Controversial layoffs: French University in Armenia enters September amid faculty staff row

About three dozen lecturers of a prestigious French-Armenian school in Yerevan will see in the new academic year in the status of unemployed after being controversially dismissed last month.

The administration of the French University in Armenia says the reason for dismissing 29 lecturers was both the end of the term of their employment contracts and their failure to meet the quality requirements necessary to work for the university and failing to adhere to the internal disciplinary norms of the institution.

“Sometimes teachers behave like students, are late for classes, fail to implement programs and plans, do not provide [their students] with reading lists, do not meet the standards of teaching a given subject,” French University Rector Joelle Le Morzellec said at a press conference on August 31, without, however, giving any particular names.

The French University in Armenia was established by the governments of Armenia and France as part of an agreement on cultural, scientific and technical cooperation signed in 1995. The University has operated since 2000 and has a reputation for high quality education in Armenia. In 2009 the University had more than 800 students.

Now 14 of the fired teachers have turned to court, as they disagree with the decision and consider it illegal.

They say contracts with them were signed once, with some in 2007, with others in 2008, for a period of one year, after which the term of the contracts was not prolonged. In such cases, according to the Armenian labor laws, employment contracts become indefinite.

The teachers tried to present their discontent during the rector’s press conference, as, according to what ArmeniaNow learned later, the University administration avoids meeting with them.

Former English Language Department Head Gayane Hakobyan stated angrily that the rector’s explanation that they were dismissed because they were unprofessional, was absurd. She presented to the media a number of certificates confirming the professional skills of her and other fired teachers.

The University’s financial and administrative affairs director Vagharshak Meyroyan explained that the faculty’s employment contracts had been extended until July 2010 by the rector’s order that each lecturer could find in his information box. Meanwhile, according to Meyroyan, some lecturers have not opened their boxes for so long that they’ve become full and putting papers into them has become impossible.

Narine Kokhtieva, a French language instructor who has worked for the French University for 10 years, told ArmeniaNow that as a matter of fact teachers never check their information boxes, as they communicate with the university administration via e-mail, but they never received an e-mail message about the rector’s order on the extension of their employment contracts.

“A person who has worked for 10 year is being thrown out into the street like old clothes or shoes. They did everything so that no dismissed teacher could find a job at any higher school today. I got the notice of my dismissal in mid-August and whereever I applied, I heard ‘sorry, but all vacancies are already filled’,” says Kokhtieva, adding that even if there was such an order from the rector about the prolongation of their contracts, that prolongation could not be unilateral as they signed no documents.

The former faculty staff deny they were ever late for classes or breached the disciplinary rules.

“If I were late, they should have warned me about that at least once during 10 years,” says French language instructor Anush Mkhitaryan.

The lecturers say that they never had any conflict with the University administration and do not understand the reason for their dismissal.

French University students, who are actively discussing this issue through online social networks, mainly highly praise their former lecturers, considering that due to them they have received excellent knowledge.