One of Malta’s top geologists is in the midst of a feud with one of the country’s top educational institutions, with a war of words escalating into a dismissal and even ending up in court.
So what is going on between Peter Gatt and MCAST?
Since 2014, Gatt has been lecturing at the Institute of Engineering and Transport, teaching subjects such as engineering, geology, building materials and limestone studies.
He was detailed there from a secondary school, making him a civil servant and not an MCAST employee.
In a recent interview on Lovin Daily, he described himself as “the most qualified lecturer in his department”.
However, things started turning sour in 2018 when MCAST issued a call for people to draft the syllabus of a new unit on construction technology and material science.
Gatt applied for this position himself but didn’t turn up to the interview, telling Lovin Malta that he wanted to know his payment rate and hours in advance.
“MCAST said they would tell me during the interview, which was strange because there are payment scales is an established schedule of rates for public institutions so why did they conceal this?” he said.
However, MCAST principal Joachim James Calleja and Engineering Institute director Stephen Sammut told Lovin Malta that the fact Gatt was given every chance to write the syllabus himself discredits his later allegation that there was “racket” involving the way syllabi are written.
Eventually, MCAST told an architect to write the unit, but when they gave it to Gatt to teach, the lecturer flagged what he describes as serious problems.
“I was given this unit just a week before the second semester without any prior consultation and I realised it was very poorly written and confusing, and it contained errors.”
“We use EU standards and directives, but strangely enough the syllabus included American classifications and standards which cannot be used in Malta.”
“How could I teach my students about American standards when they are supposed to be learning about European ones? It’s not just an error, it’s clear that whoever wrote the syllabus had no idea what he was writing and in fact he wasn’t even a lecturer.”
Gatt tried to get MCAST to let him revise the syllabus for free and Sammut offered to discuss his concerns in a meeting, but the lecturer refused because Sammut and deputy principal Mario Cardona had already informed him via email that the syllabus couldn’t be changed so he felt a meeting would be superfluous. The meeting never happened.
Gatt contends that MCAST’s refusal to let him revise the syllabus impinges on his academic freedom, but Sammut and Calleja countered that academic freedom doesn’t mean lecturers can just change syllabi as they please without first passing through a verification process.
Gatt observes that if syllabi must undergo a verification process, then why did the syllabus he was given contain gross errors in the first place. He said this proves that the verification process is a sham resulting in many inadequate syllabi.
Eventually, relationships between Gatt and Sammut broke down completely, and in 2020 the college’s board of governors sanctioned the revocation of his detailing, which meant he was sent back to his original posting at a state school.
“We decided we had to put an end to his aggressive behaviour and disrespect towards our managers,” he said.
Gatt retorts that there was no aggressive behaviour from his end and the contrary was true.
Indeed, he had lodged a complaint to the Ombudsman on how he was being treated and the Ombudsman concluded that MCAST’s treatment of Gatt amounted to “oppressive” and “degrading treatment”.
MCAST also reported Gatt for “several violations of professional behaviour”, and the Education Ministry set up a disciplinary board to look into his case, listening to lawyers from both parties.
Gatt retorts that this is deceitful, especially since in its reply to a prohibitory injunction he made a few days ago, MCAST described him as “competent”’ and of “high calibre”, as was noted by Judge Depasquale in his sentence.
In March, the board found Gatt guilty of unprofessional and unethical behaviour, conduct liable to discredit MCAST, disrespectful behaviour including arrogance to superiors, and neglect or dereliction of duties.
It concluded that “the case is considered serious, which may lead to dismissal” from the civil service and sent the report to the Public Service Commission, which however didn’t fire Gatt, instead suspending him for 15 days and issuing him a warning of possible dismissal.
Gatt claims that the reason MCAST instituted disciplinary action against him was because he had in May 2020 opened a case with the Ombudsman, who automatically had to stop investigating the moment disciplinary action was taken.
He warned the disciplinary board, chaired by the Principal of St. Thomas More College, was “clearly biased” against him, allowing MCAST’s lawyer to deposit documents but not allowing his own lawyer to do the same.
“Its final report didn’t even mention my own submissions; it only mentioned what MCAST said,” Gatt said.
Gatt has warned that an oppressive environment exists at MCAST, with other lecturers scared to speak their mind, but MCAST countered this by referring to a recent internal survey in which 84% of lecturers said they don’t see themselves leaving MCAST and 87% said they would recommend the College as an employer.
“MCAST demands expertise, excellence and professionalism and will not tolerate negligence and disrespect towards peers and procedures,” they said.
“With a robust and adequately resourced quality assurance mechanism in place safeguarding academic freedom with responsibility, the College is constantly achieving excellent results and reviews from industry and other national and international stakeholders.”
Meanwhile, Gatt has taken this case to court, with judge Francesco Depasquale recently upholding a prohibitory injunction he had filed against his detailing and describing the way MCAST communicated the news to Gatt as hasty and in prejudice of his rights.
Gatt concludes that three independent institutions – the Ombudsman, the Civil Court and the PSC had refuted MCAST’s claims on him.
What happens next remains to be seen, but it seems quite clear that Gatt isn’t going to take this lying down…
Cover photo: Left: MCAST principal Joachim James Calleja, Right: Geologist and lecturer Peter Gatt
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