The AUM has gone quiet in recent months and the government’s been keeping mum on this one, too. Must be because the massive cohort of students are still enjoying their annual summer leave. At least, that’s how Professor John Ryder explained the void to me when I interviewed him in his office two years ago. Not a soul to be seen. Same on its Open Day – which coincided with Independence Day and had the guy selling hamburgers just in case you missed its American credentials – there was scarcely a scholar in sight. There were a lot of English language teachers displaying their wares but if you were hoping for rocket scientists, you’d have to look elsewhere.
So, how’s everything hanging down at Dock 1? Well, according to the licensing conditions on which this mirage was built, the AUM is due to have its license renewed in September 2021.
Blow me down with a Yankee feather if that isn’t right now. A week ago to be precise. You’d imagine the AUM and its government financers would be making a fanfare about this in the same way they did over their inauguration when Joseph Muscat was still at the crooked helm. At this lavish event, Muscat declared:
‘The contract with government, which is public for all to review, clearly stipulates that the stringent condition of this institution is to complete all phases of the project by 2025 and to attract 4,000 students in the following 4 years. Nothing more, nothing less.’
A source at the AUM puts the full quota of students currently at this esteemed institution at approximately 128. This includes 23 students enrolled for 2021-22, give or take a few who may have picked up their visas and scarpered off into Europe, and excludes an additional 4 who have already asked for a refund. Where does this leave Muscat’s promise that ‘If the American University of Malta (AUM) does not reach the stipulated target of 4,000 students up to four years after all construction and embellishment phases have to be completed in 2025 then all its facilities and land will return to the government’? Where does this leave Muscat’s promise now that he’s gone down in shame as Man of the Year in Organised Crime and Corruption? And what’s going down at the Marsaskala yacht marina as we speak?
Despite Muscat’s wild projections and his disgraced reputation, the AUM kindly honoured their friend amongst thieves by engraving his name on the external wall of the building and on a stone fixed to the entry hall of the southern wall. These could use the addition of the handprint adopted by activists now and in the protests forcing Muscat’s resignation.
Will Muscat be invited to oversee the renewal of the AUM’s license? Will they invite Adrian Hillman and try to hide him again? Hillman – the former government representative on the Board of Trustees who Ryder said he knew so little about even though the guy sat tantalisingly close to him during that OTT inauguration. The Professor could have reached out his hand and asked, ‘Hey Adrian. Do you know anything about all this money-laundering and kickback shit they’re pinning on you? Or are you here because of your unquestioned expertise?’
Never mind, Professor. You’ve no doubt seen the news, even though, as you kept me telling me, you didn’t pay any attention to all the corruption going on around you. You had nothing to say about the government you worked with or what you thought of their reaction to the brutal assassination of Daphne Caruana Galizia. When pushed, you laughed while angrily repeating how ‘awful’ her murder was. Short on vocabulary, short on humanity.
Short on honesty, too, like his boss, Hani Salah, who took out a libel suit against Daphne for reporting on his meet-up with – oh, look, it’s Adrian Hillman again – the guy now charged with money laundering, crime and corruption. The sick joke of all this was, as Daphne observed with her acerbic wit, that ‘the Jordanian camel-trader was, ranting and raving through Chris Cardona’s favourite firm of lawyers (after Pawlu Lia) that they’re going to sue me for libel for saying that they were in a meeting with Brian Tonna, and all the while they were in a meeting with Adrian Hillman, which is just as bad if not worse.’ The meeting took place at the Hilton Hotel, Yorgen Fenech’s stomping ground.
Brian Tonna’s got money laundering charges coming out of his ears. No coincidence that it was his company, Nexia BT, who set up offshore companies for Hillman, Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi. Two witnesses have alleged that Chris Cardona, who signed the original heads of agreement with Hani Salah to set up the AUM, conspired with others to assassinate Daphne before the plot that killed her. Cardona’s favourite lawyer is Kevin Deguara from DF Advocates, the one who recently had his home and offices raided as part of investigations related to the Vitals scandal. Not only are DF Advocates the lawyers for the AUM but Deguara is director of the Dizz Group owned by the Muscats’ besties, Karl and Diane Izzo, whose business ventures bear that miraculous trademark of eternal success. Deguara chooses his clients well as he represents the directors of Pilatus Bank, recently hit with a record €4.9 million fine for – yes, you’ve guessed it – money laundering.
It must have come as a shock to Ryder when the Public Inquiry stipulated categorically that the Maltese State is responsible for Daphne’s murder and that Joseph Muscat (affectionately referred to by Ryder as ‘Joe’) has direct responsibility for creating the culture of impunity which enabled and facilitated Daphne’s cruel assassination.
As for Hillman, Ryder confessed that yeah, he knew ‘Adrian’ – obviously not well enough to ask him if the ‘allegations’ he’d heard about him were true. I mean, it’s not the kind of question you want to ask at a dinner party, is it? It’s not polite to ask someone if they were taking huge amounts of kickbacks from the then Prime Minister’s right-hand man, Keith Schembri, later alleged to have ordered Daphne’s brutal killing. But you might want to know the answer before agreeing to sit on the same Board of Trustees with them. It’s only normal, isn’t it?
Malta, as I’ve said elsewhere, gives me a permanent feeling of nausea. Its lies, its deception, its infinite rabbit holes which lead from one grotesque interconnected pathway to another. Not even the grim findings of the Public Inquiry have stopped any of this. And just to prove it, there goes the AUM – the Mary Celeste of all learning – sneaking beneath the radar in the hope no-one will notice a magic wand being waved and hey presto! – a license is granted. Or, in this land of merciless mockery, is this an attempt at deliberate sabotage, all fingers pointed at the government who, using taxpayers’ money, will be forced to cough up? Maybe Sadeen’s AUM will be sold to Hani Healthcare for one whole euro.
Things have moved on considerably since the AUM first came into being on the 16th September 2016. Daphne Caruana Galizia, the journalist who exposed its wrongdoings, has been assassinated. Nothing gets any darker than this.
At a much smaller level – because the devious machinations of crooks can never come close to diminishing the truth of those who give their lives to reveal it – things have also changed at the crooked AUM. Ryder’s no longer rattling around in that historic building, although he’s more the fall guy than the true villain. Hillman, who sometimes shared an office with Ryder, has been charged with ‘money laundering, conspiracy to commit a crime, defrauding Progress Press, making fraudulent gain, making a false declaration to a public authority and accepting bribes as a managing director of Allied Newspapers and Chairman of Progress Press’. While he was under investigation for these crimes, his wife was ‘appointed director at the university’s only institute – the Data, Media and Society Centre – an idea promoted to the AUM board by her husband.’ Here’s hoping she doesn’t join that other wife, the spouse of Hillman’s buddy, Keith Schembri, who’s just been charged with – yep, that same old crime – money laundering. A match made in heaven as Schembri’s been charged with money laundering, criminal conspiracy, fraud and forgery, and spent time in jail before apparently succumbing to cancer. When Daphne Caruana Galizia reported on his illness in 2016, he screamed out she was lying. Knowing now that Yorgen Fenech paid for this trip to the States is even more stomach-churning – Fenech, now indicted for Daphne’s murder.
Incredulous to think that Schembri had time to proffer an interest in signing up for a course at the American University of Malta. An MBA no less, presumably to specialise in money laundering. And Ryder, that knucklehead, believed him.
Less than 3 months before Daphne’s assassination and Schembri was all too familiar with those ‘Americans’ at the Jordanian University of Baksheesh where Ryder was in a minority. Top of the heap in this ‘stars and stripes’ institution is Jordanian Hani Salah, aka Sadeen, who, like his ill-equipped colleagues at Vitals, had absolutely no experience in education when Muscat’s government signed that multi-million euro deal with him.
Nevertheless, qualifications come in handy when you’re dishing out a license for a university mired in controversy since its inception So how does the AUM measure up on this one?
Back in May this year, the AUM placed a full-page promotional ad in the Times of Malta. In fact, it was such a bona fide ad that the first attempt was swiftly taken down and replaced by another. The first is now a ghost so the second is referred to.
Unless the AUM, unlike most universities, sprang into action during COVID, it would be fascinating to see real-life examples of their ‘multi-dimensional education [sic] programmes’. Perhaps this refers to extended explanations of English verb tenses with challenging questions, such as ‘What would you do if you were studying at a real university?’
Whatever these courses involve, anything designed ‘to graduate a generation’ sounds like the nuclear option or simply someone in need of a little extra English language tuition which, judging by their pre-Covid Open Day, is pretty much all the AUM offers.
But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking the AUM operates in splendid isolation. Far from it as their May 2021 publicity stunt proudly informs us. The AUM ‘makes full use of its international partnership and collaborations with other American universities such as DePaul University in Chicago and the University of Arkansas’.
Curious because way back at the start of it all in 2015:
‘DePaul was concerned enough about the way its role was being described that it issued a statement to news outlets in Malta and to Inside Higher Ed outlining what the university will and won’t be doing there.’
3 years after this – 2 years after the AUM started operating as a fully licensed university and only minutes after the AUM fired almost all of its faculty – DePaul was once again at pains to distance itself from this ‘American-style liberal arts university’: ‘DePaul, which assisted with AUM’s curriculum development, said in a statement that the university “has no involvement with day-to-day operations of AUM”.’
As for ‘the University of Arkansas’, somebody should notify them and their lawyers. The original agreement was with Arkansas State University – another institution entirely – and their experience might further encourage the University of Arkansas to file a lawsuit against the AUM. After all, Point 30 of the Licensing Conditions for the AUM (16/9/2016) states that ‘The American University of Malta shall ensure that all adverts and student information provided by them shall be carried out with integrity and accuracy.’ Minus nul points for the AUM here.
Arkansas State University signed an agreement for a dual-degree program in March 2019, involving a trip to Malta costing over €6,400. However, doubts were soon raised when ASU faculty members learnt of the mass firing of AUM faculty members the previous year and the deal was put on hold. The partnership itself morphed into a variety of guises in the months leading up to the signing of the agreement which was later halted:
‘Within days of the signing ceremony, Arkansas State officials described the partnership as only an opportunity for students at the Malta university to receive a degree from both schools. ASU would provide online courses and curriculum to be taught in Malta and would host the Malta students during their senior years.
At one point earlier in the year, ASU had agreed to send visiting faculty members to Malta.
But when the agreement was signed in March, it was a dual-degree program in which students from each university would spend two years at each institution and earn business degrees from both schools.’
With plans as solid as this, it’s no wonder everything melted into air and, since 2019, the agreement between Arkansas State University and the AUM has remained on ice, no matter what the latter’s recent publicity says. Maybe ASU would like to sue, too.
In its recent publicity blurb, entitled ‘Upholding Quality Standards’, the AUM claim that:
‘Quality assurance programmes regularly examine administrative, academic, and service operations standards at all levels. Multi-layered audits include those implemented by an internal university team, random annual spot checks by Malta Further and Higher Education Authority, and systematic and regular audits and reviews executed by the Clemson University, South Carolina, US.’
An agreement between Clemson University and the AUM was established on the 4th of May 2016, signed by Sheila Lischwe (Director, Office of Sponsored Programs, Clemson University) and Hani Salah aka Sadeen, who actually signed the contract 2 days after the agreement was established. The Agreement sets out the Quality Assurance services to be provided by Clemson University. This website has seen a copy of this agreement.
After the mass firing of faculty in January 2018, Clemson declined to comment. This silence continues as Clemson have barely responded to emails sent to each of the names and/or positions listed as Primary Contacts for the Agreement: Director (Office of Industry Contracts), Sharon Nagy (Vice Provost for Global Engagement), and Penelope W. Brunner (Institutional Assessment). So far only Nagy has replied, despite additional questions being sent to all 3 in response to her reply.
In the first email (13/9/21), Clemson representatives were asked if Clemson was still carrying out their work for the AUM and whether this will continue if the AUM’s license is successfully renewed. Nagy replied extremely quickly, copying her reply to Provost Mosteanu, explaining that ‘due to a delay in the start of the contract services, its expiration was changed to 2022’ and further questions could be directed to the provost copied into the email. I initially assumed this was the Provost of Clemson University and was a little taken aback to discover it was the Provost at the AUM. I didn’t want to speak to the AUM – they don’t provide the services I’m interested in – I wanted to speak to Clemson. Was Nagy trying to pass the buck or sending email warning signs to someone else? Or both?
Excluding this provost, another email was sent the following day to the 3 original recipients, including a copy of Nagy’s response and questions arising from this:
‘In an article published by AUM https://timesofmalta.com/articles/view/upholding-quality-standards.868936 (2nd May 2021), it states that Clemson carried out all periodical quality assurance checks on time. Assuming this is the case, are these reports public and could you please forward me copies of them?
Sharon Nagy mentioned there was a delay in the start of the contract services and so the original expiration date was changed to 2022. The license for American University of Malta to operate as a university is valid for five years (September 2016 – September 2021). The license will only be renewed if a fully functional internal quality assurance mechanism, that is fully compliant with the guidelines issued by the National Commission for Further and Higher Education, is implemented at this institution.
Clemson’s role was part of the conditions under which the NCFHE granted the AUM its license. Did Clemson sign any other agreement with the AUM besides the Agreement for Quality Assurance Services (QA) signed by Clemson 5/4/16 and AUM 6/5/16, and invoiced by Clemson on 19/10/16 [‘Note: Per agreement, invoice $144,651 upon project start date]?
Since the resignation of Dr Lewis Walker in Nov 2019, it appears that the AUM may have been operating without a president for more than 2 years. Who has been coordinating with Clemson since then and is it normal for a university to operate without a president for such a lengthy period of time?’
Again, Nagy was the only one to respond and this remains true at the time of writing. Curiously, she sent 2 emails – one to all the recipients including me, and one to me alone. In the first, she wrote: ‘To reiterate. The contract will end in 2022 as stipulated in the current agreement.’ Well, actually no. The current agreement has a 5-year lifetime which ends now, right now, in 2021. Was Nagy’s quickfire reiteration a means of ensuring Clemson were all singing from the same hymn sheet?
In her personal email, she says that no additional agreements were signed after the original contract in 2016 and that she isn’t qualified to comment on the lack of an AUM President.
This doesn’t make sense, legally or otherwise. If there is no other agreement than the one signed in 2016 for the 5-year period ending in 2021, how can a delay in the start of the contract services magically and without a contract extend this deal to 2022, a whole year after the AUM is scheduled to have its license renewed – or not? A copy of the invoice sent by Clemson in October 2016 clearly indicates that renumeration for their work was expected to conform with the timeframe outlined in the original Agreement.
There was, however, a delay in the AUM paying Clemson’s fees as the following document shows. The date of this payment appears in Arabic at the top right-hand side: 9th March 2017.
Who knows why a highly esteemed institution like the American University of Malta would want to delay paying the people checking its quality but, according to an anonymous source connected to the AUM, Clemson threatened to terminate the agreement twice due to such delays? Given 2 out of the 3 Clemson staff failed to respond to repeated emails, it seems like they may want to terminate communication with me as well.
Onwards and upwards to the license review which should have already taken place. Not looking good if the recent External Quality Assurance Audit Report is anything to go by, conducted by an ‘independent peer review panel’ in October 2020. On the surface, it looks pretty damning, but you always need to scratch beneath the surface with the AUM. The ‘independent peer review panel’ was nominated by the NCFHE and the AUM approved their choice.
An in-depth analysis of this report needs to be undertaken to fully illuminate potential conflicts and contradictions but – again on the surface – its findings would suggest that the AUM is nowhere near ready to have its license renewed. Nevertheless, in a hall of mirrors where letters are written and documents created by miscreant lawyers, there is every chance that despite the lack of ‘transparency and predictability of its activities for both internal and external stakeholders’, the White Rabbit will wave its magical wand. Joseph Muscat and his criminal organisation arrived with a ready-made roadmap in 2013 and the AUM was a specific part of this.
If the AUM is in breach of the conditions then, as the Man of the Year in Organised Crime and Corruption declared in his Inauguration speech, all the AUM’s facilities and land will be returned to the government. If it appears to be the reverse, however – and anything can happen in the land of illusions – then what? My prediction is that the outcome of any arbitration process would see Hani Salah/Sadeen and his co-conspirators (Muscat, Schembri, Chris Cardona etc) come out winning while DF Advocates would be generously paid for their work. But this is purely speculation.
Such uncertainty and lack of transparency feature frequently in the Audit Report, including confusion due to the lack of a President:
‘The institution used to have a President and now has a Chief Executive Officer; it is unclear to the panel how the institution defines the difference between the two and what determined this change. Some institutional documentation still makes reference to the President instead of the CEO. The panel is unsure if the CEO is replacing the role of the President or if a President is still to be recruited in the future.’
To reiterate, the last president, Lewis Walker, resigned in November 2019 and, since then, the AUM has been operating without one. God knows what ‘its students and…leaders of tomorrow’ make of all this. Let’s hope they’re not those selected and paid for by the government (aka the Maltese taxpayer) at a price set at Hani Salah’s discretion. Government Selected Students no less and Hani-Sadeen attaches his own price tag to them all.
More, much more, of this to come, but in the meantime, somebody needs to whisper in the ear of the NCFHE or the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority as it’s now called. Blink and you’ve missed the latest rabbit disappearing down the next hole in Malta.
Neither the Malta Further and Higher Education Authority nor the AUM responded to questions submitted to them via email.
Oh, and by the way. At the beginning, I referred to a piece I wrote arising from my experience at the AUM’s Open Day on the 4th of July 2019. It’s called ‘We are open in everything – A Trip to the American University of Malta’ (7/7/2019). This is the link.
The irony is that it’s impossible to open this article.
If you manage, do let me know. This website has seen evidence that the AUM hacked not only the university emails of its staff, but their private emails, too. In a world of deceit, illegality and illusion, there’s no end to what people can do.