Why Universities in the Middle East Should Be Studied


“Hela, hela, hela, ho – Where’s the money, oh Fadlo?” Angry students at the American University of Beirut (AUB), where I served on the faculty for 11 years, have long wanted to know about its controversial president Fadlo Khuri.

In April, the AUB administration announced that it would charge a substantial portion of tuition fees in US dollars, with full dollarization to follow.

Since the start of Lebanon’s economic crisis in October 2019, its currency has fallen 95% against the dollar, impoverishing some 80% of the Lebanese population and making life difficult for most others.

Khuri, a doctor who was sued for medical malpractice before embarking on his career in university administration, was not modest about the needs of his institution.

In July 2020, even as the COVID-19 pandemic raged, he fired 850 employees of the once-prestigious AUB medical center, calling on the Lebanese army and militarized security police to enforce the layoffs. .

In December 2020, AUB changed the exchange rate for paying tuition fees, resulting in a de facto cost increase of 160%. Student demonstrators who protested were beaten and tear gassed by Lebanese security forces massed at the campus gates.

In March 2021, the AUB appropriated $100-150 million from its relatively modest endowment just to guarantee the payroll for a period of three years.

A month later, he was reduced to running a full-page advertisement in the print edition of the Sunday New York Times imploring the former Records readers newspaper for immediate financial assistance.

For about 18 months, most AUB faculty members remained paid in nearly worthless local currency, with some reporting incomes as low in real terms as a few hundred dollars a month before limited relief in dollars is granted.

A faculty thread shared with me earlier this year revealed that some faced severe limitations on how much of these paltry amounts could be withdrawn from their local bank accounts.

Some suspected that the AUB lacked the money to cover even their diminished salaries, although the AUB naturally denied this.

Unsurprisingly, hundreds of faculty have left AUB, in some cases without further employment.

Few current or former teachers are willing to talk. Most cite fear of retaliation, both at AUB and in other places if they have moved on.

Those among my former colleagues who speak report unprecedented low morale, “Gestapo” and “witch-hunt” tactics by the Khuri administration, and other complaints serious enough to drive out almost anyone capable of leave.

According to AUB tax records, Khuri’s annual compensation for his excellent leadership skills is approximately $1 million, paid in so-called “fresh” dollars not subject to Lebanese currency depreciation.

Repeated complaints were routinely ignored by AUB’s board of directors, some of whose members were implicated and, in some cases, arrested and prosecuted for a series of alleged serious crimes.

Students are fed up, especially after hearing recently that AUB has somehow found $29 million to spend on a new campus in nearby Cyprus, with longer-term plans to open another branch campus. to Dubai.

“There’s an atmosphere of fear,” says Rand Chmaitilly, an AUB student activist who serves as president of the AUB Secular Club, which promotes liberal values ​​consistent with the university’s apparent mission and opposes religious sectarianism in Lebanon. “There is no transparency…the administration has zero concern for the students.

In April, in a disturbing mockery of AUB’s supposed commitment to free speech and open dialogue, the university’s acting dean of student affairs threatened to suspend Chmaitilly’s entire organization. for “publishing unauthorized published material” criticizing the dollarized tuition policy.

In the face of sacrifice and intimidation with no end in sight, AUB students have begun to question where their interests really lie and how, if at all, AUB serves them when other universities in Lebanon did not change their exchange rates or monetary policies.

They better ask who the AUB serves. In addition to Khuri’s lavish seven-figure salary, tax records show that despite the economic crisis and AUB’s desperate cries of poverty, at least 16 other AUB employees are paid more than $200,000 a year in a country where the minimum wage is now around $24 a month. .

That’s not a typo, but in May Khuri told Executive magazine, without the slightest irony: “We can’t keep spending money.

Worse, just five years ago, AUB admitted guilt, accepted liability, and paid a $700,000 fine to settle a civil fraud complaint brought against it by the U.S. Department of Justice for illegally using US federal funds to train associates of Hezbollah, a Lebanese political party. which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and many other countries.

Hezbollah is widely believed to be responsible for numerous deadly attacks, including the February 2005 bombing of Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, and the August 2020 ammonium nitrate explosion that devastated the center of Beirut and, perhaps ironically, caused millions of dollars in damage to AUB. Campus.

Are things better at other “American” universities abroad? The signs say no.

At the American University in Cairo (AUC), where I taught for three years, former President David D. Arnold left after building what the AUC called its new “state-of-the-art” campus. Technology,” which opened in 2008 while still unfinished and heavily overbudgeted.

His successor, Lisa Anderson, left shortly after a campus public opinion poll recorded 97% disapproval of his leadership, which included controversial financial decisions and major tuition-related protests and to labor policies.

Anderson’s successor, Francis J. Ricciardone Jr., a former U.S. ambassador, left after one term, during which AUC’s rankings plummeted amid bitter disputes over tuition, contracts , alleged discrimination and other grievances. In February 2019, he lost a vote of no confidence from the faculty which the AUC Board of Trustees voted down.

Current AUC President Ahmad Dallal was previously AUB Provost but, along with Khuri’s immediate predecessor as AUB President, resigned following a major scandal in which several AUB directors resigned or were fired amid allegations of wrongdoing, embezzlement and other possible crimes.

According to AUC tax forms, at least 10 of its employees are paid more than $200,000 a year, while Egypt’s minimum wage is around $172 a month.

In addition to rapidly rising tuition fees imposed on vulnerable and already highly disgruntled populations in developing countries, AUB and AUC receive millions of dollars in US taxpayer funds and millions more in tax-deductible charitable donations and other forms of US-based institutional support.

Both institutions claim to represent and transmit American values ​​in a highly unstable but strategically vital region where recent developments show that American prestige has fallen to shameful levels.

In light of their shenanigans, full, high-level investigations into how they operate and spend our money are long overdue.

Paul du Quenoy is president of the Palm Beach Freedom Institute. He holds a doctorate. in history from Georgetown University. Learn more — Here.

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