Lebanon: American University of Beirut forced to let go of up to a quarter of its staff

The prestigious university is struggling with its worst economic crisis yet

A picture taken on March 14, 2014, in the Lebanese capital Beirut shows the entrance of the American University of Beirut Medical Center. Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Muallem, who led the regime's negotiating team at failed peace talks this year, has been admitted to hospital in neighbouring Lebanon, a medical source said. AFP PHOTO/ANWAR AMRO (Photo by ANWAR AMRO / AFP)
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The American University of Beirut will let go of up to 25 per cent of its staff in the face of its worst economic crisis so far, its President Fadlo Khuri has said.

Mr Khuri informed Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Friday that between 22 and 25 per cent of AUB's staff would be dismissed, local daily L'Orient-Le Jour reported on Monday. Mr Khuri told the newspaper that AUB employed 6,500 people.

Jobs will be cut mostly in administrative posts and both AUB and at its hospital, the American University Hospital (AUH), will be targeted, wrote L'Orient-Le Jour. The planned construction of a new hospital will be suspended.

On May 5, Mr Khuri wrote an alarming letter saying the University was facing its “greatest crisis since [its] foundation in 1866”. He blamed Lebanon’s “economic meltdown, the Covid-19 pandemic, and the expected global economic depression”.

The university’s revenue for 2020-2021 will be 60 per cent below its target of $249 million. “Most organisations do not survive such rapid and severe drops in revenue,” wrote Mr Khuri.

At the time, staff told The National that the university's situation had been difficult even before Lebanon's economic crisis, which has caused the local currency to crash, reached a boiling point last October, causing massive protests.

Mr Khuri said on Saturday that staff would be asked to accept a reduction of 10 to 15 per cent of their salary. This will be voluntary for those earning up to $150,000/year and compulsory above that amount, reported L’Orient-Le Jour.

In his May 5 letter, Mr Khuri had said that everyone at AUB would be affected by the crisis “from our senior leadership, which will take significant pay reductions, to faculty members who have seen their buying power reduced, to students and their families who are struggling more than ever to pay tuition fees, to our staff who comprise our most financially challenged group”.

Mr Khuri said on Saturday that in 1975, when AUB was in a severe economic crisis during the first year of the Lebanese civil war, then-Prime Minister Rachid Karamé had saved the university from closure with a donation of 18 million Lebanese pounds.

AUB functioned through the 15-year civil war despite the kidnapping or murder of a number of staff, including two presidents.