Graduate students from various faculties and departments held a mock demonstration under the slogan of “Feed The Graduates”, on Thursday, September 28, at noon, protesting the administration’s decision to revoke the Graduate Assistant (GA) stipend last Spring semester.
Students gathered at the Main Gate and formed a breadline, at which bread and hummus were distributed to students, staff and faculty members. A make-shift donation box was also circulated among the onlookers, to dramatize the demonstrator’s financial difficulties, collecting more than 50,000 L.L.
The demonstration was organized by “Boldly G-AUB”, a group comprised of graduate students and their supporters who are “calling for broad reform to the university’s student aid and Graduate Assistantship practices and policies,” as mentioned on their Facebook page.
Ghina Abi Ghannam, a General Psychology Master’s student and a participant in the demonstration said, “asking for donations and distributing bread may have been satirical, but it reflects a lot of graduate students’ financial situation who find stipends a necessary and rightful source of income.”
The act came as a reaction to a meeting held between Associate Provost and Chair of Graduate Council, Zaher Dawy, Ph.D., and graduate student representatives from “Boldy G-AUB”, on Tuesday, September 26.
During the meeting, the administration agreed to meet some of the demands raised in the petition, including the ability of students to work outside of graduate assistantships, the standardization of GA policies and contracts across faculties and departments, and the development of a debt-free and financially complementary policy between the AUB administration and graduate student representatives.
“The demonstration on Thursday allowed graduate students to exercise their right in order to further express their demands, which we have discussed at length in our joint meeting,” said Dawy in an interview with Outlook.
“As the Graduate Council Chair, I assured the student representatives during the meeting that we have already started looking into ways that will enhance the overall graduate experience at AUB, from admissions to financial assistance opportunities, as well as policies to competencies and skills as part of their education.”
“In my opinion, the meeting was fruitful, as it opened communication channels that we are all committed to maintain through regular meetings as we move forward in addressing the various issues under discussion.”
Yet, the first demand of the petition was not met. The meeting established that the stipend would not be reinstated, and by virtue of that, would not be increased to $1,500 per semester.
Representatives from “Boldly G-AUB” initially requested a meeting with Provost Mohamed Harajli, President Fadlo Khuri or members of the Board of Deans via email. The petition was also presented to the administration, with more than 1,000 signatures to date.
Contrary to their demands, the students were contacted by Dean of Student Affairs, Talal Nizameddin, and shortly after, by Associate Provost Zaher Dawy, who had been delegated to lead the discussion regarding the matter.
Saly El Wezze, a sociology graduate student and a member of “Boldly G-AUB” who attended the meeting said, “we have requested a meeting [with Provost Mohamed Harajli] twice and there was no response. After the associate provost said he could not help with the first and most pressing matter, the only impression the provost gave us is that he was not willing to give us enough attention. It’s dismissing.”