BEIRUT: Scores of students from the American University of Beirut protested Tuesday morning, after a confrontation between the administration and students led to the revocation of more than a dozen graduate students’ assistantship positions. “AUB how could you? Shame, shame, shame on you,” the crowd shouted as they made their way to West Hall, which houses the Student Affairs office.
The demonstration came after an overnight altercation on campus. Students pitched a tent on Nov. 9 outside the main administrative building to protest a draft policy change in May that saw the cancellation of monthly stipends for graduate assistantships.
Two students were reportedly forcibly removed from that tent Monday night.
“They were like five security guards,” May Makki, one of the two students taken from the tent, told The Daily Star during Tuesday’s protest. “We tried at first not to physically clash with them. Eventually, we sat in the tent, saying, ‘We’re not moving.’ They were like, ‘Whatever,’ and started to pull the mattress and flipped us on the floor.”
After the tent protest, 13 students saw their assistantships revoked, and the position’s tuition-fee waiver along with it.
“I’ve been involved in protests before [at AUB] and I’ve never been met with this excessive reaction,” one of the graduate students affected by the decision said, asking not to be named.
“I don’t know if I can finish [now]. I either need to apply for a loan or stop my education,” the American Studies major said.
AUB’s Dean of Students Talal Nizameddin released a response Tuesday at noon saying the placement of the tent “was in clear violation” of AUB policies.
“The students were given a final deadline yesterday to dismantle the illegally placed tent and to cooperate with the university but the deadline passed, and the students continued to refuse to cooperate,” the statement read.
Nizameddin told The Daily Star he went to the students himself and asked them to remove their tent. “They knew the consequences; they knew that a dean’s warning meant they would lose their GA [graduate assistantship] position and their waived tuition. But they refused,” he said, adding it was “unfortunate” the events unfolded in this manner.
Nizameddin said that the administration was trying to improve the assistantships and had plans to increase the number available. “The GAs are still getting a stipend this semester and we’re trying to figure out how to continue giving stipends for the coming semesters. But they still get a free education.”
However, Jack Davies, one of the protest’s organizers, said the students had not been warned.
“That is categorically false. No one from the administration ever emailed us or came to discuss the tent once throughout the week,” he told The Daily Star via email.
On Nov. 16, a meeting was held with associate provost for graduates Dr. Zaher Dawy, which Davies described as a “constructive dialogue.” Days later, the group of students received an email from Dawy stating that they will no longer be included in the negotiations.
“In the documents, we are marked as ‘key stakeholders’ [but] we were cut out of meetings,” Davies said.
Nizameddin said this was untrue. “They were too many voices and different opinions. We told the graduates to present their concerns to their elected officials and we would talk to the latter. No one was left out.” – Additional reporting by Dala Osseiran