Jordanian higher-education leaders and student advocates are divided over a new bylaw that both allows and regulates students’ partisan activities on university campuses.
The new regulation, approved by Jordan’s cabinet last month, affirms that students are entitled to hold partisan activities at public and private universities, but it stipulates that such events may be held only at places and times approved by their institution’s dean of student affairs.
The bylaw requires students seeking to organize a partisan event to obtain the dean’s written approval before announcing the event.
They must submit a formal request at least ten days before the proposed event stating the activity’s title and purpose, the names of at least three applicants, a copy of the event invitation, and the event’s venue, proposed date and programme.
The request must also list the names of the event’s main speakers and show approval of the general secretary of the party requesting to hold the event.
After the dean of student affairs has approved an event, he or she may amend its time, place, or programme, so long as reasons are given. Even after an event is in session, the dean may stop it if an act that violates the bylaw or public order takes place.
Protections for Students
The regulation affirms the right of students to practice partisan activities in Jordan’s higher-education institutions, as long as those activities do not disturb campus safety or obstruct educational processes.
It states that institutions must allow students to form councils, associations and clubs, and exercise their right to run for office.
“Supporting the new system stems from realising the importance of political action in developing students’ awareness and enhancing their engagement in public work after graduation.”Nathir Obeidat, President of the University of Jordan
The bylaw also seeks to prevent institutions from interfering in student political activities. It prohibits them from questioning or punishing students for participating in partisan activities. It also prohibits institutions from being biased in favor of any party, or allowing any party to use campus space as a headquarters or office.
Faculty members are also prohibited from participating in or seeking to influence student political activities on campuses.
Comments from University Leaders
Nathir Obeidat, president of the University of Jordan, said in a statement to Al-Fanar Media that his support for the new bylaw “stems from realising the importance of political action in developing students’ awareness and enhancing their engagement in public work after graduation.”
He added that the new system also “allows interaction and integration between students’ ideas in the classroom and partisan activity within the official framework defined by law.”
Despite the new bylaw’s measures to preserve campus safety, however, Obeidat said he still had concerns about the potential for disruption at partisan activities.
He said there had to be mechanisms available to control partisan events, and “tighter penalties for misbehaviour, to avoid chaos or acts of violence which may negatively impact students’ academic achievement and the academic process.”
“Disciplinary regulations help universities maintain civil peace on campus,” he added, “especially with the emergence of violence in recent years under the guise of student freedom.”
Mohammed Taleb Obaidat, president of the private Jadara University, agreed that student partisan activity on Jordan’s campuses was important, but said it needed to be governed by laws so it becomes part of the education process, rather than something political that turns universities into “platforms for parties.”
Obaidat believes it is a good thing that young people engage in politics through student clubs, but he said: “We must achieve these aspirations by preserving the quality of education and by keeping the teacher-student relationship free from politics.”
“This regulation has transformed the dean for student affairs into an administrative ruler by granting him absolute power to allow or prevent any partisan event, and even to interfere in or amend an event’s details, in terms of place, time, and participants.”Fakher Daas, Coordinator of the Thabahtoona Campaign for Students’ Rights.
A former advisor to Jordan’s minister of higher education, Mohammed Obaidat believes educational courses should be made available to students before they engage in partisan events on campus. The curricula of these courses should distinguish between academia and politics, and explain the dangers of blurring that distinction, he said.
Student Advocates’ Views
However, Fakher Daas, coordinator of the Thabahtoona Campaign for Students’ Rights, thinks the new bylaw gives deans of student affairs too much power over student partisan activities.
“This regulation has transformed the dean for student affairs into an administrative ruler by granting him absolute power to allow or prevent any partisan event, and even to interfere in or amend an event’s details, in terms of place, time, and participants,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
Daas said student partisan activity on campuses did not require legislation, it needed a genuine will to reform “oppressive” disciplinary systems and allow elected student unions.
Farouk Al-Zoubi, a former member of the Student Union at the University of Jordan, said the priority should be freeing students from administrative and political restrictions and enabling universities to graduate students qualified to work in the public sector.
“We hope the goal is not to place more restrictions on student work under the pretext of allowing political action,” he told Al-Fanar Media.
Al-Zoubi called on the authorities to rethink the disciplinary systems of higher education institutions, which make any student activity outside the official framework an illegal act that may expose students to punishment. “This takes freedom out of students’ activities and work,” Al-Zoubi said.
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