Sadeen Group owner Hani Salah announcing the AUM project in 2015
A former finance lecturer at the American University of Malta has said he was unceremoniously shown the door last September because he had a pre-exiting Parkinson’s disease condition.
“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,” Bernard Gauci, 67, told US news publication InsideHigherEd. “I was told that I was not fitting in well in the dynamic nature of the department. They gave me the basic minimum required notice, one week, and I was unemployed, basically.”
Gauci, an emeritus professor of economics at Hollins University in Virginia and a former economist at the Malta Central Bank, said he signed a three-year contract with AUM on 16th August. However, he was called into a meeting with Provost John Ryder on 22nd September, only 11 days after classes started, and was fired on the spot. Gauci said Mark Neal, who until recently chaired the AUM’s business department, was also in the meeting.
“The conversation was entirely about my health and medical condition,” he said. “I pointed out it was a temporary situation. I don’t think kicking an older person out the door for health reasons is acceptable whether in Malta or in the U.S. AUM claims to be a liberal arts college, but it certainly doesn’t share or practice any liberal values.”
Ryder and Neal both declined to comment to InsideHigherEd.
“AUM claims to be a liberal arts college, but it certainly doesn’t share or practice any liberal values”
Former finance lecturer Bernard Gauci
Gauci told InsideHigherEd he recently received a letter from Sadeen’s lawyer, warning him to “cease and desist” from disclosing “sensitive, confidential or false information related to the company to third parties” or face legal action from the Jordanian construction firm.
The AUM has sacked several staff during their probationary period and recently fired practically all its lecturers by email a few weeks before the start of its second semester.
Some of these lecturers spoke to InsideHigherEd on condition of anonymity.
“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 former employee said he is concerned that other faculty and administrators from the US will soon be recruited by AUM and unwittingly find themselves dismissed after six months like they were.
Some of the fired faculty members went as far as to speculate that the AUM project was intended to fail.
“Many suspect that it’s a fake university set up to fail and eventually lead to a handover of beautiful coastal property for development of a hotel by Sadeen, whose main business is construction, not education,” one of the ex-employees said.
“Many suspect that it’s a fake university set up to fail and eventually lead to a handover of beautiful coastal property for development of a hotel by Sadeen, whose main business is construction, not education.”
AUM provost John Ryder
“Many suspect that it’s a fake university set up to fail and eventually lead to a handover of beautiful coastal property for development of a hotel by Sadeen”
Former AUM employee
Others dismiss that theory but still question whether the AUM is being managed in a way that it could succeed.
“If it’s designed for success, they’re doing a really awful job, but if it’s planned failure they’re doing an awful job at that, too,” one former employee said.
“I would pretty much say the entire faculty across the board, we were all a little bit dubious as we started,” another one said. “The construction was incomplete and we had bad storms that flooded the whole building. No one could understand why there weren’t more students, why was the building not more complete, why was there not more recruiting and advertising, when all of us left our jobs, uprooted ourselves and moved halfway across the world.”