BEIRUT: The American University of Beirut is bracing for a student-led occupation of a central building on campus Wednesday afternoon after activists accused the administration and Board of Trustees of not taking seriously their demands to halt the tuition hike.
“Following the BoT’s [Board of Trustees] unresponsiveness and disregard of the demands of the student body, further escalation of our actions is clearly a necessity,” read a statement posted on a Facebook event page titled Occupy College Hall by a group called Students of AUB.
“Starting Wednesday, April 2 2014, we will start a sit in at 3:00 pm in front of College Hall, during which we sill set up tents and sleep for an undetermined period of time.”
AUB President Peter Dorman, Provost Ahmad Dallal and the university’s Chief Financial Officer George DeBin all have their offices in College Hall. The university denies that it disregarded student demands.
Students are calling for the administration to freeze tuition fees for next year, something the administration says is practically impossible due to the funds needed to maintain AUB’s standard of operations.
While dialogue between a student delegation and Dorman is ongoing, some say they have begun to doubt the goodwill of the administration.
According to one graduate student, who asked to remain anonymous, it has tried to silence students’ demands. The goal of the College Hall occupation, she said, was to “push back, to reclaim a space where students can’t be ignored.”
Dallal said he did not see the point of the protest: “I don’t know what purpose the occupation will serve.”
He said the university’s financial officers were working long hours to develop budget plans that would minimize the tuition increase, but did not disclose details of the numbers being considered.
“We just cannot commit to a figure right now,” he said, adding: “It will take four or five weeks to resolve this issue.”
Students, however, accuse the administration of dragging its feet ahead of the upcoming Board of Trustees’ meetings at which the budget will be finalized.
“We can’t just wait around for the board’s response in May,” said a student activist, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Jean. “We believe this [occupation] is a form of peaceful pressure that can have a stronger impact than an open strike.”
The occupation plan was decided upon after a letter released by Dorman last week all but confirmed that tuition would indeed increase next year, Jean explained. “It’s finished, [the administration] didn’t give us any other choice,” he said.
Despite having previously sympathized with the students’ demands, Dean of Student Affairs Talal Nizameddin strongly censured the planned occupation.
“I do not support the occupation of any building for a variety of reasons including safety concerns,” he told The Daily Star.
“I know that the Occupy Wall Street movement was fashionable and this is probably the model that is being emulated, but in this case, the university is home to students,” he said. “Having large crowds in buildings and blocking exits puts lives at risk.”
Jean, however, was confident that the occupation of College Hall would have a positive impact.
“During the day, it will be a place where students will hang out and protest and study and spend their time,” he said.
“We believe that if the occupation succeeds, the administration will go for negotiations.”
The Daily Star