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 Response by University of Kurdistan-Hawler UKH to Carrere's article

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Response by University of Kurdistan-Hawler UKH to Carrere's article  21.6.2011

June 21, 2011

ERBIL-Hewlêr, Kurdistan region 'Iraq', — A Letter from the University of Kurdistan-Hawler.

This is a letter from University of Kurdistan-Hawler (UKH) in response to an article that was published on Rudaw English in April titled (Is the End Beginning) on some professors sacked by the university. Following UKH’s letter, you will be able to read the original article.

We fully believe in freedom of press and support its important role in investigating the truth and implementing journalistic code of ethic which requires evidence for accusations as well as giving equal opportunity for both sides to present their case. We believe Mr. Jean Carrere unintentionally missed important facts. This resulted in an unfair and inaccurate image of our university and the extraordinary achievements of the past year, which were highly recognized by the Ministry of Higher Education and number of important regional and international universities.

Mr. Carrere also claimed in the end of his article that he “made several attempts to speak” to the Vice Chancellor and the PR department and that no one arranged an interview for him. It is very important to highlight the following:

Over a week ago while Mr. Carrere was already inside UKH campus, he coincidently came across the Director of PR at the cafeteria and          

University of Kurdistan-Hawler UKH, Erbil, Kurdistan region of Iraq.
expressed that he would like to make some interviews with the students about student life in UKH as well as taking few photos. Our Director of PR welcomed him to the university and informed him that as per UKH policy he would need to officially request for conducting such interviews and as a standard support we will send one of the students or staff (if available) to support him and arrange for logistics. They exchanged phone numbers and Mr. Carrere did not mention anything about interview with the Vice Chancellor or requested for UKH response to any of the accusations in his article.

On the 24th April (same day the article was published) Mr. Carrere sent an SMS to our PR department claiming that as we did not contact him, he wanted to let us know that he will be publishing a story next day about UKH and he mentioned “if you have any comments on that matter let me know today”. This message arrived only 5.5 hours before the story was published online and he did not mention in his message what were his inquiries or the topic of his article so we can prepare the information he may need. The message arrived while the PR team was engaged in an event and they were surprised to find out that Mr. Carrere article was already published less than 6 hours from his SMS unclear message (not the following day as he claimed). W are sure you would agree that such an unrealistic short notice and a claim that a story would be published next day while it was really published the same day is not really a true attitude of giving the other side of the story the chance to share their point of view.

Prof. Serwan Baban, UKH Vice Chancellor did not receive any calls from Mr. Carrere, in contrary to his claims.

To be very fair with Mr. Carrere, we checked the record of all our emails just in case he or the newspaper would have sent any official request and we did not find any record.

We believe what Mr. Carrere referred to as several attempts is only the coincidental meeting at the cafeteria, where nothing was mentioned at all about the story; and the SMS he sent less than 6 hours before publishing his story.

We are not sending this clarification to request for our rightful right to answer the incorrect claims the article carries. We only wanted to highlight this unfortunate incident and to urge your young intern journalist to always give both parties equal time and opportunity and to make sure that his genuinely appreciated work would not be abused by one side against another. UKH is a big educational initiative that succeeded in a short time to be recognized among the best in the country. We do not claim that we are flawless but it is definitely not in the way and pattern portrayed in the article.

What is alarming and concerning for us in this story is that many sentences in the article were almost repetitions of another similar article that was written by couple of previous staff members who were dismissed due to poor academic performance. This unusual similarity makes us wonder to what extend was this article a pure work of journalistic investigation or just a channel where certain people managed somehow to use it for their own personal interest.

Mr. Editor in Chief with your permission we have below a list of clarifications for Mr. Jean Carrere which can help him to see a broader picture of the issue he tackled in his article. We would also like to invite him officially to request answers to any other questions or inquiries he may have in this regard. We are as keen as Rudaw is to portray the truth and the reality behind any story that is of public interest.

Finally, we would like also to invite your kind self to visit UKH campus so we can share with you an experience that has been described by several leading academic institution as “unique and promising in the region”.

Comments on some of the points claimed in the article:

Claim: English language professor was dismissed on 20th April.

Comment: Firstly, this person is not a professor nor does she carry a PhD degree. She was a language instructor.

Secondly, the University set very high academic and professional conduct standards for its staff and uses rigorous processes to ensure that they comply with these standards. The English instructor mentioned was dismissed after a 3 month process. She failed both the academic standards requirements (through the probation process) and the professional conduct standards (through an investigation panel formed by the Governing Board and found her guilty of gross misconduct). Both cases went through the standard procedures mentioned previously. For the record, Vice Chancellor was not in any of the panels overlooking this person’s case.

Claim: Around 20 teachers were dismissed over the past year.

Comment: We are surprised that such obvious false information appeared in the article although investigating the truth about it is rather straight forward. The number mentioned in the article is extremely exaggerated and unrealistic. In fact, the total number of those who left us during the past year (for all different reasons) is less than half the number claimed for dismissal. Most of these were resignations,www.ekurd.netseveral of them during the very first months of their probation period. We have to highlight that all such universities in the region suffer from high turnover of faculty members due to many reasons which most are not related to the academic institution itself. To summarize, we can categorize the faculty members who left UKH in the following segments:

1. Those who were not able to adapt to the lifestyle and the situation in the region. Over 40% of those who left UKH resigned for this specific reason, most of them during their probation period.
2. Faculty members who chose to pursue their career in other universities inside and outside the region. Of course, it is natural for any individual to look for better job opportunities whether financially or career wise. Throughout the years, many faculty members who we dearly respect have left UKH to other universities. Many of whom we are in touch with and from which two came back to UKH after a year or two of teaching at other universities.
3. Faculty members who were unfortunately dismissed due to failure to achieve UKH high standards and academic performance. We claim that we provide the best education in the region, and to deliver this we need to regularly and systematically evaluate the performance of our faculty members. We also have alliances with a British universities to further help us in training the faculty members and update their teaching and research skills Unfortunately, it happens every now and then, a faculty member for one reason or another exhibit poor academic performance. We have a rigorous procedure for assessing faculty performance and make informed, fair and objective decisions. Of course, we feel very sad when such a decision is taken but at the end of the day this is a university that has a mission and vision that commits it to high academic performance. We have to admit that unfortunately individuals who were dismissed for this reason did not accept it full heartedly. Some of them unfortunately, expressed in a degrading manner that we should not expect more than what they have to offer in Kurdistan?!; and therefore considered dismissing them unfair. While we respect the academic advancement in the West, we do not believe we should accept performance less than what is acceptable there in our university. Their argument is unfortunately unfair to the university and to the students they claim they love.

Claim: UKH management does not respect standard university procedures.

Comment: Of course, it is very easy to throw a claim such as this. We wonder what kind of evidence led to such a harsh conclusion. As mentioned above, we adopt very rigorous procedures monitored by the governing board and the Executive Management Board. We invite you to come and review the procedure and be a witness of how strictly and fairly they are implemented. Please select time and date and we will be more than happy to arrange for this.

Claim: Vice Chancellor behavior led to serious degradation of the Access program.

1. It is important to highlight that no single person can claim the success that have been achieved at all different departments including Access. This was the result of team work of current faculty members and previous one whom we respect and admire.
2. UKH as part of its continuous quality assurance system appointed 2 independent external professors from the University of Brighton and University of Plymouth to evaluate Access program. The result of this was a thorough recommendation document which UKH adopted and implemented to make sure that we are providing the best education to our students and properly preparing them to pursue their specializations. A key recommendation was to move Access from a literature based English foundation program to a more academic language skills based program. This meant, restructuring Access and introducing new courses and methods. It is true that a small number of our previous Access members did not appreciate such a change. They were happy and comfortable with what they were providing. Majority of faculty members welcomed and embraced the change; however, few seem to have had some sort of ownership emotions towards what they were used to and hence some resigned. Unfortunately very few didn’t take the change seriously and therefore their academic performance fell which led to their dismissal (as per the procedure mentioned above).
3. The irony is that in the past year UKH - partially due to this change - received highest number of recognitions since its establishment. Today we are adopting the British Academic Quality Assurance System, all our programs are evaluated with high academic standards, we even have postgraduate degrees approved by leading regional and international universities which are the first of their kind in all of Iraq. Of course, not to mention the important role UKH started playing in developing higher education in the country. We invite you to review the comments made by the Minister of Higher Education and many independent academic institutions.

Claim: … one of the previous faculty members: all that was done in the past 3 years is now gone.

Comment: we believe that the best answer to this, is the recognition UKH received during the past year. Thanks to collective efforts of many people at UKH, today the university is ranked among the top in the country.

Claim: Academic status of several individuals mentioned in the report.

Comment: It is important to highlight that none of the individuals referred to as “professors” in the article are actually professors. Only one of them has a PhD degree (Assistant Professor NOT Professor). Unfortunately, we have noticed that some of them have the habit of referring to themselves as “professors” even in their personal sites. For the record, the only person that enjoys a professor status in the article published is the Vice Chancellor who was always referred to by his name only, while all the rest were referred to as “professors” do not have that status.

Claim: Chris Whitney was forced to resign this month (April 2011)
Comment: Chris Whitney resigned end of May 2010 (1 year ago) before most of developments were implemented. We wonder if any effort was made in this regard to check the credibility of the information presented in this part.

Claim: Mr. Daniel Wolk was deported from the country within 10 days of his dismissal.

Comment: Is it really possible for a university to have so much power to deport people from a country? This really brought a big smile to all of us at the university especially that we know whose promoting this false and unrealistic piece of information. Deportation of this faculty member had nothing to do with UKH or his work relation with the university. It was related to other unethical issue that we do not wish to involve ourselves in.

Claim: Comments reflecting students’ emotional bond with previous academic members.

Comment: It is definitely very important and natural to have positive bond between an instructor and his/her students. We at UKH encourage this and believe it can help in developing student learning. However, universities cannot take decisions regarding academic performance of its faculty members based on how popular they are.

Claim: the article carried numerous claims questioning Vice Chancellor’s experience and managerial skills (some of these claims are very biased and to some extend insulting)

Comment: It is very obvious from the way the article is structured that whoever was the source of information was trying his/her very best to attack the management of the university. Almost all arguments did not have clear explanations but somehow ended up pinpointing the Vice Chancellor himself. We believe that this in itself is a clear indictor of the motives behind the source of this article.

On personal level, Professor Serwan Baban (Vice Chancellor) has the full right to protect his personal reputation. We believe that his long and rich experience and high international academic achievements and recognition he enjoys are above such claims. He chose not to comment about the many biased comments the article carried.

It is worth noting that Prof. Baban has recently been awarded a DSc from one of the most prestigious Schools of Environmental Sciences worldwide (University of East Anglia, UK). This award is only given to few renowned academics in the world. A simple search on google can highlight for you his distinguished performance and long experience.

The article mentioned that the only managerial post that the Vice Chancellor had before joining UKH was being Head of the School of Environmental Science and Management at an Australian university. The editor referred in his article to the Vice Chancellor long CV on the website. We invite him to read the CV and if needed seek help of independent academic to explain how many of his posts were of managerial and academic managerial status.

Finally, the above is only a short response to some of the points mentioned in this article. We have much more to say, but we don’t wish to take more of your precious time. We repeat our invitation to the journalist to officially come and ask and search for the truth and give equal opportunity to all sides, so that his journalistic efforts and work would not be indirectly used as a channel by people who like to pass their own personal interests.

Once again, we would like to emphasize that UKH is determined to meet its mission and vision and to provide Kurdistan and the country with the highest academic quality that it deserves and to be a true engine of building human resource and leaders that can build this nation.


Department of PR & Media
University of Kurdistan Hewler

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