The curious cases of sacked American University of Beirut employees

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AUB students participate in a sit-in against a proposed tuition increase on March 21, 2014. Al-Akhbar/Marwan Tahtah

By: Hussein Mahdi

Published Monday, December 8, 2014

Previously, resigned American University of Beirut (AUB) Rector Peter Dorman had said that the resignation or sacking of a number of administrators at the university at an earlier time was not related to corruption allegations at AUB’s administration that Al-Akhbar had tackled, publishing extensive reports and leaks in connection to the allegations. Ironically, Dorman himself resigned; so can his previous remarks be seen as an attempt to protect himself?

Who had resigned, who had been forced to resign, and who had been expelled from AUB? How and why did this happen?

  • On June 6, 2014, Philip Khoury, chairman of the Board of Trustees at AUB, broke the news of the resignation of Rector Peter Dorman. The announcement came as the results of several investigations conducted by the university both internally and through auditing firms were disclosed. It is worth noting that Dorman had renewed his contract in late 2012 for a term lasting until 2018.

  • Not long ago, specifically in June 2013, AUB’s Vice President for Legal Affairs Peter May left Beirut suddenly, to work out of the New York office. He subsequently tendered his resignation, which was approved by the university on June 30, 2014. May's name was mentioned in the context of a number of issues, including his coordination with the university's lawyers in Beirut and New York to develop several mechanisms involving tax evasion, by not disclosing some salaries and allowances to the tax administration at the Ministry of Finance and the National Social Security Fund.

  • On March 3, 2014, AUB Rector Peter Dorman announced Chief Operating Officer George DeBin would be leaving his post at the university, for “health and family reasons.” Interestingly, this happened before DeBin’s contract was supposed to end, i.e. in 2016, and only one year after his post was created. Note that on February 28, 2014, AUB’s senate gave a vote of no-confidence in DeBin and Andrew Cartwright (Internal Audit Manager) after being suspected of involvement with Peter May in leaking e-mail messages outside the university (and Lebanon) and spying on staff, students, professors, and doctors at the University’s medical Center (AUBMC). DeBin himself is suspected of involvement in the so-called Cisco Affair. He had allegedly tried to convince the Board of Trustees that the cost of purchasing IT equipment from Cisco was $7 million; only IT Chief Operating Officer at the time Ali Rammal rejected the purchase order, and presented a study showing the equipment in question did not cost more than $1.8 million.

  • On April 1, 2014, DeBin asked Rammal to go on paid leave two months before the end of his contract. This happened three days before DeBin himself left his work permanently.

  • In March 2013, a few weeks after joining the university administration, DeBin sacked Rita Khayat from her post as vice president of information technology, and terminated her contract as well as the contract of Joseph Haj, assistant chief executive of information technology. According to documented information, Khayat and Haj were sacked following pressure from Mohammed al-Sayegh, vice president for medical affairs and his aides at the medical center, due to differences in views regarding the development of computerization and information systems at the medical center and the university.

    At the time, Sayegh refused to use systems developed by Oracle, claiming the systems were not compatible with the standards of the medical center. However, reports indicate he had collided with Khayat and Haj after it became clear to him that their approach would ultimately create a central system that would control the budgets for construction works worth upwards of $300 million annually. Monitoring of the university and AUBMC would have been conducted through a centralized IT system that would be able to concentrate all documents and financial date in one place, unlike the old system.

    The administration justified the sacking of Khayat and Haj by saying it was restructuring management posts. DeBin and his aides combined some posts in the months that followed, before reinstating the same previous structure. Youssef Asfour was appointed in Khayat’s post, and Walid al-Khazen to Haj’s. All this happened in less than a year.

  • Amal Hamada, director of human resources at AUB, who was asked to sack Khayat and Haj, applied for early retirement two months after sacking them.

  • Samer Maamari, former vice president for construction, was arbitrarily sacked from his job at the university. He had a dispute with Sayegh and a number of trustees on the back of estimating the cost of the new Medical Center (AUBMC 2020). Maamari had estimated the project cost at $400 million, but Khoury and Sayegh and a number of trustees put the figure at about $600 million. Shortly after, university Rector Peter Dorman sent an email to Maamari, informing him of the termination of his contract with AUB.

  • When Vice President for Financial Affairs George Tohme left AUB, he was given a severance package of a whopping $5 million. According to reports, he had received help from the legal department to avoid paying taxes on the package. This issue was also linked to James Radulski, vice president for human resources, who did not renew his contract at the start of 2012. James Radulski is also suspected of giving undue raises to his girlfriend – who later became his wife – to become equivalent to the salary of a professor with a PhD, despite having only a master’s degree.

  • Vice President for Financial Affairs Stephen Kenney left the university two months after the publication of the KPMG report, after being criticized by the administration and trustees for not achieving the necessary reforms over the six years of his tenure. Before his departure, Kenney was misdiagnosed at AUBMC, after suffering from appendicitis. The doctors had sent him home after diagnosing him with food poisoning. Many believe that this is the actual reason for his departure.

  • A number of people named in this report, and other university faculty staff and administrators, have sued AUB, including Samer Maamari (Lebanese Labor Arbitration Board), Joseph Haj (Lebanese Labour Arbitration Board), Fawwaq Suleiman (Lawsuit in the US), and Moussa Nehme (Lawsuit in the US). They accuse the AUB of abuse of power, arbitrary dismissal, and denial of inalienable rights.

  • Follow the author on Twitter | @Husseinmehdy

    This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

Comments

Any new administration of AUB will be measured by the public whether or not it is willing to turn the university into a democratic institution where corruption is hindered, individual rights of employees are respected, and which is accessible to the majority of Lebanese young people. The first steps must be (i) to reverse the policy of high student fees that exclude 80 % (perhaps more) of the Lebanese society from enrollment, (ii) to fire those who took money into their own pocket, (iii) to take back all injust measures against former colleagues.
Friedemann Brock,
Associate Professor at AUB, 2007-2012

AUB is threatening its own reputation of a serious University. Every week new details about corruption, immoral self-service of administrators and professors come out. I cannot as much eat as I want to vomit.

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