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Freedom of Speech at AUB: Why I was fired from Align

This article is featured on the Support Freedom of Speech Blog.
A month ago, I got recommended by a friend to work for Align, the official Olayan School of Business (OSB) monthly electronic newsletter at the American University of Beirut (AUB). I applied and immediately got accepted.

Part of the upper campus as seen from Penrose ...
AUB Campus
Two weeks ago, the letters of acceptances to the AUB Medical School were sent out to senior premedical students. In short, several very qualified candidates did not get acceptance letters while others with much lower grades got the approval. The role of ‘wasta’ (i.e. connections) was very apparent, especially with the new rolling-out admissions system they are implementing.

In a spontaneous effort to expose the truth while trying to cheer the deserving people up, I published an opinion piece on my personal profile on Facebook and my personal blog “Mind Soup” discussing the effect of ‘wasta’ and favoritism on decisions made by several departments in AUB while focusing on the recent results of the Medical School acceptances. This opinion article, entitled “There is no ‘wasta’  at the American University of Beirut” raised much more controversy that I have anticipated, and I recieved tons of supporting messages and opposing messages to my personal e-mail address and Facebook inbox. This article has received more than five hundred distinct hits from 17 different countries on the blog alone in two days.

Two days after that, I received what I would like to call a “hate phone-call” from an anonymous private number bashing me for writing the article. I, then, pulled the article down from Facebook and my blog for security reasons, but then put it up again after I received tons of requests from friends who haven’t got the chance to read it.

Tuesday morning, I receive an e-mail from the Align faculty advisor and a personal phone call requesting to see me to discuss some “bad news.” I didn’t think of it very highly and proceeded to work on my INFO 200 project until I had some free time. During that meeting, I was informed that effective immediately, I was fired from Align and no longer hold a “Staff Writer” position. I was told that someone with a high position accessed my personal blog and read the ‘wasta’ article, asked around about me, and requested from the Dean of OSB to lay me off from Align. I was also requested to remove the Align logo and link from my blog. I was being exiled for voicing my opinion on my personal blog which has no relation whatsoever to Align.

In accordance with that, I recieved a formal letter which relieved me from my duty at Align. This letter clearly blamed my ‘firing’ directly to the ‘wasta’  blog post, as follows:
by. […] Consequently, 
ALIGN. […]
It was very clear that this decision was not made by the advisor of Align, but from higher authorities at AUB. For that, I am very appreciative of the whole Align team, and especially its advisor, for the opportunity to be part of such a hard-working team. I sincerely hold no grudge on any of the Align team members, nor the Dean of OSB or any AUB employee that took part of making and implementing this decision.

What seems annoyingly interesting is how these official got hold of my blog and read my article. After some investigations, I was tipped off by a source (who shall remain unnamed) that one premedical student who got accepted to the AUB Medical School got so upset by my opinion piece that he/she directed a highly influential figure in AUB to my blog, who then took this extreme measure. I’m still not sure if this information in one hundred percent accurate, but I would rather not believe that AUB officials stalk students online activities.

This experience has proved pretty much that as much as AUB tries to uphold the Western values, and pretends to give its students the right to freedom of speech, this notion is very doubtful. It is very sad that students have no right to voice their opinions, even using personal means such as Facebook or personal blogs. I am sure that all hell would have broken loose if my article would have been published, as I was considering, in Outlook, AUB’s official student newspaper.

Moreover, I was very grateful for the reaction I immediately recieved from friends and colleagues about this issue. My inbox was flooded with support letters from caring friends and colleagues that made this loss seem much more of a victory than I thought.

I would just like to thank my friends and colleagues for all this support and assure them that I am in no way upset or disappointed for being fired for defending deserving students and voicing the truth. On the contrary, I take this as a huge compliment. My voice was heard by some high official in AUB who got so pissed to the extent that he/she had to hunt me down and fire me for the journalistic integrity that I uphold.

They all know that what I am saying has a huge extent of truth in it, if not completely true. They could have simply caught my bluff and retaliated with a press-release denying my claims (like what have been done on previous occasions), but what they did only makes my point stronger.

I consider this unfortunate incident as a blue ribbon on my chest. It pushes me forward to pursue a third major in journalism after I was thinking about it for the last two years. I now know how hard it is for true journalists to make it in real life. If they thought they have shut me up by firing me, they better think again. I am a true journalist now.

P.S. Voluntarily after this incident, I have discontinued the article “There is no ‘wasta’  at the American University of Beirut” for personal reasons. I do not want it to affect my higher education career. 

© Mind Soup 2010. This article cannot be redistributed or republished in part or in whole via any means without the written approval of the author.
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  1. brava, bravo, bravssima!!

    good for you hijazi! really, you are an excellent writer and don't ever let anyone stop you. this is most definitely your forte. :)

    keep on writing and we shall all keep on reading!

  2. Thank you Lojy, your support means a lot to me :)

  3. Nice piece moudy. I empathize withyou but few things can be done


  5. Thanks for all the support. Greatly appreciated! Best wishes to you all :)

  6. I really think it is the article you posted that had the effect of sending emails on Monday to the students and the notification for "rolling-out admissions"... u were rly brave in doing that.. and I hope it will have a lasting effect on the admissions process:D

  7. Ofcourse you're going to get fired when you bash AUB publicly. I didn't read the original article, so I don't know if you have any basis for your accusations or any real unbiased evidence. Forgive me if I don't take your word for it. Anyways, I am a senior AUB student and I have never (EVER) experienced anything that led me to think Wasta is involved in any aspect of AUB. We all worked hard to get in and extremely hard to keep going.
    You seem like a great writer nevertheless. Cheers. :)

  8. Dear Anonymous (3:23 PM)

    I don't know in which world you live in, but if you have gotten your face about of the books for a minute there and participated in AUB activities, you will clearly notice that Wasta runs everything in AUB. If you did not get a wasta, it doesn't mean that everyone else didn't. Please have some common sense.

    Another thing, there's a thing called "Freedom of Speech", in case you have never heard of it. By law, people cannot get fired for their opinions and beliefs even if they are published using personal means such as Facebook or personal blogs, no matter who I was accusing. I am a good journalist and I can balance between my objectivity when writing for Align, and my personal beliefs on my own personal blog. If AUB cannot separate between work and personal issues, then clearly they have a complex.

    Thank you for your complement. Cheers :)

  9. pfft. freedom of speech? I simply shared with you that my experience in AUB was different than yours, and you reply with "Please have some common sense" and "get your face out of books".
    Anytime :)

  10. Personally i am still not sure of the "Wasta" thingy... but i am sad for people who have really high GPA and did not get in ( i mean really high GPA an 88 or 90)
    But we should keep in mind that the AUB accpeted 28 students from outside AUB!!!
    But Hijazi...after all, what happened had happened! And we cannot change it.
    It is like when Brazil lost the world cup and all brazilian fans began saying that France paid for them to do so.
    And if the Wasta thingy was true... nothing will happen. I think that most of the people will be blaming themselves for not getting a wasta after all...
    It realy hurts when the AUB do not take under consideration all recommendation letters and all extracurricular activies, but what i see is that 80% from all the people who got accepted deserved it.
    Anyways Abou l Moudz it is good to read your article... It is very rare to find someone who does not resist and defend people.

  11. Great article! I especially like the ending.

  12. Great job Hijazi! Always speak the truth. Make sure to send this to newspapers across Lebanon. This story needs to be published.

  13. Thanks 7:01 PM, really appreciate your feedback. Although the story now no longer deals with the med school acceptances alone, but also with the freedom of speech in AUB. Well I hope everything goes well with the people who are still waiting for their acceptances.

    Thanks 7:44 PM, I'm glad you liked it.

    Rita, I would send it, but I'm sure they will hang me on the Armenian mashna2a that's in fornt of West Hall this week. I'm not sure I want to die soon.
    I'm digging your avatar btw :P

  14. Hey Hijazi! I am writing to you as an anonymous person but i am actually someone whom you know quit well. I really like your article and the fact that you're defending your fellow students against favorism. Despite that, i have just one remark against what you said. It was good and actually quit honorable to defend students who weren't accepted to medical school at AUB for the wrong reasons but i don't believe that as a staff writer at Align you're entitled to "trash out" the institution they represent. It's good that you are defending them for noble reasons but if you want to do so, you can't do it while working in one of AUB's electronic newspapers. Naturally, it belongs to "them" and any random newspaper does not critisize it's "own" holders. The decision that the Align managers thus made was very practical. It was either you who would have got fired or else the entire Align electronic newspaper shut down. This does not prove that "wasta" exists, it just proves my point(you can't be working for some institution and at the same time critisizing it). I hope you take my point into consideration and next time when you don't like the ideology of someone, quit and work for someone who opposes his ideology or else start something of your own and criticize whatever you want.

  15. 8:43 PM:

    What people don't understand is that what makes a good journalist is his ability to cope with the situation he is in. I am entitled to my personal opinions and I express them freely. Work should be separated from the personal side. When I write for Align or any other newspaper, I am as objective and precise as possible. I do not get my opinions interfere in my writings there. However, if journalists don't have the right to express their personal opinion on personal blogs, then there is really no need for journalists to begin with.

    Another thing, my work for Align was totally different and has no connection what-so-ever to my article. Apparently, AUB cannot distinguish between personal opinions and professional work. They have showed utter unprofessionalism by firing me.

    If I am to quit every position I hold in AUB because there are things I don't like about the system, then why even bother study at AUB in the first place?

  16. I can understand your point and see what you're going through. You just got fired from your job for expressing your opinion! I can understand what you feel but you have to detach your emotions and think rationaly. Try to see it from my point a view. As a total stranger to the event you mentioned, I don't think it was them who acted unprofessional. On the contrary, it was you by opposing their ideology. You may be unaware of that and even refuse what i'm saying but even if you said something personally, for them as a newspaper it was unprofessional and even bad reputation. Think about it, how would they look like as a newspaper if they had some of their writers who were "commited to them" criticizing AUB as a university. You were unprofessional because when you wrote for the newspaper, you were kind of supporting AUB but when you wrote on your blogy, you literary trashed AUB out. You were having two very much opposing stands. If you want to write against AUB, don't join their newspapers. Besides, AUB didn't fire you from just any position, they fired you from the "staff writer" position. They have the right to do that. Just as you-as a writer-have the "freedom of thought", you have to be commited to them as a newspaper in your thought.

  17. You are just basically repeating what you said before so I will refrain from commenting and refer you to my earlier comment.

  18. And you basically didn't get either of my comments so i will refrain from commenting further and i wish you good luck in whatever career you choose! Remember "the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step" and don't let these minor set backs frustrate you...

  19. Now that I think about it, what *SHOULD* have been done could have been that they simply asked you to remove the post. By firing you, AUB is showing that foul play was involved (i.e., your suspicion that someone outside the OSB pressured them to fire you)

  20. It is not a suspicion, I was actually told that someone higher than the Dean of OSB pressured him to fire me.

  21. Yes, lol, but the Dean himself didn't tell you, therefore it's still technically conjecture (though almost certainly true)

  22. Align's advisor told me. I think what he said is credible.

  23. I totally agree with anonymous April 23, 2010 9:22 PM

    "They have the right to do that. Just as you-as a writer-have the "freedom of thought", you have to be commited to them as a newspaper in your thought."

    ya3ni ya istez hijazi, yalli baddo yekol min khobz al soltan lezim y7arib bi sayfo !

    mish ma32ool koon m3ayyanak 3andi ta tiktob t2oom tinshor 3ordo, inno just 7ot 7alak ma77alon :P ba3den gher hek , ossit al wasta mish bass bil AUB al wasta bi kel al 3alam! Harvard fiya wasta! :P mashina!! as if u didnt get used to life or the world we live in!

  24. LOL @ the last comment. Dude, Hijazi published it on his own personal blog; he didn't publish it in a newspaper. If it was all lies, no one would care this much to fire him. Since he DID get fired, then he probably hit a nerve. Plus, the logical thing to do would have been to give him a WARNING. Not to fire him dighreh.

  25. same anonymous to rita!

    Walla al 3azeem ma3ik 7a2 ya rita, bass shu baddik ti7ki, tab al 7ayet hek mrakbi, fi nes in power bass sad2ini very weak la2inno ma bya3rfo keef yit3amalo ma3 shi doddon aw opinions against their opinion!

    in my opinion haydool nes d3af, and by doing what they did proves shu 2al hijazi habeeb albi :P la2inno ana ma3o 100%

    During my interview iddem minni mahmood harb ijeh telephone min 7ada mhim asking about a premed student w 3am bi 2ilo hayda lezim yfoot!

    so don't be sad for whatever happens, tansho :P

  26. well, for once I can no longer stand "el tetneesh" because its very much affecting peoples futures. I cannot sit and watch the smoke and who's still standing when it clears. I have to defend the deserving people, because empathy is what makes us human. If don't want to be like every AUB premed student who just cares for him/herself and screw the others. I do care about the people, about my friends and colleagues and cannot let it go anymore.

    You can also come forward too with the information you have about Mahmood Harb, but obviously you don't want to reveal your identity, and I respect that because you are looking out for your own future.

    Personally, I found it to be very much worth the risk, and it prides me very much that I was fired for defending these people.

  27. gr8 move, but keep watching ur back and take care of ur self...

  28. What you write is just a hit !!!
    hadees el AUB!!

    and the comments are just a prove!

  29. hey dude im intersted in reading ur article and ive been trying to request it from the link u posted bas it didnt work,,can u please tel me how to get it??
    thnk u sooooooooo much w alla yzeed lli mitlak:)!!!!

  30. Request a copy here: by sending me your e-mail

  31. Good job Cousin. You have indeed practiced Whisle Blowing which is something corporates and governmental agencies implement and encourage as part of effective corporate governance systems. If I were you, I would do a research on AUB's Whisle Blowing policy, if any, and benchmark to the US institutions. I hope that AUB is a true US institution in substance by having effective corporate givernance systems. Looking forward to read your feeback.


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