November 28-29, 2019 – Ever since the protests began, NDU students requested that their voices be heard on campus. Responding to these requests, NDU President, Fr. Pierre Najem, personally held several open Q&A sessions with them to eliminate any ambiguity regarding NDU’s supportive position and to provide the students with a safe and open platform to voice their concerns. The most recent of these sessions was a General Assembly for the whole NDU community – students, faculty, and staff – held across NDU’s three campuses: Main Campus and North Campus, and NDU-Shouf Campus.
During the Main Campus General Assembly, Fr. Najem opened the proceedings by reiterating NDU’s identity as a student-centric university. “Students have a special place in my heart, and we will always stand with them above all else,” said Fr. Najem. “Our challenge is to accommodate all people, those who choose to protest and those who do not. It is incumbent on all of us to be united and build a society where we all respect each other’s individual freedom.” Specifically, Fr. Najem highlighted the steps NDU took to ensure that students were able to exercise their right to free expression while maintaining the integrity of the academic process: from making all course material available online, to revising the academic calendar with make-up sessions, and implementing a system of flexible attendance. “We are proud of you for raising your voices,” said Fr. Najem. “We are hearing you, and we are here for you.”
Fr. Najem highlighted NDU’s progress over the past two years. “We have been working tirelessly to improve NDU’s standing, and it has paid off. Thanks to everyone’s efforts, we have reached the ranks of the top five universities in Lebanon. These efforts are for each and every one of you so that we can give you the best possible success and access to the job market.” Fr. Najem explained that NDU was the only university in Lebanon to freeze its tuition fees and highlighted the university’s extensive and completely revised financial aid program among many measures taken long before the protests ever began. “We agreed two years ago – faculty, staff, and student representatives – that we would freeze tuition fees even if that would create a financial burden for the university. Students have already saved a large amount due to the freeze. As part of these measures, 60% of all of our students benefit from some kind of financial aid or scholarship and can always visit the Department of Financial Aid for special cases.”
As a response to student concerns raised directly to him before the assembly about the financial burden, Fr. Najem reminded them that the University has already taken additional measures such as deferred payment opportunities and extending the 2019 Fall semester without overlapping into Spring 2020 – which would otherwise place a still greater economic burden on the students.
Fr. Najem concluded the 2-hour session by inviting all those present to voice their concerns in the Q&A following his speech. Many students thanked the University for the support and care that it has shown. Questions surrounding the make-up sessions and payment of tuition fees during a time of social upheaval and economic unrest were raised. Fr. Najem, in turn, invited the various deans and chairpersons present to reassure the students. As for the tuition fees, Fr. Najem took the time to go over all of the measures that they university has taken in that regard, which he had already explained during the session, and invited those still concerned to meet with him at a later date to put forward other potential solutions. “My door and that of all the relevant offices are always open.”