Egypt's Cairo University (Photo:Ahram)
Egypt's university professors have sounded alarm bells over a draft law that they say will give university heads full sway to unfairly lay off faculty members.
The Egyptian cabinet last week approved a new amendment to a statute regulating university employees, allowing university chairs to expel staff members in case of breaches without necessary legal disciplinary actions.
The move came almost three months after Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi issued a decree reintroducing the direct appointment of university heads – a system enforced before the 2011 uprising but which gave way to elections.
Critics say the changes – passed without review from faculty councils – jeopardise the independence of universities. If ratified, they say, decisions by college boards will be dependent upon the appointed heads for approval.
"Expanding authorities granted to a person in office will ultimately lead to the abuse of power or exercising it arbitrarily," said Hani El-Husseiny of the 9 March movement, a group of university professors campaigning for university independence and against corruption.
The movement held a press conference on Sunday to express anxiety about the new amendment, releasing a statement that had been submitted to the cabinet and another that will be sent to the presidency.
"The amendment will undermine the status of university professors, eliminate their ability to develop education or scientific research and quash any attempt to fight corruption," the statement read.
What's more, critics argue, is that direct appointments by the president shields university heads from accountability or oversight from within the schools if they abuse their newfound power.
In the absence of parliament, El-Sisi has to give the go-ahead for the legislative amendment before it can be ratified.
Breaches punishable under the new amendment include private tutorials, inciting violence, organising or inciting protests that "hamper studies" along with acts "undermining the integrity of faculty members."
Under the draft law, a university head chooses an official to carry out investigations on violators – which staff members say defeats the purpose of an investigation.
"The investigation process, in effect, is flawed; that's one of the most dangerous aspects about the whole issue," El-Husseini argued.
The last academic year in Egypt was especially turbulent, with dozens of university students expelled over their alleged role in protests and clashes after the ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.
Some students were allegedly punished without interrogation or being officially charged, according to El-Husseini.