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Professors Accuse Interim Rector of Financial Scheming

17.10.2008
In whose interests are professors sacrificed?

Nana Pazhava, Zugdidi

Double ruling at Zugdidi Shota Meskhia State Institute resulted from a long-term controversy that continues to exist between the administration and various professors. Teona Khupenia, interim rector, issued a decree and suspended the rights of nearly 23 lecturers. The fired members of the Academic and Representative Councils consider her decision illegal and accuse her of acting with a sense of impunity. A law suit has already submitted to Zugdidi district court against the interim rector for these human resources decisions.  Lecturers noted some characterizes of criminal activity in her actions and appealed to regional department of Financial Police as well. Teona Khupenia denies the many accusations and only wants to speak about her absolute authority in the decision.

The controversy in Zugdidi State University started back on September 22 when members of the Academic and Representative Councils received written notifications from the interim rector about the forced resignation. 18 professors, including three members of Academic Council and 6 members of Representative Council; they were all dismissed. The head of administration and head of quality management service department also has their duties and responsibilities suspended.

Goneli Arakhamia, member of academic council: “Interim rector fired those people who were selected as professors on July 18 under the law. The election of the rector was fixed for October 27. Teona Khupenia could not get any votes in the election of the head of administration. After that she discovered that labor contracts with 18 professors, whom she disliked, expired on October 20, 2008 instead of October 16, 2009 as it should be written in their contracts. In doing so she started to implement her plan of action and went about fixing a repeated election. Thus, Khupenia had every intention staffing the councils with the people who were in support of her.”

Dismissed academic personnel consider that main motivation of Khupenia’s illegal activities was to gain as many votes as possible in the election for the position of rector. Without some action on her part it would have otherwise been impossible to muster enough votes. Unlike discontent lecturers, interim rector claims are completely different. She effectively uses the law on education to reinforce her arguments and decisions.

Teona Khupenia: “Academic personnel were not dismissed based on any resolution; their labor contracts expired and that is all.  The law on education states that if academic personnel have their status suspended, consequently the authorities of academic and representative councils are also suspended.  The same law works about the head of administration and the head of quality management service department. There are no resolutions issued. These persons were legally dismissed under the law.”

Goneli Arakhamia: “Last year, on October 20 interim rector cheated members of the academic council and made them sign the contracts for just one year; though she explained to them that three-year-contract was actually still in force. That one-year-contract was only part of it and would be extended next year. In any case, Khupenia does not have authority to elect management bodies, or to cancel labor contracts or pass resolutions on behalf of the representative council.”

Members of the Academic Council petitioned to the Chairperson of the Georgian Parliament, Minister of Education and Science and single mandate MP from Zugdidi district; the professors told about the incompetence of Khupenia and acts of negligence under the law on her part. They described how the rights of the employees had been violated and pointed out that interim rector cannot effectively manage human resources; she should not have passed legally invalid decisions as such actions have seriously damaged the institute financially.

Goneli Arakhamia: “According to the January 28 2008 decision of the Zugdidi district court the institute was imposed to pay fine of 4,480 GEL for illegal dismissal of professors. One of the dismissed lecturers was restored to his position. According to the July 26, 2008 decision of the same court, the institute was imposed for the fine of additional 18, 817 GEL for illegal dismissal of professors. The same occurred on September 13, 2008 and the institute had to pay 20, 664 GEL. Finally, the total expense of the institute amounted to 43, 261 GEL.”

Teona Khupenia: “The administration made positive decision regarding the dismissal of 7 professors. After the Zugdidi branch of Tbilisi State University was canceled, programs where these professors worked were abolished. Consequently, the court could not restore them to their old positions though imposed the institute to pay their salary arrears. Though, I appealed against this decision because Kutaisi Appeal Court passed a wrong decision. We had to involve all structures to pass a proper decision.”

It is unknown what structures and sources the interim rector was speaking about. However, it is known that Financial Police started raiding the institute. The raid started after the members of the Academic Council appealed to the Samegrelo Zemo-Svaneti division of investigation of the Department for Revenues within the Ministry of Finances; the professors requested to investigate the expenses of budget and special resources.

Goneli Arakhamia: “In our appeal we mentioned only those financial violations of Khupenia that we knew. We have information about tens thousands of GEL that was illegally wasted or misappropriated. All such financial crimes should be revealed and double-dealing must be ended at the institute.”

All members of the Academic and Representative Councils, as well as the professors of the institute petitioned to Gia Nodia, Minister of Education regarding the current situation at the institute and requested the suspension of the authority of the interim rector.

Several versions of the controversy in the institute are now being discussed in Zugdidi though respondents wanted to keep their names anonymous. Many of them consider that the controversy originated from the wish to occupy the position of the rector and professors have two favorites -Khupenia and Arakhamia. Khupenia is supported by the Samegrelo Zemo Svaneti regional Governor, Gorozia; while Arakhamia is supported by Pridon Todua, MP from Zugdidi district. However, it must be pointed out that initiator of the establishment of this institute was the MP. It is clear that his favorite has more advantages for society. Although Teona Khupenia denies the fact that regional governor interferes in the activities of the institute, she frequently visits Gorozia’s office and carries on long conversations that demonstrates just the opposite.

Nobody predicts the end of the controversy anytime soon.  However, nearly 200 students of the institute are eager to continue their studies under relative peaceful considitions.

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