New Professors Frozen Out at Lebanese University
BEIRUT–More than 650 professors at the only public university in Lebanon are locked into part-time status, crippling their ability to do research or have a wider role at the university.
Since 2008, the university has not hired any full time professors. The university is a refuge for about 60,000 poor and middle-class students who are not able to pay the fees at the proliferating number of private universities in Lebanon. At Lebanese University, more than 100 professors have retired annually while their posts have remained unfilled, with only contract professors to replace them. “The university is emptied of its professors,” said Charbel Kfoury, formerly a president and now a secretary of the Association of Full-time Professors at the Lebanese University.
Unlike full-timers, contract professors are paid an hourly wage and only get paid their wages at the end of each academic year. They do not have health-care benefits, and cannot be enrolled in the country’s social security fund.
The country’s cabinet has failed to approve a draft law to make the professors at Lebanese University full-time teachers, despite attempts by the professors to pressure politicians with strikes and sit-ins.
The university’s professors, who work in 17 various departments in 50 branches of Lebanese University, are struggling to meet their long-standing demand to become full-timers. Most of them hold doctorates and many of them have been teaching at Lebanese University for years.
“The university has a dire need for full time professors; especially with the large number of retired professors,” said Kfoury. According to Kfoury, the university needs to be developed by opening new academic departments to admit more students and to respond to the labor market’s new requirements.
According to the law governing the university, each professor should automatically become a full-time professor after teaching for a year. But in 1997, the government suspended the ability of the university council to appoint professors.
Lebanese University is run by the president and the council. The council’s members are deans, who are supposed to represent professors and other academics. The council approves all administrative and academic decisions, such as changing curriculum, introducing new disciplines and appointing professors.
However, since 2004, said Kfoury, all deans in the council have been acting deans, a status that has stripped the body of its major powers. Under the law, those powers now rest with the Education Minister.
Last year, full-time professors at the university held a strike over a salary raise, a demand the cabinet met at the beginning of this year. The government also promised at the time to make council appointments and solve the contract lecturers’ case. But no decision has been taken so far.
“We have little authority,” said Kfoury. Acting deans in the council are not eager to work, he said, because they could be replaced at any time: “University independence, the cornerstone of its role, is unfulfilled.”
The contract professors made several sits-in and strikes in a bid to pressure the government to reclaim their right to return to a full-time contract. But they retreated after government promises to find a solution. Last March, a professor was granted full-time employment seven days before his retirement, which brought the Lebanese University’s contract teachers crisis back to light.
“The university’s problem is crucial,” said Adnan Sayyed Hussein, Lebanese University President who put the blame on previous governments, which he said did not show a real desire to put an end to this crisis. “The teachers’ full-time employment dossier lies in the cabinet’s drawer for more than a year, the delay is not justified,” said Sayyed Hussein.
“There are about 1,000 full-time professors and about 3,000 contract professors,” said Joseph Shreim, director of the Language Coordination Bureau at the university. However, not all of the contract professors want to work full-time. “There are many who work as doctors, engineers, pharmacists who prefer to work by the hour,” Shreim said. According to him, the university is locked in a struggle with the government to restore its administrative powers.
No solution appears possible in the near future especially after the recent resignation of the prime minister. “The university pays alone the price,” Shreim said. “Contract teachers have no time for elaborate scientific research; full-time employment is a necessity for the advancement of the Lebanese University.”