BEIRUT: The Education Minister announced Thursday that the discussion on appointing deans to Lebanese University's council was postponed to the Cabinet's next session, delaying the decree that would provide contract professors with full-time employment.
“It turned out that no one listened to the mechanism we had suggested,” Bou Saab said, rejoining the professors’ protest after the Cabinet session. “I suggested moving 600 professors to full-time positions if moving all of them is unfeasible.”
The Cabinet had initially approved giving full-time status to the LU contract professors, who have been carrying out strikes and protests for months.
However, many minsters refused to finalize the professors’ status without approving the appointment of new deans at the state-run university, saying it was a package deal, while Education Minister Elias Bou Saab had called for dealing with one matter at a time.
"There is no separation between the two cases of contract professors and the university council," said Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas after the session.
Bou Saab had convinced the ministers to approve the professors’ file, but then a dispute erupted between the Progressive Socialist Party and the Kataeb ministers over the appointment of the dean of the faculty of medicine. The PSP insist on the appointment of Pierre Yared, but this was opposed by the Kataeb party, who said that the PSP was not supposed to choose who gets a Christian post in the LU.
After the first agreement, many ministers refused to announce a decision before resolving the second matter, which led to freezing the professors' deal.
The partial approval coincided with a protest by the contract professors, who blocked a road in Riad al-Solh in Downtown Beirut earlier Thursday to press ministers to grant them full-time employment.
About 100 contract professors gathered at Riad al-Solh protesting the Cabinet’s delay in finalizing their full-time employment.
Facing the Grand Serail where the Cabinet session was underway, the professors threatened to resign if their demands were not met, moving at one point as if to storm the building.
Guards intervened, and the crowd dissipated, only to reappear on the other side of the road, near Parliament. Police also prevented this move, which prompted the crowd to perform a sit-in, blocking the entrance of the banks street.
Protestors were enraged after receiving news that the conflict between Progressive Socialist Party and Kataeb ministers on the issue of the deans had disrupted the decision concerning contract professors.
Raafat Tarraf, a member of the contract professors committee explained to The Daily Star about Yared’s appointment controversy, but said that “Yared has four months before retiring, which shows the absurdity of the whole matter.”
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.
At least one protestor was seen tossing eggs toward the Grand Serail, while another kept his packed bag “for emergency or escalation purposes.”
“It seems they do not understand our words,” he told The Daily Star, “so perhaps our eggs will deliver the message.”
The incident sparked no clash, however.
Education Minister Elias Bou Saab had made a brief appearance in Riad al-Solh, to explain to the protesters the nature of the delay.
“There is no problem with the [contract professors] issue; the problem lies with the deans’ appointment,” he told them.
“The LU can work without the deans, but it will not go on without the contract professors,” spokesman Tarraf said. “Let the Cabinet continue discussing the deans matter but get done with ours. The two cases can easily be separated.”
The professors pledged escalation if their demands were not approved.
“It is not about the LU contract professors, it is bigger than that,” Tarraf said. “There is a decision to ruin the Lebanese University.”
He accused parties of intending to ruin Lebanon’s public university in order to enhance their private universities, and thus enhance their personal profits.