Interview with Dr. Hanna Nasir about the Events of 1999 and Plans for the Year 2000: Toward a University of International Standards

Birzeit News begins the new year by interviewing University president Dr. Hanna Nasir on the highlights of 1999 and plans for the year 2000.


What were the main achievements for 1999 in your opinion?
HN: For the first time, we were able last year to provide salaries for university staff on time. Although this should be part of the normal functioning of any university it has been a serious problem here for many years and I consider the reversal of this trend to be a positive highlight of 1999. We really must thank the contributions from various friends of the university which made this possible.

We were also able to develop the university infrastructure including our communication and e-mail networks to a very high level. This is a critical feature of bringing the university to a sophisticated and modern standard. Every member of the university - staff, and students included - should be able to utilize this infrastructure whether on or off campus. One example is that we have just finished installing computer monitors around the university which will broadcast announcements to students on a continuous basis. This will augment our current bulletin board system.

Last year also saw various international events such as the Landscape Conference, the Daniel Barenboim concert and the conference on Political Transitions in the Arab World. These kind of external events are important in exposing students and faculty to culture and academic themes on an international level.

The Y2K problem passed without incident at the university due to the preparation by our computer centre staff. The last week of the year saw our staff on standby in case of any unforeseen difficulties. We are also currently installing a major financial package which will bring our accounting standards up to an international level for reporting grants and donations as well as managing our day-to-day financial tasks.

Over the holiday period, we experienced a fire in the Environmental laboratory of the university due to an electrical short. Although there was a loss of equipment due to this mishap it was encouraging to see the confirmation of our safety procedures both at the university and in Palestine. Within 10 minutes there were fire engines on campus, members of the university administration and the governor of Ramallah. We want to review our safety and security procedures in light of this event.

And your hopes for Palestine in the year 2000?
HN:There are 2 things which I hope we see in the coming year and these go hand in hand. Firstly an end to the Israel military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and secondly, a revival of civil society in Palestine.

I believe we have the necessary elements for the latter - we are a very educated people and we have the necessary training. We must all work towards creating such a decent and plausible civil society in Palestine.

We also saw around 50 students arrested last year by the Israeli occupation forces. I hope to see these students released and back in their classrooms as soon as possible. We must reiterate that all students and staff have the right to freedom of expression and thought and should never be arrested because of political activities and beliefs.

What are the plans for the university in the coming year?
HN:I believe we should continue our emphasis on academic development and strengthen this component of the university. I hope that Birzeit will become known for its academic work rather than events rising from the Israeli occupation.

In line with this, we hope to extend our library, academic programs, and the foreign language skills of students. These are critical things in being a first-class Palestinian university. I am happy to say that most students gain employment once they graduate from the university but we want them to be at an international standard. In an era of globalization, students should be able to prosper wherever they decide to make their future.

We have embarked on graduate masters programmes in Democracy and Human Rights, History and in Business Administration. I am confident students will be able to find employment from these courses. We are also planning to begin an undergraduate program in Physical Education and are currently constructing a gymnasium which should be completed in one year.