The Malta Independent 26 April 2018, Thursday

‘This situation is beyond cruel’, former faculty member tells AUM provost

Helena Grech Wednesday, 10 January 2018, 12:42 Last update: about 5 months ago

A leaked e-mail shown to The Malta Independent illustrates the plight of several American University of Malta (AUM) former faculty members who were abruptly fired after relocating to Malta for a supposed three-year work contract.

“John (AUM Provost John Ryder), this situation is beyond cruel,” the e-mail begins. It was sent some days ago to the AUM Provost by a faculty member who was recently fired in this latest round of dismissals.

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“I am arriving in Malta tomorrow...and now have no money, no job prospects, no way to collect benefits and no way of getting home,” the desperate e-mail reads.

The former AUM faculty member then proceeded to ask for an appointment to rectify the matter.

A total of 12 faculty members were fired while the start-up university was on break between semesters. Staff were geared to begin the spring semester on 15 January, had organised their lesson plans and materials but were given a very nasty surprise last week to find an e-mail informing them that they had been terminated. This comes after several faculty members were also fired in September and October.

Several former faculty members say that they were let go shortly before their six-month probation period ended. Had the probation period lapsed, management would have found it much harder to terminate all those faculty members.

In comments to a tertiary education news portal, Inside Higher Ed, one former faculty member was quoted as saying:

“We were all led to believe we’d be hired next semester. If we hadn’t been led to believe that I’m sure we all would have made other arrangements and we all would have been more frugal. This is so wrong on so many levels.”

Another faculty member named Bernard Gauci, speaking to the same news portal said that his three-year contract with the AUM started on 16 August, that the first semester’s classes began on 11 September and that 11 days later, on 22 September, he was called into Ryder’s office and was let go.

Gauci, who holds the status of emeritus professor of economics at Hollins University in Virginia, told Inside Higher Ed that the entire discussion with Ryder when he was being let go “was entirely about [his] health and medical condition”. He reportedly let Ryder know that it was a temporary situation.

 “I was in pretty good health, but I had to undergo a surgical operation in July and my recovery was very slow from it, because of a pre-existing Parkinson's disease condition,” he said.

Provost says six full-time staff members, ‘couple’ of adjunct staff currently employed

The Malta Independent reached out to provost John Ryder in order for him to respond to claims made by Gauci. He stressed that he “will never discuss confidential action” about faculty members at the university.

Asked about the complement of staff currently at the entity in light of the spring semester starting in just a few days, Ryder said that new people have been hired and in total there are six full-time faculty members and a couple of adjunct faculty have also been hired.

In addition, he said two administrative members, including himself, have been retained and who also have a background in academia.

According to the agreement signed between Sadeen Group and the government of Malta in relation to the transfer of land for the two campuses, Dock 1 in Cospicua and Zonqor Point, it stipulated that the project would generate some 300 new jobs. No time-frame was attached to the creation of new jobs unlike the projections imposed for student intake. 

In comments to other media, Ryder said that the faculty staff numbers had to be revised in view of the low student numbers in this first year of operations. This does little to placate the several staff who relocated to Malta, many from the USA, who have now been left with little-to-no options.

One spouse of an AUM member who has been let go, visibly and understandably in disbelief at the situation she and her husband find themselves in after a life-long professional working-life, told this newsroom that the AUM speak about honouring contracts in relation to confidentiality clauses, but questioned:

“What about the contracts they had to honour? What about all the people who came here to Malta and now have nothing and nobody to turn to? Is this how you treat PhD educated professors who have dedicated their lives to their academia? What about AUM honouring their contract?”

She further stressed that in view of how unfairly the staff have been treated, the only right thing to do at this stage is to at least offer an exit-package. Such a package would compensate staff for period of time and therefore provide some financial breathing-room until they decide where they are going to move next after being forced to uproot their lives.

AUM has been plagued from its announcement to the Maltese public after it became known that virgin public land at Zonqor Point, Marsascala would be transferred to a Jordanian company behind the project named Sadeen Group. The company’s main operations have been in tourism, construction, and real-estate. According to Sadeen’s website, it also runs Mayar International Schools, a K-12 school in Jordan.

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