Board of Trustees, who are working on the budget, but I think that this will just show that we haven’t forgotten about the situation and we’re willing to fight for it until the end.”
Showing that the students can sustain a peaceful and productive protest is also an important aspect of the occupation, engineering student Weam Dallal said.
“We can function, we can study, we can do our daily activities here even if we are striking,” he explained. “The civilized and peaceful camp will send a message.”
At the protest camp, some played cards while others finished homework assignments or talked with faculty and staff who walked through.
Still, many students passed the protest camp with relative apathy, and even some involved in the protest said they would not spend the night.
“I have too much work,” one said. “I live really close by,” another added with a shrug.