Lebanon News

No end to Lebanese University conundrum in sight

Education Minister Elias Bou Saab attends a ceremony in Beirut, Friday, July 11, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

Education Minister Elias Bou Saab’s decision to pin the blame on premier Tammam Salam and his government for not having resolved the Lebanese University contract teachers issue is merely a tactic to divert attention from his own failures in the dispute, according to well-informed sources.

One such failure is his inability to fulfill the big promises he made to the teachers when he took over his ministerial duties, promises he made before comprehensively studying the file in terms of its administrative, economic, political and sectarian dimensions.

The question of whether to employ contract professors as full-timers has languished as a result of key players stalling for time and politicizing the issue, sources told The Daily Star

Bou Saab wants to give full-time status to approximately 1,200 contract professors – an increase on the original 700 – including many who do not have the necessary academic qualifications, sources said, something that would financially burden the state. According to the sources, Bou Saab’s proposal is something many ministers cannot agree to, as indicated during the most recent Cabinet session, and these ministers are not expected to change their stance anytime soon.

Ministerial sources pointed out that the addition of 1,200 teachers to the full-time roster was difficult to get a consensus on, regardless of the compromises being proposed during ongoing talks. They also noted that in case a compromise was reached, the number of teachers would still certainly not reach 1,200, as Bou Saab has been hoping for.

The sources also said the matter of moving contract teachers to full-time workers should be dealt with by the university council, which requires the appointment of such a body composed of 19 deans headed by the university president, so that it can study each file individually and confirm its legality and credibility. This would also ensure that the issue does not fall into politicians’ hands, as they are concerned with their popularity rather than the future of the university.

As for appointing the deans, there was a deal to maintain sectarian distribution in order to avoid stirring up trouble, but this has fallen through.

According to the sources, the president of the university, for political reasons and under the pretext of rotation, issued Decree 54 on Jan. 16 commissioning eight members of staff to carry out the duties of the deans, ignoring the sectarian formula that previously existed.

Today there is a conflict between the Christian parties regarding the appointment of deans, after other sects received their shares through the names put forth by the education minister. The position of the dean of medicine, for example, is being fought over by the Kataeb Party, the Catholic Church, the Progressive Socialist Movement, and the Free Patriotic Movement. FPM’s leader Michel Aoun is insistent that the post be given to a Maronite and has nominated a candidate, who, according to academics, does not have the proper qualifications for the job.

The sources said Bou Saab should reconsider the Lebanese University file and take into consideration the need for consensus among all ministers rather than allowing the current state of conflict to continue.

The ongoing dispute between Christian parties regarding the presidency has now seeped into Cabinet sessions and is affecting the debate on the files on its agenda, including the Lebanese University file. This state of affairs was clearly exposed when Labor Minister Sejaan Azzi, from the Kataeb party, bluntly stated that he was undergoing a political battle that nobody could prevent him from continuing with.

Government sources told The Daily Star that if the conflicting parties did not each reach a much-needed compromise regarding the Lebanese University file, Salam would have to postpone it and move on to other things on the agenda so that the government can resume its work in light of the ongoing presidential void.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 16, 2014, on page 4.




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