Rewriting history? Why the Al-Maktoum College of Higher Education behaved unforgivably
The need for truth and justice is a different emotion to deal with.
It screams violently within your body, pounding all day in your head, telling you things that you already know.
I have had to learn to deal with this, on a daily basis, in the past few years.
It feels like now is as good a time as any to have my say about the outrageous behaviour of my former colleagues at the Al-Maktoum College. There is much to be said, but I will just say a few things briefly here, or as briefly as I can manage in the context of a blog post.
I don’t know where this blog might go. It will end up most likely as a full book on the lessons to be learnt from the pain that I (and several of my friends, as well as my family) have been made to suffer.
Please consider this, though, a work in progress.
If they happen to read this blog, as they may possibly do, the people at the Al-Maktoum who behaved so badly may feel happy and secure that the tribunal system worked out in their favour.
That is because the justice system, as we already know, hugely favours the dollar – justice is bought at the price of a competent advocate. Unfortunately, although I may be a reasonably good academic (and was for a short time a moderately successful academic manager), I was not able to succeed in my brief time spent as an untrained legal representative in the employment tribunal court (representing both myself and my wife Isabel).
The tribunal panel found against both our claims. They did so in ways for which there are still possibilities of successful appeals, but again the system does not favour the unqualified. Neither does it favour those who cannot afford the qualified. As they say, the Al-Maktoums have very deep pockets.
I am still aghast and astonished about the decision that was made. I get the point the tribunal made when they came to their decision. They thought I was lying (thanks!), making things up in a way that is politely known in the system as ‘misconceived’. They also said that I ‘rewrote history’, which I still do not quite understand.
I told things how they were, and no one in the tribunal came anywhere near to giving a satisfactory alternative version of what happened.
The main protagonist, the ‘respectable’ Lord Elder (a close childhood friend of the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown) claimed he could not even remember the most basic of details. The main facts he could remember were those that he had written out for himself in the letters that he sent to me.
I will summarise some of the key matters that apparently I ‘rewrote’.
I worked at this college for a number of years, in total from 2002 until 2012. I enjoyed much of it, but at points it was a hard struggle.
(For most of that time, it was the ‘Al-Maktoum Institute’, until I took the trouble to give it the name it currently uses, the ‘Al-Maktoum College’. Much of what it currently is bears my direct imprint, from the text on its website, to the ideas that it tries to implement.)
Before I reluctantly took the position of Principal in 2007, my former colleague from the University of Stirling had that role. That was Abd al-Fattah El-Awaisi, the person who largely thought up the project and put it together.
To cut a long story short, Abd al-Fattah did not behave in a way that did fair justice to his good intentions. Soon after he began in the role as Principal, he gained a reputation for being a bully, for treating other people badly, and for showing a nepotism that involved filling the place with his family, at every level.
I had worked with him before, but it was not until I had signed on the dotted line and left my previous job that I discovered the extent of the problem. Then it was much more difficult to walk away from it. I don’t know even today whether I should have done so.
Lord Elder was fully aware of these problems, as were many others – after all there had been a large splash in the Glasgow Herald in May 2003 about Abd al-Fattah.
Troubled times at the Arabic institute Principal denies intimidation and treating students like children, 15 May 2003
… A series of complaints by staff and students have been uncovered by an investigation by The Herald. Central to the grievances is Abd al-Fattah El-Awaisi, the institute’s principal, who is accused of unreasonable behaviour. … Students have claimed that they were treated ”like children”, and intimidated by Professor El-Awaisi. There are also claims of favouritism involving the professor’s wife and son.
In the tribunal in 2012, Lord Elder claimed that he could not remember this very well, and that he did not have any discussions with Abd al-Fattah on this matter.
That was a strange thing to say, as Lord Elder spoke to Abd al-Fattah on a regular basis, and recommended his friend from the Labour Party David Whitton as a press consultant to the college when the bad news broke. I knew this, as I was in Abd al-Fattah’s office when the phone call was made to Lord Elder about this.
The college was (and still is) a small place. It has never had more than around 15-20 members of staff. During his time as Principal, Abd al-Fattah saw the appointment of six members of his close family as staff, in addition to this his wife Ayesha was a sleeping member of the Board of Directors. At times it felt much more like the ‘El-Awaisi Institute’ than the Al-Maktoum.
The people at the top of the college knew this very clearly. Abd al-Fattah told me at times that he had been told to appoint his family by the Dubai members of the board – I was not in a position to contest this argument. I heard a different story later on, particular from Mirza al-Sayegh the chairman of the board, who in retrospect seems to have been fully aware of Abd al-Fattah’s interests in using the college to promote his family’s interests.
Despite all this, Abd al-Fattah was never in threat of losing his job, even when the allegation against him were very clearly out in the public domain for everyone to see, and no investigation was made at the top level of the college to see if there was any truth in the allegations. Nothing at all.
And when Abd al-Fattah left the college in 2007, Lord Elder gave him a special award for his achievements. To quote Lord Elder in a letter he wrote to Abd al-Fattah on 22 February that year…
I want to make it very clear that I would regard your departure from the [Al-Maktoum] Institute as a very serious blow. … But the loss of you to the Institute I cannot regard as anything other than very unhelpful to the Institute and its growing reputation. I would be very loath to accept anything that would put the reputation of the Institute, and the good it has done for Dubai, and the standing of the Shaikh in Scotland and further afield, at risk. … In the mean time, I very much look forward to continuing to work closely with you, in the exciting times we have ahead for the Institute. (Letter from Lord Elder to Abd al-Fattah, Feb 2007)
I will pause here, to let this narrative speak a little for itself. Everything I have said here is grounded in facts, proven facts – letters, newspaper articles, press releases, and the like. There was indeed one long letter by a student telling of his outrage at Abd al-Fattah’s behaviour.
I worked alongside Abd al-Fattah, I could add many of my own stories to the list. I think there are many others who could too, including Mr Abubaker and his wife Alison.
I think the question to conclude on here is why did the board of the Al-Maktoums do nothing about these concerns raised against Abd al-Fattah? Would it not have benefitted everyone, including Abd al-Fattah himself, if they had taken the trouble to clear the air?