Zonqor campus. Much worse than a bad deal | Adrian Delia

Eddie Fenech Adami’s fight was about freedom: our freedom to live our lives in a collective responsibility to guarantee the freedom and the dignity of each and every member of our community

90 plots of land. Seafront. That is the sole motivation of the so-called American University of Malta enterprise between Jordanian construction magnate Sadeen and the government of Joseph Muscat.

Were it just a very bad business deal, trading virgin ODZ land for close to nothing in return, we would criticise the government’s wisdom with the handling of our assets. But this is much worse than that. With the Sadeen deal, Muscat is not only robbing the Maltese taxpayer of pristine land for generations to come, he is also insulting our reputable educational institutions while pushing an onslaught against their autonomy and freedom of association.

While we owe nothing to Sadeen and his phantom 4,000 students we owe a lot to the University of Malta and to MCAST. Our alma mater is one of the oldest in Europe, dating back to 1592, weathering the Knights of Malta, the French occupation and the English empire’s promotion to Royal University. The University, from the Latin “universitas magistrorum et scholarium” refers to the grouping of knowledge of teachers eager to pass it on to students. This is how universities became the movers of society from the middle ages to the renaissance, by passing on knowledge from the willing to teach to the willing to learn.

Sadeen has nobody willing to teach, given that it fired them, and nobody willing to learn, given that only 14 out of the promised 4,000 registered for its courses

The Sadeen enterprise has none of these essential ingredients. It has nobody willing to teach, given that it fired them, and it has nobody willing to learn, given that only 14 out of the promised 4000 registered for its courses. In fact, short of the land in Zonqor to house eight blocks of nine-storey-high buildings and a name which is alien to the enterprise by way of geography as well as by way of identity, there is nothing concrete about the American University of Malta.

Is this therefore another Muscat blunder to be explained in the same way our readers can explain many other “projects” involving Keith Schembri and Konrad Mizzi? Well, most probably it responds to some of the same motivations. But this is much worse as it is coupled with a series of initiatives aimed at weakening our reputable institutions.

While we organise a free, all-you-can-eat buffet for Sadeen in Zonqor, Evarist Bartolo is carrying out an exercise of putting our real University to order by shedding it of its autonomy. Bartolo’s proposal brazenly suggests, black on white, the setting up of a governing board tasked to approve the University’s decisions, including its annual budget. Guess who is to appoint those on the governing board? No surprise – the Prime Minister. This assault on the University’s autonomy is evidently a break with the long-standing practice and tradition of government respecting the autonomy of the University. Bartolo’s Bill has been bravely contested and lambasted by our students as well as by the academic staff earlier in November last year.

As a father myself I am responsible, like many of you reading, for the education of my children. All parents, as all educators will concord that in educating our children we should strive to pass on a value system rather than just chunks of knowledge.

The transmission of values is much more complex than the transmission of knowledge. Values are rendered through example, not through lectures. The example that this government is transmitting to our children through its example in education is that money trumps virtue, that free thinking may be controlled after all, that a lecturer can be fired due to his illness and that freedom of association can be muzzled by court action. Indeed, this government is busily engaged in reshaping the values of Maltese society whereby we are being asked: Who needs freedom when we can have money? Some acquiesce to that question, others are less aware that their endorsement of government is part of this horrid transformation. A few others dare to stand up and resist.

This week I met President Emeritus, former Prime Minister and leader of the Nationalist party Eddie Fenech Adami. In his eyes, I could see the glimmer of passion of the battles he fought and won for this country. Eddie’s fight was to the benefit of this whole nation. It is only thanks to him that we can stand as equals with our European partners and that our quality of life today is much better that it was a few decades back.

But if one would reduce Eddie’s fight to the essence, his fight was not about money, nor about power. Eddie’s fight was about freedom: our freedom to live our lives in a collective responsibility to guarantee the freedom and the dignity of each and every member of our community.

It is this vision of freedom that sprung MCAST from zero to 7,000 students and the University of Malta from the dark ages of the numerus clausus to the hub of creativity that it is today. That vision of freedom is today in peril by pseudo-liberals who speak about openness but practise oppression.

On the phantom university at Zonqor, we have many supporters, but we cannot make it on our own against the powers of a government ready to buy out any adverse opinion. I call on all of you out there to join us in this struggle, for we are destined to win in our quest for freedom.

Adrian Delia is Opposition leader

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