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AUW Investigation II

Univ’s vision in question as founder criticised

David Bergman

The ability of the Asian University for Women to develop into a world-class university has been impeded by the role played by its founder Kamal Ahmad, according to former members of the university’s US support foundation and senior academic staff at the university.
Although Kamal is widely applauded, even by those who criticise him, for his original vision and work in establishing the university, interviews with a wide number of people who have worked with him in the last six years suggest that in his roles as chief executive of the US support foundation and as acting vice-chancellor, he has caused the resignation of at least one acting woman vice-chancellor, the dismissal of another, and the resignation of other senior staff.
In addition, as a result of the peremptory manner in which Kamal dismissed Mary Sansalone, the third female vice-chancellor, the majority of the US support foundation board, which at that point was governing the Chittagong-based university, resigned.
A significant section of the current international faculty are also concerned that Kamal has no experience that justifies his current appointment as acting vice-chancellor.
New Age sought a response both from Professor Sheikha Abdulla Al-Misnad, the chairperson of the university’s newly established board of trustees, and Jack Meyer, the chairman of the university’s US-based support foundation, but neither replied.
Kamal also gave no specific response to detailed questions but suggested in an e-mail that New Age was ‘being fed concocted data’ and that the questions he was asked ‘mock[ed] any attempt at fair reporting.’
Despite criticisms, Kamal does continue to have support from many connected to the university and there is also praise for the educational establishment’s day-to-day teaching and activities. The trustee board is also seeking to appoint a new full-time vice-chancellor.
The disclosures about the AUW’s founder are being made at a time when wider questions are being asked about the previous
governance of the university. As reported by New Age in Sunday’s issue, for over five years, the university, which aims to be ‘the Harvard of the East’ operated without a functioning trustee board although this was the only body with legal authority to run the university.
In September 2010, the US support foundation received a report that it had commissioned from one of its own members which criticised the role played by its chief executive Kamal.
‘The CEO of the AUW support foundation,’ the report stated, ‘has unilaterally exercised the authority of the executive committee of the support foundation board on numerous occasions: at the university, this has had the effect of confusing university staff regarding who their “real boss” is: the CEO of the support foundation or the acting vice-chancellor.’
Such interference was the cause of the early departure of Hoon Eng Khoo, who had been appointed in September 2008 as acting vice-chancellor after the sudden departure of Nancy Dye, the university’s first appointment.
Although the official reason for Hoon Eng’s departure was her need to return to her tenured position at the National University of Singapore, a number of former US support foundation members have told New Age that the real reason she resigned was because of Kamal’s interference in her work.
One US support foundation member told New Age that Hoon Eng had written to its board members in December 2009 saying, ‘She was exhausted, physically and emotionally, as her authority was continually being undercut, and her decisions always subject to being second guessed, even in matters of little consequence.’
This correspondence was written just after the resignation of the dean of undergraduate studies.
The foundation member said that Hoon Eng told the board, ‘Unless there was an immediate and radical change in the way decisions were made at the university, she feared that other staff members may also leave.’
In fact, the next major resignation, three months later, was her own in February 2010 — triggered by Kamal overriding her decision to buy some digital recording devices.
The former US board told New Age that this was the straw that broke the camel’s back and that Hoon Eng told Kamal in an e-mail, ‘No vice chancellor can run the university like this.’
Hoon Eng told New Age that she did not want to talk about the reasons for her resignation nor comment on any of her correspondence with the board of the US support foundation.
The difficulties that Hoon Eng faced are reflected in the concerns held by Paul Coleman who had taken up the position of chief information officer at the university in July 2009 nine months before she resigned.
‘Mr Ahmad, whatever his due as the visionary founder of the institution, lacks the administrative skills and moral sensibility to run a liberal arts college,’ Coleman, wrote in a long letter to the US support foundation after he had left the university.
‘By increments I came to the surprising discovery that the person most responsible for the institution’s paralysis and vaguely Kafkaesque atmosphere was the chief executive of its support foundation, Kamal Ahmad — a person with no formal role in the governance or administration of the university,’ the letter, seen by New Age, went on.
‘Appropriating whimsical control over budgetary, curricular and personnel matters [Kamal Ahmad] has unaccountably blocked the purchase of essential materials and systems [and] caused the departure of numerous talented dedicated teachers and administrators,’ the letter added.
Two former US support foundation members have also confirmed to New Age their own concerns about how Kamal wielded his power as the foundation’s chief executive, particularly pointing to his difficulty in working with women.
‘It was clear that Kamal cannot work with strong women,’ one told New Age.
Another former US support foundation member said that although ‘Kamal could at one moment be very diplomatic and charming, behind the scenes he undermined any assertive female leader at the university.’
‘It is a sad and ironic thing,’ this person added, ‘that this institution is meant to be developing strong independently minded young woman leaders and yet, all that those students have seen is any strong independently minded female leader being undermined to the extent that she bears it no longer and resigns. So the wonderful vision is being undermined by actual practice on the ground.’
Following Hoon Eng’s departure, Kamal assumed the position of acting vice-chancellor and it is claimed that his ‘whimsical’ mode of management persisted.
Coleman explains in his letter to the US support foundation how surprised he was to be told by Kamal that his own contract at the university would not be renewed.
‘I had received no evaluation. I had recently been named chair of the search committee for the position of registrar,’ he wrote. ‘A few days before, Mr Ahmad had assured me that the administrative and library systems I had been recommending for months would soon be purchased. I had no reason to expect that I was about to lose my job.’
Similar concerns have been made to New Age by a number of other current and former teachers.
Mary Sansalone was then recruited to be the new provost and Kamal’s difficult relationship with women leaders seems to have continued.
‘I know the chairman of the board of US support foundation board was exhausted in just trying to keep the peace between Mary and Kamal [Ahmad],’ one former US support foundation member said.
Increasingly, members of the board of the US support foundation considered that Kamal had to go and in July 2011 appointed Sansalone as vice-chancellor.
Just over a month later, and the day after convening the Bangladesh board of advisers, Kamal managed to get himself re-appointed vice-chancellor of the university again and sent a letter to Sansalone dismissing her.
As a result of this turn of events, nine members of the board of the US support foundation resigned although new members have since been recruited.
University teachers remain angry about Sansalone’s departure, who was described by a number of them — despite a controversy over her earlier attempt to expel a dozen poor-performing students — as a ‘phenomenal leader who firmly established the AUW on a path towards academic excellence.’
New Age has also seen correspondence written by a number of different members of the university’s international teaching staff setting out criticisms of Kamal’s role as acting vice-chancellor.
A number of teachers have told New Age that they ‘expect more international faculty members will take their leave of AUW this summer and never return.’
Many current complaints focus on Kamal’s appointment of Ashok Keshari as acting provost.  At a meeting in January 2012, 15 out of the 27 teachers present voted in favour of a ‘no confidence’ motion against the acting provost, with 12 abstaining. No one voted in his favour.

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