The AUB University Student Faculty Committee – a recipe for democracy

​​Safa Jafari Safa <ss152@aub.edu.lb>, Office of Communications

“This is our place and time to speak and be heard. This has always been the place… and it is always the time.” – AUB student on election day, October 12, 2018.

The 2018 University Student Faculty Committee (USFC) at AUB just elected its cabinet, an internal, confidential ballot box voting process that followed strong presentations by the candidates. The result was the selection of this year’s vice president, Ali Zayour; treasurer, Hassan Chamseddine; and secretary, Zeina Mikati; in addition to representatives to the disciplinary, admissions, library, student affairs, and academic development senate committees. The USFC is now ready to take off. Its biweekly meetings will start, headed by the university president, and engaging student and faculty representatives from all faculties.

But what does that mean? What does USFC offer the AUB student?

Since its establishment, and through the history of this nation and region, AUB has been a venue for the expression of values such as liberty, democracy, justice, and good governance. The university has created and supported the foundation of bodies that manifest such values, key to its mission. One of these bodies is the USFC. 

Leadership in the making
Who makes it to the USFC? Yes, you have to be popular to make it, and yes, you may be “well connected,” but these are also characteristics of a leader. Students at AUB vote based on three main factors: candidate qualities, the agenda proposed, and how convincing candidates are during the campaign and the debates that come with it. To succeed, a candidate needs to demonstrate leadership—to be a vocal, confident, people’s person who has convincing, public-speaking, and networking skills.

“The educational process of elections from start to finish is a unique and incredible learning experience,” explains Dean of Student Affairs Talal Nizameddin. “The global education system has changed; it is now more experiential and interactive. This, here, is where you get the full educational experience, rarely otherwise fully offered in the region.”

The USFC journey polishes true leadership while instilling resilience. A candidate has to learn to stand up to the challenge of campaigning without breaking a sweat, to sustain a logical debate, and even a heated Q&A at cabinet election time. Throughout, the candidate must be accepting of all possible results. In fact, once elected, a candidate will have to work with all others on the committee, even previous opponents. Candidates learn to fight for what they believe in, but also to negotiate, and sometimes compromise to reach the common good. 

A recipe to be emulated
AUB’s mission and mandate are evident and cultivated here: liberal education and thinking, freedom of expression, advocacy, leadership, the right to speak and be represented, diversity, rule of law and protocol of procedure, transparency, and accountability.

A case in point is the proportional representation electronic voting system innovated at AUB that is conducted offline to guarantee privacy and prevent hacking or outside influence. Passionate AUB students, using a paper and pen and drawing highly sophisticated calculation equations, helped create this advanced and fair voting and election process. The system has since been picked up by Lebanon for its electoral process. 

“This is an example that with the right election system and the right management, we can achieve democratic elections. It has been happening at AUB for years, why not in the Arab world?” asks Nizameddin. “Those who don’t make it to the USFC cabinet swallow their pride and still want to make the system work. Learning how to lose is a big lesson in life, before learning how to win.” 

Another question some people ask is whether students really vote for the most capable candidates. A modest survey at election time this year found that seven out of ten students said they do.

When fourth year computer and communication engineering student, Saadallah Sarkis, was elected for the USFC seat last year as part of the Leaders of Tomorrow party, he considered diversity of political opinions an enriching factor. To him the election process at AUB presents an opportunity to understand the upcoming generation’s orientations and opinions within a safe environment that nourishes values of democracy and the right to vote.
 
“As long as members of a campaign do not hold back opposing points of view that can stir healthy debates,” Sarkis added. “Through discussion and brainstorming, we can reach ideal solutions.”

“Our students are part of society and they each have a different point of view and that is fine,” said Nizameddin. “They do reflect the real society but it is not true to say that they only vote based on outside alliances. Activists exist, but they are a handful out of 9,000 students on campus. There is as much voting based on alliances as anywhere in the world but our student body is so diverse, on so many different levels, that I would strongly question that this is the dominant reason why they vote.

“I trust the sincerity and minds of most of our students. That they do the right thing that their conscience tells them to do. This is what matters.”

This brings us to the third window of opportunity that the USFC offers AUB students. 

The venue to make a difference
Current USFC member, Hussein Khachfe, is an independent candidate. He has been re-elected after running with Students for Change three years ago and serving as VP for three months during that period. He reminds us that, “once we become members of the USFC, we are all on board to work together and we take off to make a positive change in the daily lives of AUB students. Eventually, we all want the same demands. All as one team that wants to help the university as a whole.”

All voters want the same things after all: a functional system that tackles the right issues in the right ways. What are the right ways and what are the right issues? The answers can vary, but only slightly. As the function of USFC dictates, the body allows for a moderated regular exchange of opinions and motions to develop campus life and education. The requirements therefore revolve around areas such as tuition, registration, advising, facilities, and student affairs. Here, students take the lead and, when united, enjoy a dominant voting majority, thus making it a truly effective student government.

Last year’s VP, graduate student Myra Zeineddine, who ran with the Campus Choice campaign, highlighted the importance of inclusivity and working―regardless of differences in backgrounds—for the best interest of the student body. 

“I learned that a better outcome is achieved by teamwork in coordination with the administration, especially during critical situations where decisions need to be made,” she said. “I urge all students to take advantage of the USFC body and seek help whenever they need it, submit funding requests to cover for their activity expenses, and share issues that they believe should be tackled.” 

The USFC is an opening in time and space that offers AUB students the opportunity to make a difference, in their immediate lives first. Take a look at ​what they are doing and take advantage of that opportunity.