BEIRUT: The nearly decadelong absence of the Lebanese University’s council has crippled the institution’s independence and distanced professors from the decision-making process, according to the university president and academics.
Professors are threatening to launch an open-ended strike at the start of the upcoming academic year if the government does not appoint deans to the council and make contract-based professors full-timers, both long-standing demands.
LU President Adnan Sayyed Hussein said the absence of the university’s council over the past decade was preventing professors from having a say on issues related to their own workplace and had paralyzed the institution on several occasions.
“In the presence of the council, all issues related to the university are settled inside the university. This saves time, effort and money,” Sayyed Hussein told The Daily Star. “Who knows better about the university’s affairs than its staff?”
According to Law 67 of 1975, which regulates the Lebanese University, the institute should be run by a president and a council.
The council is made up of deans from LU’s 16 faculties and institutes, in addition to a professor representing each faculty, a representative of the National Union of Lebanese University Students – which has yet to be formed – and two academics.
The last time the Cabinet appointed deans to the council was in October 2001. Their terms expired three years later and acting deans have been on the board since then.
The council manages the financial, academic and administrative affairs of the university, which has more than 70,000 students.
It also approves the employment of professors and carries out oversight activity in the university.
In the absence of a council, the powers of the body are transferred to the university president and education minister.
But Sayyed Hussein said this policy should not be a permanent one. “What if disputes break out between the minister and the university’s president? ... Wouldn’t this paralyze the university?”
The longstanding issue was thrown once more into spotlight after Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government failed on multiple occasions to pass a decree giving contract-based professors full-time status and appointing deans to the council.
While an agreement appears to have been reached over the first demand, Cabinet parties are still at odds over the appointment of deans, and the battle over the LU decree is set to continue when Cabinet meets again Thursday.
Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt wants Pierre Yared, the acting dean of the Faculty of Medicine, to become a fully fledged dean.
But the Kataeb Party is insisting that a dean from within its ranks is given the post, a demand opposed by Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, who is close to Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun.
Aoun, in turn, is pressing for that dean post to be filled by a Maronite. Yared is Greek Catholic.
Hamid Hakam, the head of the League of Lebanese University Professors, said politicians had “crossed a red line by interfering in the university’s affairs.”
“It is unacceptable that the appointment of a dean is imposed because of his sect or because he hails from a certain area,” Hakam said.
“We are in Lebanon, and sectarian balance is required and is already respected, given that university professors are from various sects. But we should not go too far,” he continued.
Hakam explained that such an attitude gave the impression that sectarian considerations were more important than qualifications.
“What if none of the professors from a certain sect were interested in being appointed as deans?”
Hakam agreed that the absence of the university’s council was preventing deans from having a say in matters related to the university.
“Currently, every acting dean takes care of his faculty only. However, in a university council, the dean can take part in decisions related to the entire university,” Hakam said.
“The council discusses all issues related to the university, including curriculums and the need to open new branches,” Hakam said. “All this is now in the hands of the education minister and the university’s president. But how can the president and the minister run the affairs of a university of over 70,000 students, 1,250 full-time professors and more than 3,000 contract-based professors?”
Hakam also stressed LU’s pressing need for new full-time professors, noting that since 2008 the university had lost around 750 professors, mostly due to retirements.
In protest at the Cabinet’s inability to agree on the issue, contract professors have refrained from grading final exams and are now holding weekly protests to pressure the Cabinet to meet their demands.
Hamad warned that professors would go on strike and delay the start of the upcoming academic year if the government did not approve the LU decree.
At the university, some students said they supported the boycott, even though they also acknowledged that they were harmed by such action.
“I was initially opposed to the move, but now I believe that their strike will solve the problem once and for all,” said Elie Marj, a chemistry student. “This will be better than having professors who studied for eight years to earn their PHD having to stay in the street to ask for their rights.”
He also criticized the politicization of the issue and the involvement of sectarian requirements: “Why don’t they [politicians] just rely on qualifications? ... If things continue like this, they will be ruining our future and that of professors because the university will simply shut down.”
For Malak Makki, it is ultimately the government’s fault that the results of her final exams have been delayed. “We are nervous and confused. I need to know my results as soon as possible because I am planning to move to the Fanar branch,” said the biology student, who is currently attending classes at LU’s Nabatieh Branch.
“If the government had given professors their rights, they wouldn’t have resorted to such acts.”