University presidents granted more power to discipline, dismiss professors

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has issued a decree mandating the punitive measures that can be taken against university professors found guilty of involvement in on-campus violence or political activity, the privately owned newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm (AMAY) reported on Friday.

“Participating in, inciting or helping others commit acts of violence in universities or any premises belonging to the university, participating in political activity in universities or bringing weapons on campus” are grounds for suspension, according to the decree.

In addition, “any action that breaches the professor’s honor or that endangers his integrity, dignity or the dignity of the profession” is also grounds for dismissal.

The decree gives university presidents the power to refer professors to disciplinary committees for investigation. Once a complaint is filed against a professor, he or she will immediately be suspended until the committee comes to a decision in the case.

During the investigation period, the professor in question will not be allowed to enter university premises, according to the new decree.

In December, the Cabinet-appointed fact-finding committee tasked with investigating post-June 30 violence said that 37 university professors were sent to disciplinary committees last year. The upswing in disciplining professors came amidst the wave of violence that submerged universities nationwide following former President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster in 2013.

According to committee spokesperson Amr Marwan, 29 of those professors taught at Al-Azhar University, which has been subject to the worst of the on-campus violence, as well as five professors from Cairo University and three Ain Shams University professors.

The Association of Freedom of Thought and Expression (AFTE) issued a statement in September condemning the early draft of the bill after it was first proposed by the Cabinet. AFTE decried the legislation as a flagrant violation of academic independence, accusing executive authorities of overstepping their mandate by intervening in universities’ internal affairs.

Sisi’s decree violates international standards as established by the 1988 Lima Declaration for Academic Freedom and the Independence of Institutions of Higher Education, AFTE argued.

“The decree replaces those standards by granting university heads with the absolute power to dismiss faculty members without minimum standards for disciplinary procedures,” AFTE said.

The decree thus will “expose faculty members to the constant threat of an administrative decision that deprives them of any sense of job security,” the statement continued, “and accordingly of their ability to freely research, study, discuss or debate inside universities.”

AFTE pointed to the case of Sherif Shehata, a Cairo University engineering professor who was suspended by university president Gaber Nassar’s administrative order.

A complaint had been filed against Shehata claiming that he worked for Microsoft in violation of laws that prohibit university professors from working a second job off campus. AFTE lawyers refuted the charges, and said the suit was a malicious attempt to dismiss the professor due to his political opinions.

At the time, Shehata was vocal in his outrage over the death of engineering student Mohamed Reda, who was allegedly shot dead on campus by police forces. Shehata had called on the Cairo University administration to take action for Reda’s death, which some university officials considered to be an insult to Nassar.

The professor was later referred to a disciplinary committee for investigations, and was suspended for three months before he was finally cleared of the charges.

According to AFTE, university professors are increasingly being targeted for their political activities or for voicing any opinions that could be seen  as anti-administration.

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