As the American University of Beirut experiences an unprecedented financial crisis forcing the school to lay off close to 25 percent of its employees, Lebanon’s prime minister, Hassan Diab, is pushing ahead with a lawsuit seeking a financial exit package.
Diab, appointed as prime minister in December 2019, was the former Vice President for Regional External Programs (REP) at AUB and a professor in the Faculty of Engineering.
According to two senior AUB officials, Diab is claiming that he did not resign and is asking for retirement funds and severance pay for his contract that expires in 2025. Two other sources with knowledge of the matter said Diab is also seeking compensation for delays to his payment, and is asking for over $1 million in the lawsuit.
The prime minister and his office were unable to be reached for comment.
Diab continued to be paid his salary until his government received a vote of confidence from Lebanon’s parliament, despite not carrying out his duties at the university.
But shortly after Diab – who served as education minister from 2011-2014 – was appointed, he failed to respond to AUB as to whether he wanted to be placed on leave without pay or resign from his VP role.
As per AUB policies, one cannot hold a full-time faculty position while serving in office. But the university offers an option of one-year unpaid leave, which can be extended for two years.
The two AUB officials said the premier wants his payment to be made in US dollars to a bank outside Lebanon, citing the country’s financial and economic crisis.
“Diab did not retire and he was not asked to leave; he left on his own and retirement or severance is paid when someone retires or is fired. Neither of these cases applies to him,” the official added.
One of the sources with knowledge of the matter told Al Arabiya English that Diab’s REP office was underperforming and failed to meet its targets for three years in a row. This led to talks about closing the REP office, and Diab acknowledged this poor performance in writing.
“He is free to return to the university as a professor in the Faculty of Engineering, but we have replaced him in his position as the REP VP,” one of the AUB officials told Al Arabiya English.
Crisis at AUB
In recent interviews with Reuters and The Associated Press, AUB President Fadlo Khuri lamented the crisis AUB was facing. He announced that the university would be cutting costs via scholarship reductions, reducing staff numbers and others.
It is understood that the AUB employees laid off reached a deal with the university for severance packages, including health benefits and education for their children. If a laid-off employee has a child in university, AUB will continue covering their tuition until graduation. A minimum of one year’s pay will be given to those let go, while others will receive more, depending on how long they have been at AUB. Employees who were laid off, however, are paid in Lebanon and do not have the option to have their payments directed to foreign bank accounts.
In a separate interview with French newspaper L’Orient-Le Jour, Khuri cited the university as the second largest employer in Lebanon behind the state, with 6,500 employees. In the same interview, Khuri recalled the late Lebanese Prime Minister Rashid Karami and his move to grant the university a loan of 18 million Lebanese pounds at the start of the 1975-90 Civil War “to save it from closing.”
But now, AUB is once again under threat, and the Lebanese state owes the university’s medical center more than $150 million, adding injury to the insult that is the ongoing economic crisis with coronavirus dealing another blow to the university.
In Diab’s 136-page resume, he says that he aspires “to create my own path and to leave my imprint as an influencer in the education field.”
But those who spoke to Al Arabiya English fear that the recent lawsuit may do just the opposite.
“Many are surprised at his failure to curb the catastrophe in Lebanon, but we have worked with him and know what kind of person he is. He promised a lot of things when he became prime minister and people had hope because they did not really know him,” the second AUB official told Al Arabiya English.
The AUB officials said that the university cannot accept Diab’s demands and that they are prepared to present their case in front of the proper judiciary.