AUB Professors’ Open Letter: The University’s Reputation is at Stake

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AUB students protest against another tuition increase on February 27, 2014. The sign on the right reads "My dad is not a safe." Al-Akhbar/Marwan Bou Haidar

By: Hussein Mahdi

Published Tuesday, January 27, 2015

In an open letter to the administration, professors at the American University of Beirut (AUB) declared that they felt unfairly treated by the university and its current set of policies.. Their salaries are low and their labor contracts allow the administration to change the terms without any prior warning, including the terms of medical insurance and retirement plans A (for US citizens and those who have the green card) and B (non-US citizens). After a year and a half of negotiations, “there has been no response to the professors’ concerns and the administration has continued to ignore all their demands.”

Professors at the American University of Beirut (AUB) pointed out that “there has been a rising sense of discontent among faculty members with the way university affairs have been managed in the past few years.”

“The university is without a full and sound budget draft, faculty members are without mutually agreed upon contracts and sensitive internal data is leaked,” they wrote in an open letter that was signed by 196 professors, most of them full-timers, which Al-Akhbar received a copy.

They warned that “senior staff have severely damaged the university as a result of the weak legal advice (such as the advice by the vice president for legal affairs regarding professors’ contracts), bad practices (such as the ones carried out by the director of operations in relation to an agreement with the company Cisco), allegations of widespread corruption (such as the investigation conducted by KMPG regarding the medical center), conflicts with students (like the over 40 percent tuition increase in four years) and the direct violation of privacy (such as the poor way in which the internal audit office handled the issue of data release and AUBLEAKS). These are but a few examples.

The open letter contends that, despite the poor employment conditions and the unsatisfactory current administration, the professors work with the university administration “tirelessly and in good faith to help address issues like effective governance, job security, fair compensation, transparency and accountability (for example the senate committee on faculty affairs, the faculty working group on data privacy, the tuition fees and budget committee, tenure task force, etc...).”

The letter points out that the professors offered “constructive comments and recommendations” and shared them in private communication, open letters, public meetings and through the senate and the board of trustees.

Despite all that, “there has been no response to the professors’ concerns and the administration has continued to ignore all their demands.”

Furthermore, the professors argue that the way the administration dealt with the issue of contracts was “disturbing.” The last senate meeting was described as the straw that broke the camel’s back; with negotiations, which had been going on for a year and a half, ended with the administration issuing a “final warning” and giving the professors a choice between “our contract” (the contract proposed by the administration) or the old contract which is currently in force. The contracts imposed by the administration “include insulting language towards the professors and allow the administration to end the contract for no reason.” The old contract allows the administration to “change the terms of the contract and the benefits the professors gained including health insurance and retirement plans (A and B) without prior warning, without the faculty’s approval and during the contract’s limited duration.”

An argument erupted between the professors and Mohammed Sayegh, the vice president for medical affairs, when he tried to convince the professors of the new contract. This prompted the professors to withdraw from the meeting thus disrupting the quorum as the professors felt this to be “unacceptable, unfair and insulting.”

Faculty representatives in the senate proposed minor changes to the contract so as “not to allow any amendments to the terms related to health insurance or retirement plans, at least during the duration of the contract.” The senate voted on November 28, 2014 as follows: unanimous approval with six abstentions. The administration rejected this recommendation and tried to “force the professors to accept its contractual conditions.”

The professors were also “deeply concerned” about the lack of transparency surrounding the budget process, “because they are yet to see the administration adopt full and transparent budgets, whether in the past, present or future (on the main campus or in the medical center). The senate stressed the need to limit expenditures and waste especially in administrative matters. The tuition fees and budget committee was established in the 2014 spring semester. After reviewing some available data, the committee recommended millions of dollars worth of savings.”

So far, the professors have not seen these recommendations implemented, according to their open letter.

Additionally, the professors brought up in their letter the accreditation report published recently and directed at the university, the administration, the trustees and the students which sheds light on three outstanding administrative issues that must be resolved before March 2016. They are:

“First, the university’s position regarding tenure; second, the participation of the faculty in governance; and third, drafting a full and sound budget.” It has become clear, according to the professors’ letter, that “the university’s reputation and accreditation are on the line.”

Faculty members demanded that the university administration respect their rights as main interested parties in this university and stressed the need to take five key measures:

  • Submit the university budget draft for the year 2015-1016 to be discussed at the senate meeting on February 27, 2015 and clarify how the recommendations of the committee on budget and university fees were dealt with.
  • End the injustice represented in administration staff earning salaries that exceed the US salary average, while faculty members earn much lower salaries. The administration must pledge to revise the salaries of faculty members and to share its plan with the senate at the meeting scheduled for February 27, 2015.
  • Ensure the implementation of the recommendations made by the second tenure task force and make tenure a strategic goal for the university.
  • Support the recent senate vote that took place on November 28, 2014 regarding the issue of contracts and show appreciation towards faculty members by pledging not to take away their acquired rights throughout the duration of the contract without their consent.
  • Hold accountable everyone involved in the repeated violations of private data and inform the faculty on a regular basis of the state of the secure and integrated information technology climate at the university because it is necessary to tangibly reassure the faculty that their data is secure.

In the end, the professors expressed their deep concern regarding “the state and future of our good institution” and conveyed their grief and anger “for forcing us to reach this point.”

The professors believe that “the financial situation at the university is threatened by the current spending and there are fears of delays in addressing the concerns of the accreditation report which jeopardize the academic reputation and status of the university.”

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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