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Lebanese University bill finally approved

Education Minister Elias Bou Saab speaks to Lebanese University professors as they celebrate in front of the Grand Serail in Beirut, Thursday, July 24, 2014. (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)

BEIRUT: In a marathon session, the Cabinet unanimously approved Thursday the thorny Lebanese University decree, appointing deans to the institution’s council and making contract-based professors full-timers, after years of disputes and struggles over the issue.

The Cabinet also allocated funds to pay salaries to public sector employees.

“The Cabinet agreed to appoint deans for 19 Lebanese University faculties,” Information Minister Ramzi Joreige told reporters after the session. “It also gave the university permission to make candidate professors proposed by Education Minister Elias Bou Saab full-timers.”

It is the first time the government has appointed LU deans since October 2001. Contract professors were last made full-timers in May 2008.

The absence of fully fledged deans over the past decade had prompted the transfer of the powers of the university’s council to the education minister and LU president, crippling the university’s independence and preventing professors from having a say in issues related to the running of the university.

“What happened today is a victory for professors who have been struggling for all these years and it is a victory for the university and the nation,” said Mirvat Ballout, the spokesperson for contract professors. Speaking to The Daily Star, she said that around 1,100 professors would benefit from the decree.

Contract professors have refrained from grading final exams and have been holding weekly protests to pressure the government to make them full-timers, a status that entitles teachers to National Social Security Fund benefits, a salary every month rather than every two years and other perks.

Ballout said the professors would now start correcting the exams and that they would release final grades as soon as possible.

Bou Saab said the approval of the decree was a “victory for the university,” and joined dozens of LU contract professors gathered in the capital’s Riad al-Solh Square to celebrate.

The government has failed on several occasions to approve the LU decree. This breakthrough came after Speaker Nabih Berri held intensified contacts with Kataeb Party leader Amine Gemayel and Free Patriotic Movement head Michel Aoun.

Initially, the Kataeb Party and the FPM had demanded that a Maronite figure loyal to them replace Pierre Yared, the acting dean of the Faculty of Medicine. Progressive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt had insisted instead that Yared, a Greek Catholic, remain in his post.

In the end, a compromise was reached, by which Yared stayed in his post and was made a fully-fledged dean, in return for the PSP allowing the Kataeb Party to choose someone to fill the position of the dean of the Faculty of Tourism and Hotel Management. The Kataeb Party was also allowed to choose two of its followers to fill the academic seats on the LU Council.

The agreement was finalized shortly before the session during a meeting between Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Bou Saab and Economy Minister Alain Hakim, who is from the Kataeb Party.

The Cabinet also agreed to allocate funds to pay salaries for public-sector employees, ending weeks of uncertainty due to differences among ministers over where to get the money from.

Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, from Berri’s bloc, is insisting Parliament pass a law that will allow the extra-budgetary spending needed by the Cabinet. He was opposed by the March 14 coalition, which argued that public sector employee salaries did not require Parliament’s approval.

Khalil said after the session that a decision had instead been made to pull funds from the Treasury reserve, originally allocated for ministries.

“We are still adhering to the law on the expense of tightening spending in various ministries. There is still a need to go to Parliament to either approve the 2014 budget or a law to allow extra-budgetary spending as soon as possible for the sake of the state and its institutions,” Khalil said.Ministerial sources said the funds would cover salaries for two months and that officials were working on drafting a law that would retroactively legalize extra-budgetary spending of previous governments. The sources also sounded optimistic that the long-awaited salary raise for the public sector would be endorsed by Parliament after the two-day Eid al-Fitr Holiday.

Also Thursday, Cabinet approved a proposal by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk and Justice Minister Ashraf Rifi to abolish lists of wanted individuals put together based on material gathered from informants.

The move fulfills a key demand of protesters in Tripoli who have claimed that arrests during the spring security crackdown were made based on the lists rather than the legally required judicial arrest warrants.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on July 25, 2014, on page 1.

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Summary

In a marathon session, the Cabinet unanimously approved Thursday the thorny Lebanese University decree, appointing deans to the institution's council and making contract-based professors full-timers, after years of disputes and struggles over the issue.

The Cabinet also allocated funds to pay salaries to public sector employees.

Contract professors were last made full-timers in May 2008 .

The absence of fully fledged deans over the past decade had prompted the transfer of the powers of the university's council to the education minister and LU president, crippling the university's independence and preventing professors from having a say in issues related to the running of the university.

Contract professors have refrained from grading final exams and have been holding weekly protests to pressure the government to make them full-timers, a status that entitles teachers to National Social Security Fund benefits, a salary every month rather than every two years and other perks.

The agreement was finalized shortly before the session during a meeting between Prime Minister Tammam Salam, Bou Saab and Economy Minister Alain Hakim, who is from the Kataeb Party.


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