TRIPOLI, Lebanon—The American University of Beirut’s recent decision to lay off about 650 employees and lose 200 additional jobs through attrition and non-renewal of contracts has again raised concerns about the status of academic institutions and the future of education in a country experiencing its worst economic crisis in decades.
The financial crisis is also expected to result in the layoffs of many faculty members working on part-time contracts at other universities, including the Lebanese University, the country’s only public higher-education institution, and Notre Dame University–Louaize, a private Catholic institution in Zouk Mosbeh, just north of Beirut.
And the universities themselves are banding together to call on the government to emphasize the importance of keeping education strong and to push banks to let universities more easily access their own money and take foreign cash transfers. (Banks have sharply restricted the access of Lebanese citizens and institutions to their own cash, especially when the money is denominated in dollars.)
On July 17, the American University of Beirut informed 650 employees of its medical center and campus of its decision to lay them off. It trimmed another 200 jobs by not renewing contracts or leaving vacant the positions of people who are retiring.
The job cuts, most of which were at the medical center, came after discussions that involved the Ministry of Labor and the university’s staff union. They amount to about 14 percent of the university’s work force, listed as about 5,800 employees in March.
“This past week was an exceptionally difficult one as we were forced to lose 850 members of our community,” Fadlo Khuri, president of the university, said in a statement dated July 20.
He said the university had built “an expanded social safety net” that would pay six to 24 months of severance, depending on years of service, and that the university would continue to pay for the education of the departing employees’ children already enrolled in undergraduate programs until they graduated. Khuri had warned in June that the university would announce layoffs soon in order to cut costs. Still, the implementation of the decision caused anger among university staff and students, some of whom described it as a “massacre.”