Last week, The Caravan ran the first excerpts of a two-part interview with AUC President Lisa Anderson who discussed staff rights and the university’s role in the post-revolution period.
The following are excerpts from that interview:
For the first half, click here
Are the changes taking place in Egypt going to affect the administration’s policies regarding student activities?
Absolutely, I think the Office of Student Development tended to be extremely conservative about the kinds of things that it was comfortable encouraging students to do. Even at the time, last year, when I was Provost, OSD was more conservative than I would have been.
As I said at the time, I am a political scientist, and I think the best ways to learn about politics is to practice them. So I’ve always thought that students should always be involved in voter registration, debating political issues of moment on campus, and so forth and so on. I do think that there has been a conservative approach to that in the past, and I anticipate that this will change perceptively for students now. Whether that is attribute to my presidency or the revolution, that is for you to decide for yourselves.
In spring 2010 a group of investigative journalism students worked on a project to investigate AUC’s investments, but ran into difficulties because of what they referred to as “lack of transparency.” Many people who are part of the AUC community feel they have a right to know how the university spends its money.
I wasn’t a part of all the decisions and debates about that particular episode […] I don’t see any reason why anyone wouldn’t know where our revenues come from, what kind of things we spend them on year after year. I think anybody wants to know that should be able to know it. I think you should run that experiment once again, and those same students should ask those questions and see the answers they get.
I don’t see the reason why we would be reluctant to reveal those kinds of things. Again, there are measures of confidentiality that I think are appropriate. It’s the same thing, you can say globally financial aid, and you don’t say each particular student’s financial aid package. So, globally salaries not each particular individual’s salary. Beyond that there is no reason at all.
What measures did the administration take during the two weeks of unrest to ensure the safety of the AUC community?
I distributed a document that sort of described the ten days or two weeks when the university was closed and what we were doing. I did that because I think for many people it was difficult to see from a far how we were trying to manage the community. As you will recall we were all deprived as everyone else was from internet access and mobile phone service.
Like many other institutions our emergency planning had presumed that we could send SMSes to tell people to go to the website. Unable to do that, we had to reconstruct a telephone tree of landlines. […] We then began to facilitate the departure of students and faculty who wanted to go. As you know, a fair number of our international students, a lot of our American students were required by their home institutions and embassies to go home. A reasonable number of faculty and some students both international students and Egyptians, decamped out Egypt for a weekend or so just because school was out and there wasn’t much to do so might as well go visit friends. I was amused by the fact people were leaving Cairo to go to Beirut because it was more secure. For thirty years that hasn’t been the case. There were some ironies in all of that. … [The emergency management team] met every day, and the Vice President and I by Tuesday were traveling around, we went to Zamalek, out here, and we went all over the faculty housing in Maadi.
Within the week we starting beginning the planning of how we would reopen once we decided we would do so. I think a lot of faculty particularly, construed the fact that we were doing that planning as a decision that we would open. As I often say it’s like shooting off a rocket if you’re NASA. You don’t decide until you know what the weather forecast is, whether you’re actually going to do it. But you have to do the planning, have the rocket ready, then you hear if it’s clear enough to do it. So we were doing all that kind of planning, the rocket was ready, and we didn’t decide till virtually the last minute that we would actually open.
How do you feel the administration handled last semester’s staff strikes in light of the continuing strikes this semester?
First of all, we promised that by March 1st we would do another salary increment, a new adjustment for this group of workers, custodial workers. On January 16th there was a meeting with the representatives of those workers, discussing what we have been doing and how we were moving along on that planning. At that meeting there was a decision to meet again on the 20th of February, which we did.
Of course a lot had happened between January 16 and February 20, but it was at that point that we were scheduled to meet and we did in fact. At that point we were going to announce to the committee that we were working with what we are actually going to do starting the March 1. A lot of the workers represented by the committee knew that, and were waiting to find out what was going to happen.
At that juncture although there was a sense that was a demonstration, or a worker unrest, as far as I was concerned, it was workers waiting to find out what we were going to do which seemed perfectly reasonable to me. From my point of view, that wasn’t a protest of any kind, it was just them sitting there asking, “so what are you going to do?”
That is regarding the group who were protesting last semester, but as we understand, there are several other groups with different demands protesting this semester…
We worked with that committee and with that constituency of workers to put together a reasonably good package for them, so I was very pleased with that.[…] I think one of the most important things we did was lengthen their contracts. We’re invested in them, they’re invested in us, so they don’t have the insecurity of year to year employment. At that point, correctly in my view, a number of other constituents said that kind of thing would be very valuable to them. Why should they be on daily, monthly, short term, seasonal, much less annual contracts. I was surprised by how many of our staff are on these irregular contracts. I don’t think there’s any excuse for that.[…]
If people have been here for a reasonable amount of time then they are full time employees and they should be considered as such. called our attention to the fact that there are more of these people than we knew by organizing themselves and saying pay attention to this, and we are. I’m quite content with that and one of the things I hope AUC will be reputed for is labor relations, which is attentive, which listens to people. I think we can have both in terms of salary levels, clarity of job descriptions, lengths of contracts, so forth and so on much better sort of basic infrastructure for our human resources. I want us to be talking to people, to say what matters to you? It’s going to take some time while we really get a handle on how this has been organized historically and how we can do it better. I am confident that we are going to be able to do better than we have.
Considering the financial strain on AUC at the moment, many students are concerned about tuition increases. Are we likely to see tuition increase in the near future? How will AUC respond to staff’s demands for higher pay while balancing its budget?
I think we are doing reasonably well on the budget, this is in two respects. One of which is that we have been keeping the Board of Trustees apprised on how we are doing on the budget all the way through all of this. We’ve been keeping the Board of “Trustees apprised so that when we produce what we expect to be a budget deficit for this year, they’re not going to be surprised. You can run a deficit every once and a while, it’s not the end of the world as long as it’s not a chronic problem. […] One of the things the Trustees have done, which I’m very pleased and grateful about is that they have contributed to a special fund for this year that will permit us to do some of the extra things that we wanted to do this year. Extra public programming, the new courses that have been developed, and all that. It would be a pity if we couldn’t really afford to do anything and the trustees recognize that. That’s a special fund that doesn’t have to cover the deficit. They really understand that this is an exceptional time. In general, over the course of the next couple of years, I think we are likely to see regular tuition increases in American style Universities; it’s certainly typical in the United States. I think we are going to try and track our tuition increases to some sense of the inflation rate in Egypt is.
One of the things that worries me is that we can anticipate higher inflation in the next couple of years. I don’t think that anyone shouldn’t expect that tuition isn’t going to increase, because it will increase every year. Question is can we keep it relatively moderate those kinds of increases. We have to be as moderate and as conservative as we possibly can.
There have been eyewitness reports and claims that there were snipers on AUC’s main campus roof, who were using the university as a platform to target protesters. Is there any validity to these claims?
Just this morning I was watching a video, and there were clearly people on the roof and pointing things into the crowd, it’s hard to tell what it is. It looks like they were throwing things of the roof, throwing tear gas off the roof, and they may have been shooting off the roof that’s the part that’s a little hard to tell. That Friday, there was an invasion of the campus, we know that, and there was a pitched battle between people who were among the protesters who came in through the gate that hasn’t been opened in years and years. There were people lobbing things into the crowds of protesters, and those could not have been protesters.
How does AUC plan on responding to this, is there going to be an investigation?
Well just for the historical record if nothing else. What would we get if we went to the Ministry of Interior and said some of the people from the ministry or state security were on our roof and doing things? That Ministry is already in shambles in many respects. I think for our own purposes we want to document and be able to demonstrate that we have investigated, that this was not authorized, that this was clearly not only an invasion of our property but completely counter to the purposes of the university and what we stand for. If there is at some point a plausible opportunity for some kind of reparations or something like that we might pursue that. […] We have seen these films ourselves. It’s just heartbreaking when you think about what the University stands for, and that this would have happened there. That’s why I think it is important to document it, as much as whatever we would get from the Ministry or anyone else.