For the second year in a row, the American University of Beirut (AUB) has refrained from announcing student council elections.
Last year, the administration vaguely sited the October 17 revolution as the reason for suspending elections. This year, COVID-19 may be used as an excuse. Despite both the revolution and the coronavirus outbreak, classes and clubs continue to conduct activities online or in socially-distanced settings.
While the powers and capabilities of the AUB student council to induce long-term change are often limited by the administration, student elections have always formed a pivotal part of the academic year.
Choosing not to conduct student elections reflects the university administration’s negligence towards student needs, especially when a great number of youth have become heavily invested in the political uprising.
In the past year, a number of new administrative decisions have harmed the ability of students to continue their studies and pay their tuition fees. There has never been a need for a student council at AUB more than now.
Meanwhile, independent candidates at the Lebanese American University (LAU) won every seat they ran for in the student council elections, disrupting sectarian patterns typically seen in elections across the country.
LAU elections: Secular wins big
In the LAU Beirut campus, independents took 9 out of the 15 seats, the Amal Movement took 4, and the Lebanese Forces took 2. In Byblos, independent students won 5 seats, the Amal Movement won 1, and the Lebanese Forces won 9.
However, Hezbollah and Free Patriotic Movement parties withdrew their candidates from the race earlier in October for fears that the e-voting system “doesn’t allow for proper privacy or oversight” as mentioned in The Daily Star.
The victory marks a massive shift in the student body’s perspectives. In comparison to October 2019, independent students in LAU won 2 seats in Beirut and 2 in Byblos. In October 2020, the number rose to 14 seats in total.
Would AUB student elections bring about the same change?
Understanding the AUB Student Council
The AUB student government is split into main governmental bodies: The Student Representative Council (SRC), and the University Student Faculty Committee (USFC).
The SRC is fully composed of students, and normally handles things relating to student activities and so on within different faculties.
In contrast, the USFC acts as a liaison between the student body and administration and handles more pressing concerns related to life on campus and student affairs.
As per the university’s website, “it represents all students at the university and provides a forum for expression, discussion, and action concerning student rights, privileges and opinions.”
The website also states that “the committees should be “elected by the student body within six to eight weeks of the start of the Fall Semester of each academic year.” The last time the university held elections was in 2018.
Elections over the past few years
During the 2018 elections, the AUB Secular Club –the university’s independent political movement– secured 22 SRC seats out of 81 and 2 USFC seats out of 19.
The club has been a regular participant in student elections since 2010, and has managed to increase its presence in student councils over the past 10 years.
Independent political parties have come up across different universities. While they have not yet managed to win the grand majority of the seats on student councils, they’ve certainly made their presence felt.
If AUB is choosing not to hold elections for two years in a row, the university is clarifying that the student council has no important role to play in the decision-making process during these difficult circumstances.
Decisions pertaining to tuition fee increases, exchange rates and so on will be made solely by the administration, leaving no room for the student body to organize change from within.
After being shut out of meeting rooms, the students and alumni have resorted to protesting as a means of inducing change.