President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi issued Tuesday a presidential decree amending the law governing universities in a manner which signals a return to the appointment of university chairmen and deans.
Universities nationwide have been adopting a system of electing rather than appointing chairmen and deans since the January 2011 revolution.
Instead of electing them, university chairmen and deans will now be appointed by the president upon the high education minister’s recommendation. The latter will choose from three nominations put forward by a special committee, as per the new decree.
The decree has received mixed reactions from university faculty. Hany Al-Hosseini, Cairo University lecturer and member of the 9 March Movement for the Independence of Universities, strongly condemned the decree. Al-Hosseini described the decree as a “total abuse of the constitution and a declaration of the dictatorial intentions of the new regimes”.
Article 23 of the new constitution stipulates the state is responsible for preserving the independence of universities.
Al-Hosseini said the previous mechanism for appointing university leaders mostly ended with the Ministry of Interior choosing chairmen and deans based on the latter’s allegiance to the security apparatus.
“[The authorities] never issued a law to address a scientific problem; only security or political problems,” Al-Hosseini said, “This decree will close channels for dialogue which will in turn accelerate the students’ meltdown.”
Securing university campuses has been a challenge in the past academic year, the deadliest in decades. Over a dozen students have been killed amid clashes between student protesters, mostly supporters of ousted President Mohamed Morsi, and security forces.
Hanan Guneid, Professor and Head of Faculty at Cairo University’s Mass Communications’ English Department, meanwhile applauded the presidential decree.
“It is clear that the elections mechanism produced the worst options in light of partisanship and coalitions within universities,” Guneid said. She described electing university leaders as a “failed experience”.
She stressed that the new decree would need strict criteria to guarantee that the appointees are “the best option out there”.
The amendments were called for by a group of university chairmen who put forward their demand to former High Education Minister Wael Al-Degwi, said Al-Hosseini. He added the demand was referred to the Supreme Council of Universities as well as the cabinet, yet neither discussed the draft amendments.
The special committee, which will nominate chairmen and leaders, will be formed by a decree issued by the Minister of Higher Education, reported state-run Al-Ahram. The decree should stipulate the conditions and criteria for electing committee members.
University chairmen’s term lasts for four years and could be extended. The decree allows university chairmen the power to appoint professors not in their faculties as deans in the absence of fit professors within their own departments.
Should a chairman fail to meet his duties, the president is allowed to ask him to resign upon the request of the Supreme Council of Universities. A university chairman is also allowed to remove a dean from his post for failing to meet his duties and responsibilities, upon the request of the university council.
Al-Sisi’s decree comes as part of a string of measures taken to regulate universities during the past academic year, amid on-campus tension.
On 24 February, the Cairo Urgent Matters Court restored an earlier decision appointing security personnel from the Ministry of Interior to secure university campuses.
Until 2010, the Ministry of Interior was responsible for providing Homeland Security personnel to secure universities. In 2010, the Supreme Administrative Court banned this decision, establishing “administrative” university security. The decision came into effect after the January 2011 uprising.