BEIRUT: Dean of Student Affairs at AUB Talal Nizameddin signed Thursday a student petition calling for tuition increases to stop. Crouching down to sign the banner unfurled across one of the University’s main thoroughfares, Nizameddin joined hundreds of students worried that a proposed tuition increase would be prohibitive for their families.
“I felt my heart was with the students’ demands for the fact that the tuition increase hurts a lot of families,” he told The Daily Star.
Much of the faculty sympathizes with the students, Nizameddin added. “Most of the faculty that I’ve heard [from] have been understanding of the students’ concerns. They feel that these are difficult times in Lebanon and the region and families are hurting.”
While AUB President Peter Dorman has assured students that the university’s financial aid program will expand with tuition hikes, Nizameddin said many remain wary.
“The concern is that the ... increases will be faster than the support the university can give.”
Many are concerned that tuition increases will ultimately result in a more homogenous student body.
“I’m personally worried about it,” Nizameddin said of diversity among the student body.
Students have called for a daylong strike on March 11. A flyer distributed at the petition signing publicized the boycott and “a series of actions/movements spread in the following two weeks.”
Some who are unaffected by the tuition increase have also expressed their support for the strike.
Seba Sadr, who is set to graduate this semester, says the legacy of the university is at stake.
“Students here who can no longer afford the tuition are going to be suffering. The administration should not let their students down,” she told The Daily Star at the petition signing.
Sadr said she would “absolutely” strike with the students.
“It’s getting too much,” Ghia al-Rifai said of tuition fees at AUB. “Not everyone can afford it, but it’s supposed to be a university ‘for all classes,’” she added, summarizing sentiments expressed by the university’s founder Daniel Bliss.
Rifai said that she would support next Tuesday’s strike.
But it seems misinformation and perhaps a lack of communication are plaguing the dialogue between students and the administration.
Rumors that some university tuition fees would be used to cover some of the costs of the AUB hospital (AUBMC) also raised the ire of the student body.
“We’re paying for the debt that AUBMC has to go through and we’re also paying for the AUBMC employees,” said Nour, a student at the petition signing.
While elected student officials say members of the administration confirmed wage increases for AUBMC staff would be covered by the tuition hike at AUB, Dr. Ziyad Ghazzal, deputy vice president of the university’s Faculty of Medicine, categorically denied the claims.
“AUB student tuition fees do not subsidize the medical center operation, which has its own operating budget,” he told The Daily Star.
Meanwhile, Dorman issued a letter to the AUB community Thursday, announcing two working groups that would examine the university’s expenditures and revenue streams.
The first commission, comprised of deans, professors and the university’s Chief Financial Officer Drew Wickens, will continue to “look specifically at scenarios and alternatives to the projected 6 percent tuition increase for the upcoming academic year.”
The second commission will “identify areas of savings and efficiencies ... suggest alternate sources of revenue for the university, and propose a sustainable plan for financial prudence in our budgets going forward.”
“Student representation on both bodies is essential,” Dorman added.
Currently, more student tuition fees account for more than 85 percent of the university’s budget.
“We need to find a way to move forward together. A unified approach is our best and only solution for resolution,” Dorman’s email concluded.