Do read Kevin Cassar’s article of today where he spots, while apparently the Opposition wasn’t looking – does it ever? – a new law presented for Parliament’s rubber stamp that will remove any doubt, if any still existed, that the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology is under the absolute control of the government and anyone there who might have a dissenting opinion will get the chop.

Kevin Cassar puts the new law in context. A teacher at the college dared to say aloud that he didn’t think the teaching methods at the school were up to scratch. He wasn’t caught swindling the school’s lab fund. He didn’t touch a student inappropriately. He wasn’t moonlighting on school premises. The teacher said he thought the school could do better by its students if it changed the way it did some things. The students would learn more.

Without presuming to have the competence of evaluating whether he was correct, I can still see that a teacher has a right to have an opinion on teaching methods and has the duty to say it aloud.

The government didn’t think so and they proceeded to ruin the teacher’s career, humiliating him, taking him away from his students, treating him as ombudsman Vincent Degaetano found, with oppressive and “degrading treatment”.

This was before the government changed the law. If they could degrade anyone who stood up to them, why do they need to write a law that gives them the right to degrade anyone whose stands up to them?

Because even though they do as they please no matter what the law says, they don’t want others pointing out they’re breaking the law. In this case an ombudsman found them oppressing and degrading a public servant. A judge found the government’s decision to transfer a higher education expert to an administrative job in a junior school as “vindictive” and ordered them to stop. The government ignored the first judge until another judge told them “to stop playing with words”.

The government has decided that this inconvenient nagging from people pointing out to the government what the law says must stop. So, they’re changing the law to enable the minister to fire people at will, no questions asked.

Kevin Cassar summed it up this way: “Labour cannot tolerate the rule of law. Its ministers must have absolute power and total control. No ombudsman, no court is going to interfere in who they kick out, who they ruin. Nobody is going to force them to keep a stickler amongst their staff.”

I’d like to elaborate on that.

A few weeks ago, an Opposition MP – for sometimes they are indeed alive – was derided by the government for comparing another dictatorial decision of the government (to abolish the requirement of cross-party consensus to appoint a standards commissioner) to the behaviour of Adolf Hitler.

The government MPs went bananas. Surely the man and the government that ordered and executed the mass extermination of millions in death camps cannot be compared with anyone else. The Jews on the trains to Auschwitz would have been grateful had the ruler of Nazi Germany been sweet and cuddly Robert Abela and all that jazz.

Admittedly, comparing anything with the Nazis sounds and is likely to be a grotesque exaggeration. But sometimes, because of the Nazis of 1945, we miss out on the benefit of useful comparisons with the Nazis of 1933.

Bit by bit this government is applying a veneer of legitimisation to a series of enabling laws that are cementing their tyranny. They are getting democracy to license them to supplant it.

Since they are extremely capable at breaking their hostile take-over down to unrecognisable elements of subterfuge, every little thing they do feels too innocuous to be too bothered with.

This thing they’re doing with the rules of MCAST is much more significant than it looks. The absolute hire and fire power the government is giving itself on the board running the college is, by definition, an outrage to the fundamental democratic requirement for academic autonomy and freedom.

MCAST is an institution that grants degrees. It is an institution that grants degrees that at least in one profession – engineers – is sufficient for eligibility to a professional warrant. More are likely to follow. Although they don’t call it that because it is not a research institution as such, its graduates are graduates of a university in all but name.

In a functioning democracy it is essential for universities to be autonomous from government or central control. It is essential that teachers, researchers, and students are given the space to think freely and critically without fear of retribution. It is essential that the government is held back from controlling administrators of universities or to have the power, through governors it appoints and has full discretion on dismissing and replacing, to fire or punish academics and students whose opinions it disapproves of.

Now I don’t want to suggest the University of Malta is or has ever been completely free of some form of government influence. The government holds the purse strings and to some extent no government has entirely resisted the temptation of leaning on the university.

But the notions provided for in this new law governing MCAST would be unimaginable for the University. They’re the sort of license to control that the government had on the old Upper Lyceum until the enlightened decision to pass the institution away from the minister and under the control of the University as a Junior College giving its staff a measure of distance from the intrusions of the government.

Again, nothing was ever entirely and completely free of the overbearing influence of government.

But academics at the University of Malta do not expect they will lose their jobs, or have their pictures stuck to the gates of the campus so that security guards can block their entrance, or be faced by a ban from speaking to students, if they were to criticise teaching methods.

The point here is that the government is not introducing a law to clamp down on academic freedom at the University. It is instead reasserting with unprecedented heavy handedness its complete control on an institution that is fast becoming – in terms of degrees for taught programs – an alternative to the University.

It’s exactly how a tyrannical government would want its work force trained, by teachers with no time for their own research, and with no space to express any views outside the state-mandated dogma.

That is comparable to the Nazis. Or to Maoists if you like. First order of business is to make examples of free-thinking academics and to mobilise students away from a free-thinking environment that only an autonomous university which is also a research institution can provide and to dragoon them instead through the sausage machine of learning how to comply rather than how to think and to speak up. “We need believing people,” was Hitler’s answer to the argument that universities produce thinking people.

Second order of business is making laws that create the fiction that this is fine. If democracy wants to be less democratic, how dare teachers and professors complain?

First, they came for the geology teacher, and you said nothing because you weren’t a geology student. And then there was no one to complain when they came for you.