Armenian rector who opposed merger says she’s being ‘forced out’

Karine Harutyunyan accuses government of undermining her position because she supported staff and students’ protests

二月 17, 2023
Source: Karine Harutyunyan

An Armenian rector has claimed that her government is trying to remove her from her post because she protested against a proposed merger of her university.

Karine Harutyunyan said the government’s attempt to oust her from Brusov State University (BSU) was an “injustice” that violated the autonomy of higher education institutions.

BSU, which was established in 1935, is Armenia’s leading state higher education institution for modern languages and social sciences.

In October last year, the Armenian government revealed that it was seeking to merge BSU and the Armenian State Institute of Physical Culture and Sports into the Armenian State Pedagogical University.

The government has portrayed the move as part of an effort to make the education sector – and all public institutions – more efficient, Ms Harutyunyan told Times Higher Education.

After 10 days of protest from both staff and students at the Yerevan-based institution, which received the public backing of the rector, the merger was put on hold.

Around this time, Ms Harutyunyan was re-elected to the post of rector, having defeated a state official, Davit Gyurjinyan, in a two-person contest.

“It is obvious that a government candidate for the rector’s position was pushed forward in an attempt to elect a more compliant person,” said Ms Harutyunyan.

“This plan failed, but it seems that the government does not want to accept the outcome.”

Not only has the government refused to endorse the election result, Ms Harutyunyan said, it has also enforced a “strange” change to the university’s charter that has left her frozen out of leadership duties.

Until the vote’s outcome is recognised or a new leader is somehow installed, the vice-rector is performing all her former responsibilities. This, she believes, is part of the “high price” she is paying for having supported the protest, and she anticipates months – or even years – in limbo.

“They [the government] have stepped back because there were thousands of people on the streets, marching and shouting, and they have decided that I shouldn’t be the person to stay here because the plan to merge universities has not disappeared, and it is still going to happen.”

The whole university community, including 4,500 students, was united in the belief that a merger would be a bad idea because the institutions do not match, Ms Harutyunyan said.

The closure of BSU would be a big loss to the country, as well as being a “big injustice” to the organisation itself, she said.

“This is really a violation of university autonomy, when the government, without any consultation or notice or discussions, is making this decision,” she added.

“Our constitution says the university has to have autonomy and have academic freedom for staff and students. All this is violated.”



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