BEIRUT: When Lebanese University president Adnan Sayyed Hussein issued a decree establishing a department for Persian literature and language for the upcoming academic year, his decision sparked a controversy on the campus that still has professors crying foul.
The university has established two departments, Persian and Turkish, since the end of May.
The decision is a major growth of the university’s Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences and lays the groundwork for an expansion of language and literature degrees.
But faculty members say that the process that created the departments violated the university’s regulations. They say they were not involved in the decision of the establishment of the new departments, while the administration of the university maintains the move followed regulations and it was the professors who did not participate in the process.
After Sayyed Hussein signed the decree to establish the Persian department at the end of May, the move disturbed a large number of faculty members at the university. Leaders of the Union of LU Full-time Professors quickly cried out that the administration ignored the standards for creating a new department, which typically involve a lengthy review process.
Charbel Kfoury, the head of the LU professors union, questioned the accelerated process for the new departments, saying the university ignored the consultant role typically played by his group when making changes to the school’s structure.
He said LU professors don’t have any problem introducing a new language to the university, but only if it happens within the normal process and legal procedures of the public university.
“The Persian language is a very old language, and introducing it to the university offers an entry into a very rich culture,” Kfoury said, emphasizing that the problem lay in the rapid and uncertain process at which the departments were created.
Kfoury said that the rapid establishment of the departments, particularly the Persian one, sparked discussions within the faculty over whether the department had political motivations.
Language departments are sensitive topics at the public university. Introducing a new language to a public university might be understood as a political move, to extend the reach of a regional power into Lebanon.
Some groups are uncomfortable with languages such as Turkish, given the centuries of often brutal Ottoman rule of the Lebanon area. Cultural ties between Turkey and Lebanon are still relatively cool and few universities offer Turkish language instruction.
Turkish and Armenian enmity complicates matters further; Industry Minister Vrej Sabounjian has spoken out against teaching Turkish in Lebanese schools, saying it would take the country back to Ottoman times.
Deepening suspicion over the motives of establishing the Persian department was that it was included under an education cooperation agreement between Lebanon and Iran, highlighting the friendly political ties between the March 8 coalition and Persian-speaking Iran.
Wafaa Berry, dean of the Faculty of Letters and Human Sciences, said that the department was created out of need: LU was already teaching Persian classes before the creation of the department, and the establishment of a full department was a natural expansion.
Berry said LU did not take any decisions before making sure it was in the interests of the university, and before organizing an academic schedule for the Persian language department.
“The problem in Lebanon is that everybody thinks and acts depending on his or her point of view, without being objective and without letting go of their political beliefs,” Berry said.
She says the new departments fit into a broad language plan that includes adding a Spanish language department in the next academic year and adding Chinese language classes in the upcoming years.
She said that although there was help and cooperation from the Iranian Education Ministry, political criticism of the new department was baseless.
LU followed all the required procedures and held numerous lectures before the establishment of the Persian department, but the professors did not follow up the process that took place perfectly legally, she argued. – With additional reporting by Zac Karabatak