AUB Political

Political commentary by a student at the American University of Beirut

Month: November, 2015

On the 2015 FEA-USFC Elections

Three weeks ago, AUB student elections seemed to be “hanging in the balance.” Somehow, the university managed to have them on time, despite a questionable electoral law. Students ultimately accepted the absurd electoral law – announced on November 10 and changed on November 16 – and participated in the elections. One would think that the student body would have seen enough absurdity for one semester but it appears not. It seems that the administration cannot even follow the rules it announces itself. Ladies and gentlemen, it is once gain the case of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA).

On November 10, the first electoral law announcement was made. For FEA, it simply stated: “3 USFC seats are allocated.”

On November 16, a day before nominations, the second electoral law announcement was made. The change was just in FEA. It stated: “3 USFC seats are allocated. In FEA 1 seat is open to all students (including engineering undergraduates, architecture, graphic design and graduates) and 2 seats will be open for nominations from undergraduate engineering only (excluding architecture, graphic design and graduates).”

The Candidates for the 3 FEA-USFC seats are:

Candidate, Year, Nomination

  1. Ali Ayoub, Engineering IV, FEA Undergraduate
  2. Cesar Bteish, Engineering III, FEA Undergraduate
  3. Kamal Mahfouz, Engineering II, FEA
  4. Mohamad El Khatib, Engineering II, FEA
  5. Monah Beaini, Engineering III, FEA Undergraduate
  6. Reem Nassour, Architecture III, FEA
  7. Thierry Boulos, Engineering IV, FEA Undergraduate
  8. Tony Narciss, Engineering IV, FEA Undergraduate

Tony Narciss is an example of one engineering undergraduate who nominated himself for the USFC. Narciss campaigned for days on end with all FEA students: engineering undergraduates but also architecture, graphic design, and graduate students. On Election Day, architecture, graphic design, and graduate students did not even have the option to vote for Narciss. They only had the choice to vote for 3 candidates for the USFC: Kamal Mahfouz, Mohamad El Khatib, and Reem Nassour, two of whom (Khatib and Mahfouz) were engineering undergrads. The engineering undergrads, on the other hand, had the option to vote for all 8 candidates listed above, including the 3 also offered to architecture, graphic design, and graduates. Many students can attest that this is in fact what the electronic voting system offered them (only a choice of 3 out of the 8 names). Eleven of them, below, are willing to publicly testify to this.

  • Andrea Comair – Architecture III
  • Betina Abi Habib – Architecture IV
  • Farah Mazyad – Graphic Design II
  • Ibrahim Abdelghany – Engineering Graduate
  • Karen Madi – Architecture III
  • Karma Makki – Architecture II
  • Mario Khoury – Architecutre III
  • Mohamad Nahleh – Architecture III
  • Ramzey Marrouche – Graphic Design I
  • Serge Saab – Architecture III
  • Souha Bou Matar – Architecture III

The November 16 announcement stated that 2 seats would be open for nominations for engineering undergraduates only, but nowhere did it say that those seats would be voted upon by engineering undergraduates only. This is what the second announcement states; not more, not less. This is how candidates ran their campaigns, and this is how students expected to vote.

Electoral laws are judged based on the official university announcements and not on any informal conversations held between random students and the Dean of Student Affairs. Many students like Andrea and Betina above arrived to AUB on November 27, showed their ID at the various checkpoints inside the Bechtel building, went behind the curtain with the intention of voting for 3 out of the 8 candidates. What they got instead was only a choice between three. The least students should expect of their university is an administration that enforces the laws that it announces itself. The least FEA students should ask for is a re-vote in their USFC elections. Unfortunately, following the letter of the law seems like too big of an ask these days.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student



USFC Electoral Law: Another year of gerrymandering

In 1982, Major-General Ghazi Kanaan was appointed as Syria’s military intelligence chief in Lebanon. Hafez al-Assad, whose troops first entered Lebanon in 1976, would go on (along with his allies) to win the Lebanese Civil War in 1990. Until 2002, Kanaan would act as Assad’s (the father and then the son’s) viceroy in Lebanon. Kanaan was the power broker of Lebanese politics: he was said to have had the last word on many key decisions during that era.

The agreement that ended the Lebanese Civil War, the Ta’if Accord, stipulated that electoral districts shall be the six muhafazat. Parliamentary seats shall be divided equally between Christians and Muslims, proportionately between the denominations of each sect, and proportionately between the districts.

Under Kanaan, Lebanon witnessed its first post-war parliamentary elections in 1992. Four years later in 1996 it would have its second, and in 2000 its third. Each of these elections had a different electoral law.

At the American University of Beirut (AUB), for each of the past three years, exceptional electoral laws have been dictating student elections to the University Student Faculty Committee (USFC). Since 2012-13, students have been directly voting-in their USFC student representatives.

The electoral districts for the USFC are the university’s six faculties. The number of seats allocated to each faculty in the USFC was weighted based on the number of students of each faculty way before 2012. The largest faculty, Arts and Sciences (FAS), was given five seats for example. Small faculties like that of Health Sciences (FHS) were given two seats each. These weights carried on into our era of exceptionalism (post 2012).

Back on the national level, the 1996 Law, which was enforced by the Lebanese government as an exceptional measure, divided the muhafaza of Mount Lebanon into several electoral districts while leaving the others untouched. Opponents of this statute argued that the division was designed to favour certain candidates of one group over those of another. The 2000 Law, also known as Ghazi Kanaan’s Law, was also accused for its gerrymandering of votes to ensure favorable results for Syria’s allies. Districts, like that of North Lebanon for example, were re-arranged to engineer such results.


Ghazi Kanaan and Lebanon’s electoral districts under him

On the university level, the 2015 Law, to be used for the elections on Friday, November 27 (the first time it has been held on a Friday), was recently announced. Yesterday, Outlook dedicated the whole of its second page to presenting this law, but even what the official student newspaper published was inconsistent between the the diagram and the text that accompanied it.

This is probably because the 2015 Law was announced twice this year. On November 10 the administration sent an email stating that all eligible students of the Faculty of Engineering and Architecture (FEA) could nominate themselves and vote for three seats in the USFC. On November 16, another announcement was made, and all eligible FEA students would now only be able to nominate themselves for one of the three seats with the two remaining seats open to engineering undergraduate students only – thus excluding architecture/design and graduate students – but voted on by all. The reason for this change was not included in the announcement.

When comparing the 2015 USFC Law with its predecessors, many questions can be raised. The 2012 Law dictated that, for FEA, one of the three USFC seats was for architecture/design and graduate students and the remaining two were similarly exclusive for engineering undergraduates. The two voting pools did not mix. The 2013 Law added another exclusive seat to engineering undergraduates. The 2015 Law not only eliminated the seat allocated for architecture/design (and graduates) but also turned the formula on its head! A special “reservation” for seats was given to engineering undergraduates. Usually quotas, if ever used in electoral laws, are created for groups that constitute some sort of minority, but the engineering undergraduates actually constitute the vast majority of FEA.


The USFC’s electoral composition

The case of FEA in the 2015 Law is one of bizarre change from the 2012 and 2013 laws. This does not mean, however, that the previous laws made much sense. Like the parliamentary laws on the national level, it is hard to find a consistency in any iteration of the AUB laws. The 2012 Law divided the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS) into five different voting pools based on student status. FAS sophomores, for example, can run and vote for 1 USFC seat. While the seats of the Olayan School of Business (OSB) remain open game to all: sophomore, junior, senior, and graduate can run and vote for up to three seats. The addition of an exclusive engineering undergraduate seat to FEA in the 2013 Law was complimented with making the Faculty of Agriculture and Food Sciences (FAFS) a free-for-all faculty (like OSB), with the reasons never officially announced.

The absurdity of the changes made in the electoral laws at the AUB in the past three years channels the spirit of the late Ghazi Kanaan. While the parliamentary laws under the late Major-General were designed to ensure favourable results for those Syria looked favourably upon, it is up to students, on the university level, to find out to which political group/s this year’s USFC law (and those that precede it) benefit(ed). The answer to the question, in the case of the 2015 Law, may be found by investigating what happened in the six days between the two announcements of November 10 and November 16.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student

AUB student elections: Why are they always “hanging in the balance?”

Every fall it seems, one or several pieces are published in Outlook about the plight of student elections at AUB. These elections, which usually take place in November, always seem to be “hanging in the balance.” The recurring theme for three years now has been the electoral laws that dictate the election to the Student Representative Committees (SRCs) of each of the six faculties and to the University Student Faculty Committee (USFC).

In most elected councils, electoral laws are not easy to amend so as not to allow any newly-elected simple majority to change the rules of the game in its favor once it reaches power. The bylaws of the SRC and USFC are no different and require, as a first step, a two-third vote by the respective committee for any bylaw amendment. So, why is it then that the AUB community has been having an “electoral law discussion” just before elections every year?

Student elections were held at AUB for the first time after the Civil War in January 1994. From 1994 until Fall 2011, AUB was witness to some nineteen student elections based on the following format. (1) Students elect representatives to their respective faculty SRC. (2) The elected SRC members of each faculty then elect, from amongst themselves, members to represent the respective Faculty in the USFC. For example, a Biology student would elect from their level one or several representatives to the SRC of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences (FAS). The elected members of the FAS SRC (ranging in number between the 20s and the 30s over the years) would then elect from amongst them 5 members to the USFC. For more than eighteen years, student elections were held at AUB in this way without the pre-elections crises this generation of students has become accustomed to.

On October 10, 2012, the Dean of Student Affairs sent his annual email to the student body, announcing the details of 2012-13 student elections. The Dean stated:

To further improve the process and in the spirit of direct representation the elections this year will allow students to vote directly for their representatives in the University Student Faculty Committee simultaneously during the SRC elections.

This piece is not one where I will be giving my take on the best-suited electoral law for student elections at AUB. This piece is to shed light on why we are in a mess three years later in 2015.

In the fall of 2012, by sending this email, the Dean of Student Affairs took a unilateral decision to amend the USFC bylaws based on what he saw fit, given the circumstances. First, any amendment of the bylaws should have been proposed by an absolute majority of the entire voting USFC members of 2011-12. Second, the proposed amendments should have been voted upon by a two-thirds majority of the entire voting USFC members of 2011-12. Third, the amendments should have been subject to final approval by the University Senate and the president of the University (Article XIII, USFC bylaws). There is no evidence, neither in the meeting minutes of the USFC nor of the Senate, that this ever happened.

Elections were held almost a month later on November 13, 2012 based on a presumably illegal electoral law. Seventeen student members reached the USFC based on this law, two of them realizing it after joining the committee. These two student members worked with the Dean on a new draft for USFC bylaws to try to “fix” this breach.

In Fall 2013, this draft was presented to the Senate. Under the article on Composition of this draft was the following statement:

Sections 1 and 2 [determining the electoral law] of this article have been left undetermined intentionally for one USFC term for the 2013/2014 academic year only. The election format for this academic year will need to be approved by a 2/3 vote of the entire voting membership of the USFC. If an agreement is not reached by the required 2/3 USFC vote by Friday 11 October 2013 the Dean of Student Affairs can determine the electoral process for the 2013/2014 academic year only.

This statement was considered problematic by the Senate because it gave the Dean the right to decide (over actual elected USFC members) the composition of the USFC. It also included a specific date (“Friday 11 October 2013”) in the bylaws (bylaws are supposed to be timeless). The Senate, pressed for time before the elections, approved a motion to approve these amended bylaws for one year only until the article on Composition (the electoral law) is resolved, thus granting the Dean authority to decide the electoral process for one year only: 2013-14.

Fast-forward a full year to Fall 2014 and the article on Composition was yet to be resolved. The Senate, this time more reluctantly, approved the Dean’s motion to repeat the decision of the year before for another one year only: 2014-15. It is worth mentioning that the Dean took this as an opportunity to change the composition of the SRC of each of the six faculties that year in another unilateral, centralized act.

Fast-forward a full year to Fall 2015 and (you guessed it) the article on Composition is still not resolved. This time the USFC bylaws were not even placed as an agenda item for the University Senate meeting of October. Fearing for a postponement or a cancelation of student elections, one senator moved to place this item on the agenda during the meeting. The item was discussed and, breaking with the unfortunate trend of the previous two years, a motion was approved to push for elections before the end of November based on the last approved bylaws. I leave it to readers to decide whether the latest email sent by the Dean of Student Affairs on November 10, 2015 (pasted in the comments below) is in compliance with the “last approved bylaws.”

So, why have elections been “hanging in the balance” for the last three years? In a interview published last week by Outlook, the Dean believes that it is because “each [group] is fighting for their own little ’empire’.” Perhaps this is true, but maybe students would not be in this situation today had the Dean not been playing the role of emperor since 2012.

Issam Kayssi
AUB Student