BEIRUT: The Cabinet failed Thursday to approve key appointments at the Lebanese University due to differences among ministers and rival parties, resolving to resume discussion of the issue next week.
Cabinet members told Education Minister Elias Bou Saab that his agreement with the head of the parliamentary Future bloc, former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, over appointments at the state-run university was not enough and more discussion was required to finalize the issue, sources told The Daily Star.
Ministers allied with MP Walid Jumblatt and the Kataeb Party as well as Tourism Minister Michel Pharaon opposed Bou Saab’s agreement with the March 14 coalition, prompting the Cabinet to postpone debate on the issue to the next session, the sources said.
“The Cabinet discussed the issue of appointing deans at the Lebanese University and employing some members of the teaching board in it. It decided to continue discussing this issue at the next session next Thursday,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporters after a nearly five-hour session chaired by Prime Minister Tammam Salam at the Grand Serail.
The Cabinet, which met in line with a new mechanism devised to regulate its work and prerogatives amid the presidential vacuum, discussed 119 items on its agenda. Due to a backlog, Joreige said the ministers signed 150 outstanding decrees.
“We had 119 items on the agenda, more than half of these were approved today. The atmosphere was good and we returned to normal work in sessions. ... The primary concern is the need to elect a president as soon as possible,” Joreige said.
Bou Saab said he has agreed with Siniora on the number of university professors to be appointed as fulltime lecturers as well as the names of deans to fill vacant posts on the university council. The council has been operating with acting deans since 2004.
The LU’s board of deans has postponed exams in protest at the government’s failure to make the appointments. The university also demands that the government give contract lecturers the same benefits as full-time employees.
Despite holding doctoral degrees and having worked at the university for years, contract professors are paid their salaries every two years and are denied the benefits of the National Social Security Fund.Professors have been on strike to pressure the Cabinet, arguing that the failure to appoint deans has deprived the council of its power, placing LU under the governance of its president and the education minister.
Meanwhile, contract professors at LU held a protest near the Grand Serail to coincide with the Cabinet meeting. Following the session, Bou Saab met with the protesters who were angered by the ministers’ failure to act.
“I wanted to give you some good news about the university file, but unfortunately, the issue has not been resolved yet,” Bou Saab told reporters. “The Lebanese University will be in real danger if the issue of contract teachers is not resolved next week.”
Bou Saab said that of the 4,000 contract professors, the university can only hire about 400 full time. He said he had held several meetings with political blocs in the past 40 days and would continue doing so until a deal was reached.
As in every public institution, the government is trying to achieve a sectarian balance in the appointments.
Joreige said the Cabinet also discussed the issue of the presence of more than 1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
“The Cabinet had already approved a plan for Syrian refugees, including the establishment of camps on the border. This plan must be implemented.”