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University incident an opportunity to make a statement on rule of law

Sep 05,2018 - Last updated at Sep 05,2018

The debate triggered by the incident at Al al-Bayt University in Mafraq is timely. In short, dozens of faculty members and administration staff at the university have recently stormed the office of the university's president and forced him out in protest of a recommendation by the board of trustees' to the Higher Education Council to renew the term of the president for another four years.

In response, and in coordination with the higher education and interior ministers and the governor of Mafraq, the employees involved in the incident were suspended and an internal investigation was launched. 

The debate focuses on the crudeness of the behaviour, yet, it shyly revolves around the culture in the peripherals. Although the names of those involved were not revealed, a protest held in the town on Tuesday against the procedure taken by the university suggests that the men implicated, or a good part of them, were residents in the community hosting the state university.  

This brings to the surface, once again, the issue all tend to sweep under the carpet. There is a misunderstanding in such a situation. Universities and other development projects, including foreign investments, in areas outside the major urban centres are there as part of a national plan to advance the entire nation and, yes, they are supposed to create jobs for locals and improve their lives. However, host communities do not "own" these institutions and have no say when the law speaks.

The recommendation made by the trustees, or a majority of them, to renew the contract of Al al-Bayt University's president is the legal procedure as stipulated in the Universities Law and any interference in the process constitutes a blatant violation of the law of the land. The mob mentality is rejected and this particular incident should be utilised to make a very important statement that institutionalisation is the name of the game from now on. 

The university's board of trustees, which has recently been selected as an outcome of a long and "institutionalised" selection process, reflected the true spirit when it threatened of resignation if no legal action was taken against the perpetrators. 

The incident is not isolated nor is "alien to our society and its values", as officials tend to respond historically. It is inherent and common. Interviewed by a local TV station, the president, Dia-Eddin Arafeh, said that other state-run universities suffer from problems similar to the one he faced. That is right and all seem to involve interference in the business of the university in question by members of the local community. At least in one incident a few years ago, staff members protested the appointment of drivers from another governorate and gave headache to the president for endorsing the decision.  

What deepens a problem like the one that occurred in Mafraq is lawmakers' attitude. An MP who represents the district, a veteran jurist and a major player in national politics, focused in his statement under the Dome on what he termed the illegality of the suspension decision, but reportedly said nothing to criticise the very act of his voters. That is very serious and complicates the issue.

Some, from among those who see the problem from the same perspective, might suggest dialogue and awareness efforts to counter the culture of regionalism. Dialogue is good, but what is better is determination and perseverance by authorities to enforce the law in every situation and equally to all and hold violators to account. That would effectively extinguish illegal behaviours and change the culture. 

 

The writer is the deputy chief editor of The Jordan Times

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