Strike: It is your right, for your right and theirs

Very few newspapers headlined the strike which started yesterday at the American University of Beirut (AUB). Many started a campaign on Facebook to invite their fellow students to join them in the strike and discuss the administration’s decisions. Initial responses came from people outside the University who criticized the “bourgeois revolution,” of “AUB students who finally realized education should be affordable.”

What happened yesterday at AUB – and what’s planned to happen later - might have been breaking news on all media. But it is not. The university administration announced 25% increase in tuition fees for future students. Why? Because the University is apparently losing money, but it also wants to “help” needy students to attend AUB. How? By increasing the fees and – supposedly – increasing financial aid support.

The truth is the University is planning to raise the fees for all students. Thus, AUB will be inaccessible (which is already the case for a large social class) except for the really rich, or – if we believe the financial aid will not be corrupt – the really needy. The middle class will be excluded from the campus. Talk about social diversity!

Furthermore, the new tuition fees will force a large portion of the students to depend on loans and financial aid.

Action

The students met with the Provost on Tuesday for roughly two hours. The meeting went nowhere, and it underlined the administration’s unresponsiveness to the students’ demands to cancel the increase, as it presented figures and budget plans, which were at the least unverifiable.

Shortly thereafter, two meetings took place: One with the University Student and Faculty Council (USFC) members, parties and clubs representatives, and another informal one including unaffiliated students. The meetings went on till 11:00 PM, as participants discussed future steps and strategies.

On Wednesday, the strike started. More than a thousand students circumambulated the campus, disrupted classes and called on their colleagues to “boycott the classes,” a slogan probably inspired by the university’s group of activists shouting last week for the boycott of Israeli-connected corporations invited to the campus for the job fair.

Then at noon, a mass strike took over the Main Gate and totally paralyzed the campus. It went on till 5:00 PM. “We won’t pay,” shouted students under the sun. The administration’s response was once again: We don’t care. After the strike, students met again for long hours to discuss the next steps. Today, the strike continues.But this is what I learned so far:

    - We are alone against the administration which is very zealous in talking about “democracy,” “education” and “freedom,” turning them into empty words in practice. We are basically outlaws and are treated accordingly.
    - We are fighting the battle for future students, as the increase will only affect them.
    - We are trying to break the totalitarian control of a business-oriented institution, which is supposed to be educational.
    - Generalizations, cynicism and unrealistic judgments will lead nowhere. It is true AUB is financially inaccessible to a large portion of the region’s populations. It is true that yesterday among the roughly 1,500 demonstrators on Main Gate, I could count hundreds of Prada sunglasses. But the battle is that of classes. It IS a demand of inclusion in an institution that is more and more elitist.
    - While the administration boasts about financial aid and loans it will be offering its students, it is doing so by following a neoliberal system of making individuals dependent on credit.

How wonderful is the future? 21-year-old fresh graduates carrying on their backs university loans exceeding 25,000 dollars, and I don’t know how much of the national debt…

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