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On Monday evening, November 20th , the American University of Beirut gave Dean’s Warnings and terminated the tuition waivers of six graduate students who work at AUB as Graduate Assistants and were protesting for fair work conditions. On Tuesday morning, this number increased to 11 students and counting. Without their tuition waivers, these students will not be able to complete their degrees at AUB since they cannot afford the tuition fees of the university. AUB thus put the future career plans of 11 of its graduate students in jeopardy simply because they raised their voices against the university’s recent abrupt changes to their work contracts.
The 11 students are members of Boldly GAUB, a group of graduate students that formed in response to the administration’s decision in May 2017 to eliminate the stipends provided to Graduate Assistants in exchange for their required work hours on campus.
On November 21st a protest gathered several hundred students, and called for (1) the revoked GAs to be reinstated / sanctions removed, (2) the administration to allow Boldly GAUB back to the negotiating table, and (3) our original three demands for just labor conditions for graduate students (GA stipends indexed to the cost of living, standardized two year contracts, and waiver of university fees).
The measure taken by the administration is a response to a tent that the graduate students pitched under the College Hall building in AUB last week. The tent aims to bring attention to the student’s struggle and their efforts to secure fair labor practices for all graduate students in the university. The students have been pressuring the administration to take their demands seriously and incorporate them into the Graduate Assistantship policy.
The administration’s alarming decision to punish students for peacefully expressing their demands sets a dangerous precedent for all members of the AUB community. Freedom of speech and assembly are basic pillars of any democratic institution, and they have been violated.
The administration is basing its repressive decision on the Student Code of Conduct, which specifies that distribution of any flyer or organization of any protest must be approved by the administration itself. This policy obviously restricts freedom of speech and assembly, and even if breached does not justify the extreme measures taken by the administration. Many protests in previous years about tuition increases have not taken permission from the university, so we see the current action of the administration as an act of intimidation. We demand that the immediate reinstatement of the scholarships of the targeted graduate students, and maintain our demands for fair labor conditions for all graduate students at AUB.