Outlook met with the recently elected USFC cabinet, comprised of Vice President Myra Zeineddine, Treasurer Mohammad Khalaf, and Secretary Farah Baba, on Friday, Nov. 17, 2017. Please note that select answers have been translated from Arabic due to the speaker’s preference of language during the interview.
What pushed you to nominate yourselves to your positions?
Myra Zeineddine (VP): I believe I am qualified for the position I ran for. I was an undergraduate student at AUB, worked for a year after graduation, then decided to come back. When I did, I saw that our faculty is still lacking on many levels, and I know that other faculties also face a number of problems. So at first I wanted to run for USFC in order to work on a university level, to serve my faculty in specific, and the entire student body in general. Then, I decided to run for VP because I think I am able to maintain a constructive atmosphere in the USFC and will not be working, under any circumstances, in a way that favors a particular campaign over the other. On a personal level I can also manage to happily do so. I want to make sure that by the end of this year everybody has an idea of a committee that works together, and in which nobody feels marginalized. I know how to deal with people and make them work together as a team, even if they represent different campaigns.
Farah Baba (SR): I decided to run for the secretary position because I also believe I am qualified and this is something that I always did and that I am good at. I held managerial positions when I was in the scouts and now in the Secular Club. I was also elected as FAS SRC secretary last year. What also pushed me is that communication with the student body was almost inexistent last year, in terms of minutes and reaching out to students, and I have ideas to change that.
Mohammad Khalaf (TR): Everything that pertains to money in university is a huge concern for students. The majority of students ask two very recurrent questions: “Where does the money go?” and “How does the financial aid office work and on what basis does it assist some students and not others?” This issue interests me.
For the past two years, the Vice President’s involvement with the student body has been mostly absent. Do you plan on restoring the leadership role both in the committee and outside it?
Myra (VP): I am definitely planning on not only restoring it, but before I leave I want everyone to know that this was one of the best USFCs to date in terms of output, productivity, teamwork, constructive atmosphere…We have just started and I have already sent in an agenda, which Dean Nizameddine has agreed on one hundred percent…. In previous years, the Vice President and the Dean used to prepare the agenda for meetings alone, and nobody had a say with what is going on, but this year I will make sure to be fair, especially with passing on proposals.
How do you plan to carry out your duties as Treasurer? How can you balance between confidential information and what the students ought to know about budgeting, expenses, etc?
Mohammad (TR): Of course there are some things that must be kept confidential, but from my point of view, the most important thing that we should work on is transparency. I know that it is an overused word but we have to keep on emphasizing it until it is fully accomplished, although there is always room for improvement. There is a specific yearly budget for the USFC, and what I plan to do is to publish the ways in which we are spending the money on the committee’s website. The same way the minutes are posted on the website, what happens to our budget should be regularly updated online.
Effective communication between the student body and the USFC is a recurring problem that has yet to be improved. As Chair of the PR committee, how do you plan on enhancing communication and making the USFC and its members more approachable?
Farah (SR): Prior to USFC elections, I was approached by Melissa Norton to create a peer-support center in West Hall. When I got elected we agreed that the USFC would work collectively on this, to create a social hub for students to casually talk without any appointment. Another thing we want to implement is to have an open-door policy to the USFC office. We also plan to have more frequent Town Halls. Other than that, I plan to resubmit a proposal initially submitted last year by Joumana Talhouk about the USFC website, in order to have options which would allow students to directly send in their suggestions and notify them of upcoming meetings, events, etc.
What is your stance on Boldly G-AUB and how can you work with them to achieve their demands?
Myra (VP): After elections we started to meet with graduates, mainly SRCs as well as other graduate students. The USFC definitely has a different approach than Boldly G-AUB, but this can help because we can serve as a diplomatic force with the administration while they create and increase pressure on the ground.
Mohammad (TR): Their demands are rightful. I attended an FAS graduate meeting because I wanted to know more and hear from them directly as an undergraduate. I attest to the work they are doing across faculties. We support them in their case.
Myra (VP): What we want to focus on is splitting the contract from the job description. We need to institutionalize the work of GAs across faculties. It is unfair among the faculties because some put in a lot of work, and others are not assigned any.
Farah (SR): The administration will unfortunately refuse to negotiate except with the USFC, which is why we, alongside Boldly G-AUB, we will serve as a link with the administration. Historically, the administration’s excuse is that they need a legitimate committee in order to negotiate. Of course we support Boldly with all their demands.
The 2016-2017 USFC had a major issue with minute-taking. Do you plan on creating a systematic approach to the publication of the minutes and a fixed structure for minute-taking itself?
Farah (SR): Yes, we are going to implement a fixed template in which time, place, attendees, number of the meeting, what was said, voting procedures, end time, are all included. It should be very structured and very clear.
Following a meeting, when should students expect minutes to be released online?
Farah (SR): What used to happen before is that USFCs used to wait to meet in person two or three weeks later in order to approve minutes, which is very wrong. What we want to do is to approve minutes virtually, so that we can publish minutes around 48 hours following a meeting.
How do you envision an ideal USFC?
Myra (VP): Ideally, what we want to aim for is to create subcommittees within the USFC to work on particular projects. These subcommittees would be made up of representatives from different campaigns in order to avoid bias. I also want to make sure that proposals are given priority according to which one was sent in first, and to use up our budget in a way that would benefit both the institution and the students.
Farah (SR): Optimally, what I would aim for is to politicize the USFC in the right way. The least that we can do is release statements of support. For example, what happened with the student who was harassed by a professor a few weeks back, or for the Graduate Assistants. We have to be bold in this. We should not be scared of the administration and we should politicize the committee in the interest of the students. Ideally, we would also comment on what is happening on a national level. In the 70s, the USFC used to release statements in support of the Palestinian cause and solidarity statements with students at the Lebanese University. So it is a shame that the USFC does not do that anymore.
Mohammad (TR): More importantly, we should be a coherent unit and avoid bullying within the committee. If a proposal benefits the students it should not matter who wrote it and who will take credit for it. There is no reason to be stubborn on this, we should work in the interest of the students alone.