BEIRUT: Lebanese University professors are split over a decision to suspend a strike that has paralyzed the country’s only public university for six weeks. Education Minister Akram Chehayeb Sunday commended the decision to temporarily suspend the strike starting Thursday, made a day prior by the League of Lebanese University Full-Time Professors’ executive committee.
Chehayeb said the move had put the interests of students “above all other considerations,” in a statement carried by the state-run National News Agency Sunday.
He added that his meetings with the league throughout the strike had demonstrated an atmosphere of “constructive cooperation,” and called on “all LU professors to abide by the executive committee’s decision and return to their classrooms this Thursday.”
But a number of actions from within the league could reverse the decision, the executive committee’s head, Youssef Daher, told The Daily Star.
One such opportunity will come when the league’s representatives’ council meets Tuesday. An outright majority in favor of continuing the strikes could reverse the committee’s decision, Daher said.
Equally, the league’s general assembly, a body of professors with around 2,000 members, could stymie efforts to return students and professors to the classroom.
Shortly before the executive committee’s statement was released Saturday, some LU professors said they would continue their strike regardless of the executive committee’s decision, as they protested outside the league’s headquarters.
The protesting instructors said in televised remarks that only the league’s general assembly could call off the strike.
“The [league’s] general assembly is the teachers’ assembly and it is the one that calls off the strike,” one professor said.
Another showed a petition, saying he had collected the signatures of around 250 teachers at the protest who pledged to continue striking.
The professors invited “all teachers who disagreed with the executive committee’s decision” to meet Monday morning at LU’s Hadath campus to continue signing the petition, in a statement carried by the NNA Sunday. Daher told The Daily Star that a petition with over 1,000 signatures would “put pressure” on the executive committee to rethink its suspension.
The executive committee reassured professors Saturday that it would hold open meetings until Wednesday night and called on the teachers to remain ready for any action determined by the committee.
Lecturers at the Lebanese University, the country’s only public university, have been on strike since May 6 to protest the draft 2019 budget’s allocation to the university, budget articles affecting state employees and other demands. The draft reduces the LU’s budget by almost 9 percent, or $25 million, and cuts state contributions to the teachers’ fund by 10 percent, or $2 million.
The league reached an agreement with Lebanese officials last week to meet some but not all of the professors’ demands. Daher met Thursday with Chehayeb, Finance Minister Ali Hasan Khalil, MP Bahia Hariri and LU President Fouad Ayoub.
The officials agreed to some demands from the teachers, including granting full-time status to contracted lecturers.
According to a statement from Chehayeb’s office at the time, the attendees asked Ayoub to submit the contracted teachers’ files to the education minister so they could be included in Cabinet’s agenda for discussion. The statement also said Khalil discussed an amendment he was considering that would exclude teachers from an article in the draft 2019 state budget that would extend the minimum years of service before retirement from 20 to 25 years.
In Saturday’s statement, the league’s executive committee said it would work to ensure the agreements were implemented and fight for the teachers’ other demands, including an increase to the university’s budget.
The strike has put on hold the studies of some 80,000 LU students, many of whom have responded with their own protests in an attempt to end the teachers’ strike and resume their studies. Other students have expressed support for the strike.