International Agreement Concerns A-State Faculty

By Jessica Ladd
Delta Digital News Service

JONESBORO — A recent dual-program degree agreement between Arkansas State University and the American University of Malta sparked concerns amongst A-State faculty. A gap in communication could be to blame.

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Agreement Signing-  Photo of A-State and AUM agreement signing in Malta. (from left) A-State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse, AUM President Dr. Walker and Malta’s Education and Employment Minister Evarist Bartolo. (photo from AUM’s Facebook page)

AUM, a private liberal arts college in Cospicua, Malta, signed an agreement with A-State in March 2019.  The agreement would allow students from A-State to attend AUM their sophomore and junior years, with their freshman and senior years being on the A-State campus. AUM students can take online classes through A-State for their first six semesters. Their senior year, students can attend classes on A-State’s campus full-time. Students would receive a degree from both universities.

Loretta Neal McGregor teaches psychology at A-State. She also serves as president of the Faculty Senate. McGregor said a breakdown in communication occurred and the issue of the Malta agreement didn’t come before the Senate until after it was signed.

“When the Chancellor came to the Faculty Senate, he said that he had talked to some of the deans from various colleges and department chairs from various colleges. But, the Faculty Senate is the governing body for the entire faculty. So, it was almost like there was a bypassing of the Faculty Senate to include deans and chairs. Then it was stated that since the deans and chairs are part of the faculty, their voice was representative,” McGregor said.

She said A-State considers itself a shared governance. The administration should work with the Senate to help make sure the university has policies that are beneficial to students and faculty members, and to help the university run smoothly.

McGregor said the university struggled with communication over the years. It’s important to have clear lines of communication because the faculty are the ones there day in and day out.  She said most of the faculty concerns center around the curriculum and courses students will be engaged in.

When asked why the Malta agreement wasn’t brought before the Faculty Senate beforehand, A-State Chancellor Kelly Damphousse said the Faculty Senate doesn’t have the authority to approve these agreements. The authority resides in the faculty. The administration took the issue to the faculty and they approved it.

The potential communication breakdown occurred as the administration spoke with chairs and deans, who weren’t elected to represent the whole faculty. The communication gap might not have been as big of an issue if AUM didn’t have a questionable history.

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AUM– Photo of the American University of Malta. (photo from AUM Facebook page)

AUM, a relatively newer university, opened in September 2017. The central Mediterranean institution managed to gather tons of publicity in its short operation. The Sadeen Group, a Jordanian construction and property development company, owns AUM. The company’s only background in education comes from its for-profit schools in Jordan. Their main developments include travel, tourism and hotels. In Malta, citizens protested the development of the university.  The two pieces of land granted to Sadeen for the development were considered valuable public property. Once the college opened, more odd events occurred.

Erik Gilbert, a history professor at A-State, said he was shocked after he conducted a quick Google search regarding AUM. He sent an email with a list of sources to all A-State faculty explaining what he found.

“There seem to be so many red flags there. They got fined for misrepresenting who they were, they seem to have mispresented their relationship with DePaul (university) and had to have that explicated. They fired all their faculty one semester into their operation and then rehired a bunch suggesting that maybe they still needed faculty, but they wanted different faculty, perhaps, cheaper faculty,” Gilbert said.

Seventeen students attended in fall 2017, a lower number than expected.  AUM fired 12 of its 13 professors in January 2018 after offering them three-year contracts. Maltese law legally allowed the firings.  At the end of their six-month probationary period, the faculty received notification of their termination. AUM claimed the firings were due to the low enrollment. AUM hired six new professors. They currently have seven faculty members including the provost.

Despite the controversy sounding AUM, Damphousse said he still sticks by his decision. He knows there is concern regarding faculty terminations there. He said, unfortunately, that happens when a university faces financial difficulty. It happens in America as well. Damphousse said he doesn’t have any concerns regarding the firings.

A lot of work goes into an agreement like this. Damphousse, Global Engagement and Outreach director Thilla Sivakumaran and Vice Chancellor of Marketing and Communications Bill Smith traveled to Malta to negotiate the agreement. Damphousse said he remains confident in A-State’s short-term study-abroad opportunities in Malta.

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Damphousse In Malta– A-State Chancellor at the agreement signing in Malta. (photo from AUM Facebook)

“I went there and visited the place. I met with the faculty who are there. I taught a class while I was there. I met with students who are there. So, I’m very comfortable with our decision to be partnering with AUM,” Damphousse said.

He said A-State is always looking for ways to make itself distinctive. Malta, a country rich in history, brings in students from across the globe. Most of the professors come from America and all classes are taught in English. Damphousse also said Malta can be a great European location for A-State faculty members to plan short-term study abroad and research opportunities. ASU prides itself on being diverse. This agreement would help expand that diversity. ASU has similar agreements with other universities, and they’ve been successful as well as beneficial. He also said A-State did not invest any money into the actual agreement. According to The Sun, travel expenses to and from Malta totaled $7,000.

As for the confusion among faculty regarding the agreement, Damphousse said currently a plan is in motion to keep it from happening again. The provost has been working with A-State’s international program to develop a process to ensure the faculty all have a say in determining when the university gets involved in relationships like the one with Malta. The new policy should be completed shortly.

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