Lebanon’s only public university has suspended classes after professors were assaulted by security forces last week during a protest against delays in paying their salaries.
The Full-Time Professors’ Association at the Lebanese University had organised a sit-in on March 30 which also condemned the government’s failure to increase the institution’s budget, but security forces broke up the demonstration.
Mojtaba Mortada, an executive member of the association, described the assaults as “an insult to the state and the nation.”
In a phone call to Al-Fanar Media, he said: “The battle today is for the university’s survival and continuity” and “taking part in it is a national and humanitarian duty.”
The professors decided to continue a strike they began three weeks ago, demanded an apology from the security forces, and stepped up their protests by organising a sit-in outside the Ministry of Education.
Mortada, a professor of law and political and administrative sciences, said: “We are trying to make up for it before the academic year is lost and the university is destroyed. The University’s existence is at stake, given Lebanon’s current difficult times.”
“It is not normal for a university to be forced to suspend classes annually for being preoccupied with demanding things and rights that are smoothly achieved in all universities around the world.”Bassam Badran
President of the Lebanese University
No Alternative to Government Support
Bassam Badran, president of the Lebanese University, told Al-Fanar Media that a formal request for increasing the wages of contracted faculty members was transferred to the government a few months ago. No ministerial discussions have taken place, however, because of the country’s financial crisis, he said.
Badran said the university had reached agreements with international donors in recent weeks, but said “this temporary support will not allow the continuity of the university.”
He added: “There is no alternative to government support, especially for the contracted professors.”
Established in 1952, the Lebanese University has about 86,000 students in 19 faculties and three specialised institutes, with 76 branches throughout Lebanon. It has about 1,650 contracted faculty members, 3,320 full-time teaching staff members, and 2,500 administrative staff members.
According to Badran, its annual budget has collapsed to about $12 million, out of the $265 million the administration sought for the current academic year.
Protests are not limited to the teaching staff. The central administration building also witnessed a solidarity protest on April 5. It was attended by the Ministers of Culture, Muhammed Wissam Al-Mortada, and of Information, Ziad Makary.
Badran told the protestors that since 1997 the university’s needs had been subject to “interactions and investments” that were irrelevant to academic life.
Attack on Education
“Besieging the university financially with the budget, and functionally by preventing it from meeting its needs, is an attack on the student’s right to education,” he said.
Badran said “the failure to strengthen the Lebanese University is a clear violation of the Taif Agreement [that ended the Lebanese civil war in September 1989], which explicitly stipulated the need to strengthen its role.”
“The Lebanese University has spent all its laboratory and research resources to protect the citizens’ health, yet it did not even obtain its rightful allotment of 50 million dollars, despite a clear decision on that by the prosecutor of the Audit Bureau.”Bassam Badran
It was, he said, “not normal for a university to be forced to suspend classes annually due to its being preoccupied with demanding things and rights that are smoothly achieved in all universities around the world.”
He noted that during the Covid-19 pandemic, “the Lebanese University spent all its laboratory and research resources to protect the citizens’ health,” but it did not receive the 50 million dollars approved by the Audit Bureau.
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Amer Halawani, president of the teachers’ association, said the university is “in grave danger” and asked: “What is the image we want to present to future generations? That they should not learn? Because knowledge might make them beggars?”
He said this year’s budget was not enough to cover salaries and operational expenses. “Political and sectarian quotas are the reason behind the delay in the appointment of deans for four years,” he said.