While the lively student life is characteristic of the AUB experience, it remains one that’s heavily under the control of the Students Affairs Office (SAO) which imposes very restrictive rules and regulations on the activities of clubs and societies, often including preemptive censorship measures.
- Giving clubs and societies the ability to freely organize activities and events, as well as total control over their funds without prior consent from the SAO, while abiding by ethical guidelines against any form of hate-speech or discrimination.
- Protecting the right of students to mobilize peacefully on campus, whether through sit-ins or on-campus protests, by drafting a charter that guarantees the fundamental rights of students to organize and mobilize for their rights.
AUB students have been involved throughout the centuries in many protests both on-campus and off-campus. They were successfully able to shed light on important social and political issues that affected Lebanon and the entire region of the middle East. Not only have those students showed selflessness and commitment to the cause, but they were also one of the leading factors that steered the public opinion and several governmental institutions into addressing these issues.
What about today?
To put it briefly, nothing can be done without the approval of the SAO: from accessing the financial statement and money of the club/society, to organizing any sort of events, including solidarity stands. Activities often take weeks to be approved, due to the bureaucracy of the Student Affairs Office. In addition, the SAO very often exercises censorship on the content of activities, which violates the students’ freedom and expression, right to assembly, and freedom of political mobilization that has historically enriched AUB.
Other American Universities:
- UCLA: The University of California, Los Angeles has always encouraged freedom of speech as long as it did not include a direct threat or defamation (as those are regarded as unprotected speech). This did not come without its challenges, but UCLA never resorted to downright censorship like AUB has done over the years. In a statement issued by UCLA, the university promised to carry on “governing as it must, negotiating all of the tensions we explored, managing the contestable line between “what is” and what “should be” the law…”
- University of Missouri (Mizzou): in 2015, Mizzou made national headlines after several protests erupted on campus. These protests called for the improvement of guidelines that protect the students’ freedom of speech and expression. In a statement issued by the university after on, Mizzou affirms that “[f]reedom of expression is indispensable to a university’s ability to transmit knowledge and is fundamental to the ability of members of a university community to discover, explore, interpret, and question knowledge.” The statement goes on to provide that “the University’s fundamental commitment is to the principle that debate or deliberation may not be suppressed because the ideas put forth are thought by some or even by most members of the University community to be offensive, unwise, immoral, or wrong-headed.”
- John Hopkins University: Arrangements are not required for student protests and demonstrations. Students are only penalized after setting up the protest if the Members of the Provosts Office decide that the rights of others have been “significantly infringed”. This leaves more room for student activism as protests and demonstrations do not need the filling of too much paperwork and a long process for approval. If a protest is disruptive to the university, it is only then that protesters are penalized. By disruptive, John Hopkins University mentions obstructing the passage into or out of buildings by blocking doorways; preventing University employees from entering their workplace; refusing to relocate from a building or area that is closed; preventing members of a class from being able to hear a lecture or take an exam; preventing an instructor from giving a lecture.
Conclusion: When compared to other American universities, it is clear that freedom of speech and expression are really restricted by tons of bylaws, where a bureaucratic system that is overly concerned with procedure at the expense of student liberty.
The GA protest:
On September 2017, graduate assistants protested the cancellation of their stipends, with the Dean of Student Affairs justifying such revocation by asserting his belief that this money would be better used in funding research and to expand the graduate teaching assistant program. The GA’s set up a tent in front of college hall and called for a sit in. Looking at the fact that this protest was unauthorized, security guards were seen forcibly removing this tent while the students were inside, followed by Dr. Nizameddine handing dean’s warnings to 13 students on November 20 and November 21, stripping 10 of these students from their title as GA for the upcoming semester, and thus having their scholarships canceled. This
This removal and penalizing was due to the protest not being authorized. But here rises the question: How can one get authorization from the very institution he plans to protest against? When the university has to authorize each protest that is to be held, sometimes using its own discretion rather than the bylaws, this decreases the possibility of protesting against AUB’s actions or any institution that AUB has friendly ties with.
Thanks to the protests that happened after the dean of student affairs handed out Dean’s Warning to graduate students, the President of the University reversed the Dean’s Warning given to the students in order to help de-escalate the situation. That point marked a changing point for all graduate students whereby several committees were formed to study how the GAship conditions could be enhanced.
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