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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Freedom of Speech at AUB: Why I was fired from Align

The following is a post from Mind Soup about an AUB student who was fired from a position in AUB due to expressing his opinion about "wasta" in admissions. Unfortunately, the original article is not available online anymore, but it can be requested from this link.

Republishing rights have been acquired recently, however, this article was originally published on April 22, 2010.
A month ago, I got recommended by a friend to work for Align, the official Olayan School of Business (OSB) monthly electronic newsletter at the American University of Beirut (AUB). I applied and immediately got accepted.

Two weeks ago, the letters of acceptances to the AUB Medical School were sent out to senior premedical students. In short, several very qualified candidates did not get acceptance letters while others with much lower grades got the approval. The role of ‘wasta’ (i.e. connections) was very apparent, especially with the new rolling-out admissions system they are implementing.

In a spontaneous effort to expose the truth while trying to cheer the deserving people up, I published an opinion piece on my personal profile on Facebook and my personal blog “Mind Soup” discussing the effect of ‘wasta’ and favoritism on decisions made by several departments in AUB while focusing on the recent results of the Medical School acceptances. This opinion article, entitled “There is no ‘wasta’  at the American University of Beirut” raised much more controversy that I have anticipated, and I recieved tons of supporting messages and opposing messages to my personal e-mail address and Facebook inbox. This article has received more than five hundred distinct hits from 17 different countries on the blog alone in two days.

Two days after that, I received what I would like to call a “hate phone-call” from an anonymous private number bashing me for writing the article. I, then, pulled the article down from Facebook and my blog for security reasons, but then put it up again after I received tons of requests from friends who haven’t got the chance to read it.

Tuesday morning, I receive an e-mail from the Align faculty advisor and a personal phone call requesting to see me to discuss some “bad news.” I didn’t think of it very highly and proceeded to work on my INFO 200 project until I had some free time. During that meeting, I was informed that effective immediately, I was fired from Align and no longer hold a “Staff Writer” position. I was told that someone with a high position accessed my personal blog and read the ‘wasta’ article, asked around about me, and requested from the Dean of OSB to lay me off from Align. I was also requested to remove the Align logo and link from my blog. I was being exiled for voicing my opinion on my personal blog which has no relation whatsoever to Align.

In accordance with that, I recieved a formal letter which relieved me from my duty at Align. This letter clearly blamed my ‘firing’ directly to the ‘wasta’  blog post, as follows:
by. […] Consequently, 
ALIGN. […]
It was very clear that this decision was not made by the advisor of Align, but from higher authorities at AUB. For that, I am very appreciative of the whole Align team, and especially its advisor, for the opportunity to be part of such a hard-working team. I sincerely hold no grudge on any of the Align team members, nor the Dean of OSB or any AUB employee that took part of making and implementing this decision.

What seems annoyingly interesting is how these official got hold of my blog and read my article. After some investigations, I was tipped off by a source (who shall remain unnamed) that one premedical student who got accepted to the AUB Medical School got so upset by my opinion piece that he/she directed a highly influential figure in AUB to my blog, who then took this extreme measure. I’m still not sure if this information in one hundred percent accurate, but I would rather not believe that AUB officials stalk students online activities.

This experience has proved pretty much that as much as AUB tries to uphold the Western values, and pretends to give its students the right to freedom of speech, this notion is very doubtful. It is very sad that students have no right to voice their opinions, even using personal means such as Facebook or personal blogs. I am sure that all hell would have broken loose if my article would have been published, as I was considering, in Outlook, AUB’s official student newspaper.

Moreover, I was very grateful for the reaction I immediately recieved from friends and colleagues about this issue. My inbox was flooded with support letters from caring friends and colleagues that made this loss seem much more of a victory than I thought.

I would just like to thank my friends and colleagues for all this support and assure them that I am in no way upset or disappointed for being fired for defending deserving students and voicing the truth. On the contrary, I take this as a huge compliment. My voice was heard by some high official in AUB who got so pissed to the extent that he/she had to hunt me down and fire me for the journalistic integrity that I uphold.

They all know that what I am saying has a huge extent of truth in it, if not completely true. They could have simply caught my bluff and retaliated with a press-release denying my claims (like what have been done on previous occasions), but what they did only makes my point stronger.

I consider this unfortunate incident as a blue ribbon on my chest. It pushes me forward to pursue a third major in journalism after I was thinking about it for the last two years. I now know how hard it is for true journalists to make it in real life. If they thought they have shut me up by firing me, they better think again. I am a true journalist now.

Investigation: Cafeteria Sit-in - Do we care?

Below is an investigation article written by Mohammad Hijazi and published in AUB's Outlook newspaper and Mind Soup about the disastrous conditions of the AUB cafeteria and Faqra Catering.
Is Faqra Catering much worse than its predecessor? 
by Mohammad Hijazi
This article was published in Outlook, AUB's Official Student Newspaper on March 23, 2010.
One of the most advertised events that occurred last week was the Cafeteria Sit-in organized by the USFC, which only lasted around ten minutes and attracted far less students than expected. This was a great opportunity to interview students who where around at that time about this matter. The main question behind this investigation was: Do students really care about the cafeteria? Yet, this question opened many doors to other issues related to the cafeteria and Faqra Catering- the current service.
Biology junior Abeer Mahfouz described the sit-in as useless. "We've managed to survive without the cafeteria," she said. "There are much more important issues for the USFC to protest about. These include the decreasing number of printers in Jafet library, the huge increase in internet fees, and HIP coverage which is very useless." Biology senior Elia El Haber also believes that there are other priorities.

"Of course there are more important issues to protest about, like the recent increase in tuition fees and decrease in on-campus shuttle timings. But even the matters that interest most of the student body, such as the cafeteria, attracted very few protesters and for little time. We were there at 12.20 pm and sadly, we were the only ones standing. A sit-in should have a more striking position, especially if it involves the whole student body."

Education senior Nadine Ghaith was there during the cafeteria sit-in. She described the scene as a "heroic act of nothingness. Taking down the green 'Under Construction' banner was like taking down the statue of an unpopular political leader." She explained that the sit-in will not make a difference, especially that it was very short-lived. In accordance with that, Psychology sophomore Lojine Kamel believes that "the cafeteria sit-in, though admirable, was pointless. In the end, it's not the students but the administration who decides and one day of protesting won't make them move any faster."

Business senior Sahar Makki demonstrated utter disapproval of the cafeteria's condition, whether in the past or present. "It doesn't matter that there is no cafeteria because it definitely won't be up to par." She continued to express her disapproval of Faqra Catering, their branches (OSB, Hostler), and their quality.

Third year Graphic Design student Nadine Chehade said, "Last year, I used to grab something to eat from the main cafeteria since it was almost always on my way from a class to another. Now that it is closed, I can't replace it with Hostler which is never on my way, nor with that of engineering, which is currently also closed for renovations." Moreover, she describes the current cafeteria as a "bus/truck that is out of place, out of context, even if it is there just temporarly. It always makes me lose my appetite and I end up getting food from outside AUB."

Food science graduate student Loulwa Kalash actually agrees with the concept of the sit-in. "There's nothing to lose but there is a lot to win if we got our voices heard," she said. "For me, its one of my priorities since I care about my food and where to eat everyday. Health is very important and food is basically an issue that determines your health state." Yet, she complains about the Hostler branch since its always so crowded. "It has a very inefficient spacing if we consider the wide space surrounding it. It's just a waste on architecture but no efficient space to accommodate students, staff, and faculty." 

In addition to the reasons mentioned above, many students are hesitant about the presentation and quality of the food in all branches. Kalash confirms this by saying that she doesn't like how they display their food. "It makes me uncomfortable and hesitant if I want to eat [from them]. I mean its not a closed environment." Biology senior Elie Fares agrees by saying, "I have never tried their plat-du-jour because I basically don't think it looks good." He continues to say that "Faqra catering, in comparison to USM, is utter rubbish. You cannot even begin to compare the quality of service between the two: salad bars, better payment services, more food diversity, friendlier-looking employees, etc..." El Haber also believes that the older catering system was much better. "The new Faqra system has less variety, less availability, no freshness, and they are not cheap at all comparing to the quality they are serving," she said.

Fares also complained about the supply of food being produced each day. "Food runs out really fast and you don't have a constant supply of food coming in, so if it's over and there's nothing else you want to - or can eat -  around, you're screwed." 

In conclusion, it is very noticeable that most of the students are not satisfied with the current condition of the cafeteria. The closure of the main cafeteria might not have affected all the students, however they are all dissatisfied with Faqra Catering's food diversity, quality, and hygiene. "Graduating without a decent cafeteria is rather depressing," says Fares

Friday, June 4, 2010

AUB Academic Brave or Mad?

Al-Bayt Baytak explains about an AUB sociology professor who co-edited a book with the enemy, Israel.

Sari Hanafi, a sociology professor at the American University of Beirut, has done an incredibly brave or stupid act (depending on your perspective) co-editing a book with Israeli academics. This is particularly perplexing considering that Hanafi has put his name to the Lebanese Campaign for the boycott of Zionism in solidarity with the Palestinian call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. This includes boycotting Israeli academics and their institutions, as the statement reads:
Specifically, we ask our colleagues worldwide to support the call by the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel to comprehensively and consistently boycott and disinvest from all Israeli academic and cultural institutions, and to refrain from participation in any form of academic and cultural cooperation, collaboration or joining projects with Israeli institutions as a contribution to the struggle to end Israel’s occupation, colonization and system of apartheid.
The book is called The Power of Inclusive Exclusion and looks fascinating. The website details that the book is about:
The Power of Inclusive Exclusion analyzes the Israeli occupation as a rationalized system of political rule. With essays by leading Palestinian and Israeli scholars, a comprehensive chronology, photographs, and original documents, this groundbreaking book calls into question prevalent views of the occupation as a skewed form of brutal colonization, a type of Jewish apartheid, or an inevitable response to terrorism…. The Power of Inclusive Exclusion uncovers the structural logic that sustains and reproduces the occupation regime.
I imagine that Hanafi would take the argument that this project does not contribute to the continued occupation.
The Israeli co-editors of the book are Adi Ophir is Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory at the Cohn Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Ideas at Tel Aviv University and Michal Givoni is a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at Tel Aviv University.
The move by Hanafi has caused a quite a stir at the AUB campus and a petition has been created against normalisation of relations. 

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

AUB Strike Suspended, the Truth Behind the PCC incident

Gino's Blog responds to the claims by the Palestinian Cultural Club at AUB (more info).

A lot has been said and circulated regarding the past week’s events in AUB.  Tales of heroism, betrayal, battlefields, espionage, romance, and sometimes-even comedy were all over cyberspace and the campus itself. Some imbecile even declared a ‘jihad’ on the proposed 15-credit policy. Fortunately enough, I had the privilege of being one of the 15 members of the committee tasked with organizing the efforts to try and revoke the 15-credit policy.
How did I get there? Well, to make things clear, no club or society nominated me, for I am not a member of any politically active (or active at all) club or society.  Instead, I wanted to be there to share some logistical know-how that I can thank my scouts years for, and to try to make it clear that it wasn’t the clubs, societies, or what they represent that was going to make this work, but the students themselves whom I believed (like myself) would take the initiative themselves, without being coaxed or ‘recruited’ by a club or society.
My political views are well known to most of you and I am not ashamed of them. Given the circumstances though, where politics should’ve been our last concern, and the fact that rival parties were getting along better than their respective leaders outside the campus, I was inclined to shift and support where I thought was fit. That, plus my mac, landed me with the task of keeping minutes of our four, very long meetings. That is why, I believe, I am especially eligible to deny and/or validate what some people reported happened behind the West 310 room door.
First and foremost, the basics we all agreed upon were as follows:
  • Our movement is not a ‘revolution’ it is a ‘strike’
  • Our official and exclusive speakers will be VP Elias Ghanem and Jeffrey Karam
  • The logo and theme proposed will be the only ones used
  • Dean of Student Affairs Maroun Kisirwani and Campus Police Captain, Captain Shalak and any other university executive must not be obstructed physically in any way, in accordance with the university’s senate amendments in 2007 which make any student obstructing any other student, faculty, or staff, liable to Lebanese authorities and legal persecution
  • The signature ‘USFC’ will be modified to ‘USFC, Clubs and Societies’ and later ‘AUB Student Movement’
I will walk you through the events as they occurred chronologically.
Monday May 17th
The USFC called for a general meeting in West Hall at 6:00 PM. Concerns and plans were voiced and a conclusion was reached that a smaller committee needed to be formed to be able to handle business.
At 7:30 PM, the committee was formed by taking into consideration that all groups and parties be represented in addition of course to the people who are most knowledgeable on the subjects at hand.
Tuesday May 18th
The blueprint for Wednesday’s movement was drawn out and agreed upon and the campus was divided into sectors where USFC and committee members would oversee boycotting efforts and sit-ins and ensure things remain civilized and non-violent.
Wednesday May 19th
The build-up to the 12:00 protest on Main Gate was boycotting of classes in all university buildings except the FM region. The degrees of class boycotting and student cooperation varied widely and several incidents occurred but were properly resolved on the spot. It was clear to us, and to the whole of AUB, that the class boycotting approach at such a sensitive time needed to be reconsidered.
The protest was extremely successful, with numbers exceeding all expectations and behaving in a manner befitting of AUB students. After the march from Main to the Green Oval through West and Nicely and then onto Marquand House to finally get back to the Main Gate, the Provost Ahmad Dallal came out to propose negotiations with the students, to which the VP was hesitant considering no new developments had occurred. Nevertheless, the Provost was given the chance to address the students and got a sweeping reply from Jeffrey Karam.
This is where the protest took an unexpected turn: the microphone was usurped by a student I prefer not to name, even though you all know I’m sure, and this individual called on the crowd to march to OSB. The back-and-forth in the searing sun eventually led to the diminishing of our immense numbers after 5:30 PM, when all classes and offices would no longer be active.
The day was an extremely successful one, which served its purpose in telling the administration that the students were united and determined.
In the meeting to evaluate the day and prepare the next step, 2 new members (one of whom was the mic usurper) entered the closed meeting and demanded to join the committee (which had been working since Monday, and some of its members since well before the previous weekend). Of course, they had every right to be there and were welcomed onto the committee.
To our displeasure, the individual in question was impolite, obnoxious and condescending. Yet, he was not dealt with in the same manner and the meeting produced fair evaluation and a determination to decide what to do next. After several committee members exited the meeting for personal reasons and attachments, the newcomers were deeply offended and threatened to leave the committee. After a back-and-forth, indecisive retreats and comebacks, and rude comments and shouting, the newcomer sat down again and the main plans for Thursday were outlined, leaving the details to be filled by a smaller logistics committee.
Thursday May 20th and Friday May 21st
The day was basically a repeat of Wednesday on a larger scale that would culminate in the evening by students sleeping in front of College Hall. When the 12:00 hour struck, we all gathered in Main, and to our great surprise, the very same individual who had usurped the microphone a day earlier, had done so again and disregarded the decisions he had voted for only hours earlier.
This defection from the plan and the ejection of a small group of people from unity of the students led to undesirable incidents and the harassment of the two main university executives who were aiding us in our right to free speech and free expression, albeit within the law and non-violent. After repeated calls by the VP for those individuals to stop, compounded with the previous breach of protocol by those very same individuals, a statement was issued and signed ‘AUB students’ that these actions are not acceptable and will not be tolerated again. I am sure no AUB student wanted these 2 aforementioned executives to be harassed. Dean Kisirwani’s pacifist nature led him to deny being ‘assaulted’, but a day earlier, the woman who had harassed him, physically, had said in our meeting ‘ma3lei, ma bi sirlo shi, rijjel kbeer’ (it’s ok, he’s a grown man, he won’t get hurt)
That same afternoon, after our meeting was convened, the disruptive individual had garnered a lot of hostility within the committee, and one member motioned to have him voted off and replaced by another, more diplomatic and less hot-headed and less-radical representative. The same indecisiveness and juvenile attitude was administered by this individual, with blatant statements being shouted as he went out, then going back in to ‘search for a megaphone’ to disrupt the meeting. Amid this chaos, half a dozen members of the Palestinian Cultural Club walked in and demanded an apology for the email that did not specify anyone and which was never directed towards the PCC. VP Elias exited the room because of the chaos inside and the PCC members also exited to attend the cultural appreciation event in West Bathish. The PCC wanted an apology or else they would suspend their participation in the cause (which has nothing to do with being Palestinian or not).
They exited and the meeting went on, with no representative of the PCC. The next morning, we were surprised to see the extent of untruthful statements in the flyers they were distributing, and, as hoped for, the student body did not look into it as a truthful statement, but rather a desperate attempt to take the movement somewhere students didn’t want it to go: revolutionary, radical, and extreme-left. This was never a ‘class-struggle’, we never wanted to overrun the university and we certainly did not want to get violent to do so.
As for the absence of truth from the PCC’s shouting and cursing in West Hall Bathish, their representative’s carelessly chosen charged-words backfired, and the untruthfulness of his claims was revealed. He said that the PCC were deliberately sacked from the committee because the committee was racist. He then said they were ordered by the committee to physically obstruct buildings and students. It is interesting to see how that can come to be when they were ‘kicked out’ of the committee according to them. Also, the committee never voted for obstruction of buildings, only that Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA) which is something practiced all over the world, was an option for Friday’s movement.

An Example of the Preferred Method of Dialogue for Some Members

The Gestures Made Within the West 310 Room with 'Heil Hitler' being yelled
This was just a clarification to all students of what really happened behind closed doors and why the PCC rebelled against the rest of the university students. The next post will handle the proposal, it’s mechanism and what it means exactly.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

A Note from a Deceived Student

Below is a widely circulated "bayan" from a student coalition about their disappointment in the USFC protest for the tuition increase.
A Note from a Deceived Student

“A prince never lacks legitimate reasons to break his promise.” - Niccolo Machiavelli

Unfortunately our VP seems to agree with the founder of the most deceitful political school, turning the demands of thousands of students into a commodity that he sold under political pressure, selling with it everything the students struggled and risked being expelled for to benefit the relation between his political clan and the university’s Administration.

For the sake of objectivity, we must recognize our VP for his outstanding marketing skills. I presume that all of you have received a Blackberry message, a Facebook message or a flier inviting us to join the “REVOLUTION!”

I was glad to honor that invitation and do whatever it takes to oppose the tuition increase. Ironically, it was the first time when my father was asking me to skip classes. The 15 credits policy will turn my university education a nightmare for him, not to mention whether he would be able to ensure a decent higher education for my two younger siblings.

Feeling that I was contributing to a noble cause, I was proud to boycott my classes on Wednesday, May 19, 2010: Revolution’s Day 1.
Revolution Day 2: More and more lobbying! There is no turning back right now!
Revolution Day 3: The disaster! Our VP might have learned from higher officials that “entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage.” Why don’t we set up a deal with the university’s Administration, trading what thousands of students have protested for?

Mr. VP, thank you for turning us down. Good luck in your political career…
Students Coalition

Monday, May 24, 2010

AUB Strike: PCC & BDS withdrew. "We won't tolerate the USFC's irresponsible, ill-mannered & racist behavior"

The following is a post from Farfahinne about certain parties in AUB leaving the tuition increase strike.
After a series of events today, during which the leadership of the USFC strike did not stick to the plans that were decided upon during the meetings the night before and during which USFC VP Elias Ghanem unilaterally demanded Palestinian Cultural Club be kicked out of the strike, we have decided to withdraw our participation from this strike. These "leaders" from the UCSF "organizing" this strike are not serious; they do not represent us. While USFC members show up with their speeches on the megaphone once the crowds have gathered, they go to classes once the crowds have dispersed. This hypocrisy is not worth our time, hard work, effort, and resources.
Despite clear support from other clubs and participants in the strike, the PCC and BDS have decided to withdraw our support and participation from this activity. We intend to continue to fight for equality and accessibility of quality higher education for all people of Lebanon. We urge you to join us, but we also urge you to not to participate in the USFC's exclusionary, unprincipled strike.
At 9:00 am today (Friday) we will be distributing a bayyan at Main Gate explaining our reasons behind our withdrawl from this so-called "strike." Please join us, we need your support. We do not take the USFC's actions lightly, and we will not tolerate their irresponsible, ill-mannered and frankly racist behavior against the Palestinian Cultural Club.

Here is the statement that will be distributed today among the students, in arabic:

إضراب على مين؟!

نحن النادي الثقافي الفلسطيني ورفاقهم في الجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت نعلن انسحابنا من الإضراب الطلابي. مع العلم أننا كرافضين لسياسة زيادة الأقساط كنّا من أول الداعمين والمشاركين في الإضراب السلمي. و للتنويه ليست مشكلتنا في زيادة النسبة المئوية للأقساط فقط بل نطالب بالعدالة والمساواة في الحصول على فرص التعليم للجميع دون استثناء.

نرفض وندين طريقة التعامل العنصرية مع أعضاء النادي الثقافي الفلسطيني من قبل مجلس الطلبة (USFC) واقصائهم عن المشاركة بعد اتهامهم بعدم الانصياع للأوامر والتهجّم على عميد الطلبة. علماً أنّ الخطوات التي اتُخذت من طلاب النادي وجميع طلاب الجامعة كانت مطابقة للخطة التي اتُفق عليها من قِبل مجلس الطلبة وجميع المشاركين في الإضراب. ونستنكر الادعاء الكاذب بأننا تعرضنا للعميد مع التذكير بأنّ العكس هو ما حدث.

قد أثبت منظموا الإضراب بأنهم غير جديّين ويتبعون منهج عنصري وفاشي وغير أخلاقي!

نأسف أنّ الوحدة الطّلابية التي دعا اليها مجلس الطلبة تفكّكت بسبب أفعال مجلس الطلبة ذاته. فكبف يمكن لطلاب الجامعة الأمريكية أن يتّحدوا لتحقيق مطالبهم دون أن يتّسموا بمبادئ أخلاقية لا عنصرية؟!!
النادي الثقافي الفلسطيني

والطلاب اليساريون

في الجامعة الأمريكية في بيروت

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The Provost Incident - 9 Steps

The following is a post from Behind The Green Oval describing the incident with the AUB Provost Ahmad Dallal. It is rumored that there are other photos and videos showing the provost actually hitting the students; these videos will be posted here once/if they surface.

Protest Rawr
Step 1: Activists gather under college hall


Step 2:Activists push someone down
Provost Dallal
Step 3: Provost Dallal - Enter Scene -
Provost Dallal
Step 4: Provost Dallal - Monologue -
Step 5: Provost entices protestors. Activists engage.
Step 6: Organizers attempt to protect Dallal
Step 8: Provost pushes Organizer
Provost Dallal
Step 9: Provost pushes other organizer


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