‘I really doubt whether it’s truly a university’ – former AUM faculty member

A former faculty member at the American University of Malta who spoke to The Shift on condition of anonymity questioned whether she had  really been working for a university.

She was sacked by email over the Christmas holidays, just before the end of her probation period, together with other faculty members.

“I had a very positive outlook on the university and was quite happy even if I had concerns on the environmental impact of the Zonqor campus… but now I really doubt whether it is truly a university,” she told The Shift.

Her comments followed news in a US based online publication focused on college and university topics, Inside Higher Ed, which revealed that employment contracts signed by AUM faculty members were described as “atypical for higher education”.

The contracts are said to include multipage confidentiality agreements barring AUM employees from disclosing confidential information about the institution — including “any data, information and materials relating to the business operations (including information relating to the academic part of the operations), commercial and financial activities relating, directly or indirectly and in any way whatsoever, to the AUM and/or Sadeen” — for an indefinite period of time.

Most former faculty or staff members who spoke to Inside Higher Ed  after they were fired during their Christmas Holidays spoke on condition of anonymity because of the “wide-ranging confidentiality clauses in their employment contracts” .

Inside Higher ED contacted Clemson and DePaul Universities – the two institutions supporting the AUM in its initial years – on the sacking of academics from the university.

Clemson did not commeny on the developments at AUM. DePaul, which assisted with AUM’s curriculum development, said in a statement that the university “has no involvement with day-to-day operations of AUM.”

The AUM provost, John Ryder, told the US publication that “there’s a lot of turmoil and twists and turns and financial issues and all that sort of thing going on. It’s hardly, shall we say, a clean process”.

He also insisted the university was moving forward. “The spring semester will come off as planned; we’re recruiting students,” he said. “We’re recruiting for the fall (autumn), we’ll have new degree programmes for the fall, we’re recruiting faculty, we’re recruiting administrators, directors of offices. We’re building and we’re growing.”

Ryder said the university would have fewer faculty members this spring than it did last autumn. “I had hired originally for a certain number of students and the incoming student body is much, much smaller, so we were way overstaffed,” he said.

“We’ll have a smaller faculty more appropriate to the size of the student body and we’re also hiring for next year, based on certain assumptions of enrollment” he added.

Yet this was not the opinion expressed by faculty members who were fired.

“We developed the university, we did all these things,” one of the sacked faculty members said. “They fired us all.”

All 12 faculty members who were sacked had PhDs from major research universities in the US, according to the Inside Higher ED.

“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,” a former faculty member said.

The former faculty member who spoke to The Shift confirmed receiving an email terminating her employment just before the end of the probation period.

“Before leaving I was told that I would continue my duties on January 15.  That is the reason I went on holiday back to the US. I never expected to be treated in this way,” she said.

Provost John Ryder did not reply to questions sent by The Shift.



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