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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. 


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