“Look, I don’t have space to put my books,” Mona Knio, an associate professor of drama and the chairperson of LAU’s communication arts department, said with a gentle smile.
Knio’s small office is full of books. Some are on shelves and some on the floor in boxes along with papers and files. One can barely walk in. Behind her office is a window that makes the room livelier.
LAU is 24,525 square meters with eight main buildings. The number is impressive, but it is not big enough for LAU’s instructors, students, staff members and administration. Space at the LAU Beirut campus is a problem that bothers everyone, including instructors in offices and class rooms.
“We need space, all teachers need spac,” Knio said. “There is no place for people to come and participate in theater activities.”
There are around 302 faculty and staff members, spread across a small number of offices. In the Fine Arts building, an office next to Knio’s (no. 103) houses seven instructors with varying office hours. Nicol and Irwin Hall faculty members also share few offices.
“The problem is obvious and is reflecting on us as instructors and on students,” Yasmine Dabbous, an assistant professor of journalism and media studies, said. “Many classrooms have an excessive number of students and some offices have more than three instructors.”
The LAU Beirut campus accommodates 5,427 students, many of which major in Business. Accounting II is one of the most difficult courses at the department yet the number of students exceeds the limits. Already comprising 40 students, the total is raised to 44 due to by-force add-ins.
“The number of students is large and it’s sometimes difficult to deliver the lectures, especially during problem-solving sessions,” Rima El Hakim, an accounting instructor, said. “Students ask a lot of questions and, since time is limited, we can’t always answer them all.”
Dabbous faced a similar problem. She teaches Media and Society, a discussion-based class, but the number of students is 40 and classrooms are small. “This can transform the class into a lecture-based session,” Dabbous said. Three sections of the class were opened to accommodate the student flow.
Students also complain from lack of space in the cafeteria, classrooms and the gates areas. “I don’t like small spaces because we as students can’t concentrate in the class and we always get distracted by any whisper or movement,” Tamara Farhat, a 19-year-old political science student, said.
Farhat added that instructors are sometimes unable to properly explain the material. “I go to class earlier so I could find a place in the front and a chair near my instructors,” Farhat said.
George Sadaka, an instructor of English and cultural studies, said that, in two of his classes, students drag chairs from other classes to be able to sit down.
At 12 pm, the red and blue tables in the cafeteria disappear under the hoards of students that flock in during lunch breaks. “We don’t have enough space to shoot our films, and we only have one small cafeteria and it is always crowded,” Hassan Mohajer, a 22-year-old radio/TV/film student, said.
When LAU was built in 1835, the land was affordable and the space sufficient to fit the university’s first generations of students. But the number of Lebanese and foreign students has dramatically increased since.
“The main problem is that the university is adopting new majors and the number of students is getting bigger,” Samar Moujaes, an assistant professor of Arabic, said.
Now the lands surrounding LAU in Koreitem are quite expensive and highly populated, which prevents LAU’s expansion. “From now till we have more space, there should be a precise study for the number of applicants every semester to control the huge number of students,” Moujaes said.
According to a study done by Sally Farra, an interior architecture student, Nicol Hall is old and unstable but the university can’t restore or rebuild it for security reasons related to the presence of the Hariri family next door. “The cafeteria has high ceilings so they can build an additional floor inside it to add more space for students,” Farra said. She noted that even janitors don’t have enough room to rest during break hours. “They all sit in small rooms,” Farra explained.
Several instructors said that they heard about plans to build a new building for the arts and science school within the coming six years. Members of the administration, including Dean of Student Affairs Raed Mohsen, Dean of Arts and Sciences Samira Aghacy and Assistant Provost Sami Baroudi, were unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, and as the university tries to solve the space problem, the number of students increases with time. “We are lucky that we got a TV studio, so we should give credits for the university for that,” Knio said. She added, however, that classes are growing in numbers not in meters.
LAU Tribune staff