On Saturday, Minister of Education Besa Shahini suspended the Rector of Tirana University Mynyr Koni and proposed to President Ilir Meta his dismissal.
In the press conference, Minister Shahini did not clarify neither the legal ground nor the facts leading her to the dismissal of the Rector. The decision for Koni’s decision was not made available to the media.
Minister’s essentially political speech accused the Rector of not implementing government reforms. Shahini gave extensive personal impressions and opinions about Rector Mynyr Koni but she failed to point out any breaches of laws or failed institutional responsibilities.
The Rector is elected by the vote of the professors and students of the university. The Law on Higher Education provides universities with administrative and academic freedom. Article 39 of the Law states the sole possible reasons for suspending the Rector:
“[If] he/she is found to be committing criminal acts or serious legal violations, [if he/she] is unable to exercise the duty, and in cases stipulated in the Code of Ethics of the higher education institution.”
This is the first ever decision by the government to suspend a Rector since the Law on Higher Education was approved in 2015, and it appears not to meet the law requirements.
The main reason stated by Minister Shahini for the suspension was her assessment that the new model of university administration presented by the government, “has worked in all public universities in Albania except for the University of Tirana”. She gave no explanation as to what had not worked in the University of Tirana and which laws had the Rector violated.
The Minister gave general opinions as arguments for the suspension:
– “The Rector of the University of Tirana was not always satisfied with the academic powers given by law but has sought administrative powers also, to which he has no legal rights.”
– “In some cases he has not allowed the relevant bodies to exercise those powers, which has caused an open battle between the leading bodies at the University of Tirana to the detriment of the teaching process, the quality of education and the detriment of student life at the university.”
Minister Shahini also informed that in February 2018, the Ministry of Education had sent an inspection team to the University of Tirana to verify the implementation of the Higher Education Law. The team had made a series of recommendations, which another inspection team in the fall of 2018 had found that were not implemented by Rector Koni.
The Minister did not explain what these recommendations were but explained that the government had demanded Rector Koni the following:
– Abolishing the decisions he had taken in excess of his powers;
– Not to hinder the hiring of academic staff, according to faculty needs, which has left blocked the functioning of several faculties;
– “Allowing the administration staff to use the archive and protocol, which the Rector has not done, thus often hampering the well-functioning of the administration.”
– “Urgently bring to operation the information technology system at the university, the lack of which has hindered government initiatives under the Pact for the University – such as the allocation of scholarships and access to the digital library.”
These general assessments can hardly constitute “serious legal violations”. In fact, they seem to be administration issues indicating a collision between the government and the Rector. It should be noted that the Rector is solely responsible for the academic process, while the administration of the university is carried out by the Board of Administration and the University Administrator elected by the board. The majority of members of the University of Tirana’s Board of Administration is assigned by the government – the minority by the university. As a result, the Administrator also is elected by the government.
In lack of a firm legal basis for suspending the Rector, the Minister’s complaints and her decision can only by understood under the light of the government’s attempt to control the University of Tirana, after it has not managed to do so through the Administrator, several actions of whom have been opposed by the Rector, as the Minister herself stated.
The hypothesis of a government attempt to control the University gets clearer by Minister’s claim that she suspended the Rector for having hindered the implementation of the so-called Pact of the University. In fact, the Pact is a list of promises made by Prime Minister Edi Rama to quench the student protest – it is a political promise and not a legal act.
Minister Shahini’s extralegal opinion gets even clearer when she accuses the Rector for the lack of IT system (Administrator’s responsibility) which has led to lack of access to the digital library. The fact is that the digital library was announced 10 days ago and no student in any public university has ever accessed it yet. Accusing the University of Tirana Rector under these circumstances seems to be at least unjust, not to say a groundless attack for political purposes.
The extralegal political motivation of the Minister’s decision is also shown by the fact that she constantly refers to the student protest, which was a protest against the government and with clear requirements for changes in public policies. The implementation of such changes is depended on the government. The Rector is obliged to implement the laws and assure that the university is kept independent from the government.
At the end of her speech, possibly without realizing it, the Minister stated openly that the government’s decision is arbitrary and politically motivated so as to control the university. Referring to the government’s political vision, the Minister said:
“We need a new spirit in the university that will implement this vision. We need a spirit of co-operation between students and lecturers, lecturers and university authorities, university authorities among themselves and with the ministry. This has become impossible at the University of Tirana and today we are at this point where I am obliged to make a decision as difficult as the suspension of the Rector.”
The Minister’s reasoning seems to show a lack of awareness that the Rector is suspended only in rare cases defined by the law, and not when the Minister assesses that he/she is not working well, is not cooperating or is not keeping up with government’s political line.
Minister Shahini seems to be even less aware about the fact that universities are independent from government and the institutional relationship with universities is regulated by law. The task of an independent university is not to fulfill the government’s vision or political pacts, but to serve independently student education and science.
Perhaps, what left the worst taste in the Minister’s speech was her blatant arrogance. Ms Shahini was appointed Minister as Prime Minister’s personal choice only three months ago. She had no previous experience in governing, no political party affiliation and no political or any other kind of representation. Yet she suspended a Rector, whose not only the law recognizes independence from the government but is elected by free and secret ballot by thousands of students and professors.
The Minister seems to consider the Rector as her subordinate. With the arrogance of boss who got tired of the subordinate, she said:
“The rector has often complained about the deans but has never come up with a well-argued request for their removal. I was hoping he would use the momentum created by the student protest to take action and improve the university’s working climate, but that did not happen.”
Since the Rector did not respond to the “momentum” created by the protest (whatever that means), the Minister has decided to dismiss whom she thinks of as her subordinate:
“I have no other legal instrument to solve the issue at the University of Tirana but to suspend the Rector.”
The clear political background of the Minister’s decision becomes clearer by another simple fact. The main issue today at the University of Tirana was created by the government. Since February 2019, the UT Administration Board is not functioning because the ministry of education has not yet appointed its members after dismissing the previous ones during the student protest.
On the other hand, the Minister has kept the Administrator in office – a man who was denounced as a Socialist Party militant, and through which the government attempted to justify the illegal occupation by the police of university buildings during the student protest.
In fact, Prime Minister Rama had warned 10 days ago that he would attempt to take the University of Tirana under government control. At a ceremony for announcing the Albanian universities access to a digital library of a private American company, Mr Rama said:
“The Rector of the University of Tirana is the place [office] where solutions should be found and not the place where obstacles to solutions are set.
I have also said it before that we have many reservations about the leadership of the University of Tirana, and I believe that I am not saying something premature that it is the time to address the full responsibility and the lack of will, made clear in the report, in relation to what we have tried to do in addressing the legitimate demands of students.
The University of Tirana is unprepared to respond to this technology and there they continue to give lectures by old-fashioned methods.
The Ministry of Education needs to step in now and facilitate the student access to the digital library because there is no evidence of the slightest will to solve this issue.”