The decision to put classes on hold indefinitely at Bethlehem University comes after the Student Senate had suspended the education process for four times since the start of the new Spring semester on January 18.
The first suspension of classes took place on January 25. “After several meetings and discussions between the Student Senate and the Finance Office and the use of all means of dialogue… we announce that all classes are to be suspended on Friday, January 25, 2019…” read the Student Senate statement.
The Student Senate members say that for seven months they have been going back and forth with the Administration of the University trying to reach a solution about “the increase in training fees for the faculties of Education and Nursing, as well as the reinstatement of the fee for paying in installments.”
On February 4, and after unfruitful discussions between the Administration and the Student Senate, Dr. Michel Sansur, Executive Vice President of Bethlehem University, sent an email to all faculty, staff and students informing them that “classes are expected to run as usual tomorrow, Tuesday, February 5. Students who do not show up for class will be marked absent as on January 25.” Two hours later, and for the second time, the Student Senate announced its intention to suspend classes on February 5.
In its response on February 5, the Administration of BU pointed out that the increase in training fees was put in place in 2016 and that students had already paid this increase in the last and current academic year. “Why is the Student Senate protesting now? reads the statement of the Administration, especially after we sat down with the members and explained the means to calculate the training hours for each program.”
The statement also warned that further “disruptions of classes” carried out by the Student Senate might result in delays in the final exams, the graduation and the Summer school, not to mention the possibility to cancel the Spring and Summer semesters all together in case of constant suspensions.
Due to not reaching a solution with the University’s Administration on February 5, the Student Senate announced its third suspension of classes for February 6.
The fourth suspension came on February 6 for the following day in yet another Student Senate statement that objected to the Administration’s threats to cancel the current semester and its disapproval of the legitimate measures taken by the Student Senate over the seven-month period.
Hours after the last suspension, the Vice Chancellor of BU decided to put classes on hold for “the Administration is not able to provide the education we promise with the Student Senate acting in the way they do with the disruption of classes… the Administration has decided that classes will be suspended until it is confident that classes can be offered without interruption.”
“Depending on how long it takes for us to be confident that classes will not be interrupted, it means the semester will be extended with graduation being pushed back and the possibility that the summer school could be cancelled,” continued Br. Bray.
According to the letter, Bethlehem University pays for more than half of the cost of courses through money from outside sources. The letter also stated that the Catholic university is “supposed to get $1.3 million each year from the Palestinian Authority, but that is now not happening.”
Since 2018, the US Administration has been taking steps to cut all funding and aid to the Palestinian Authority and the Palestinians. In January of 2018, it froze $65 million out of a $125 million aid package reserved to United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestinian Refugees (UNRWA) and on August 25, it cut $200 million in aid to the PA that was earmarked for good governance, health, education and funding for civil society.