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Questions over new UTT hire

Published: 
Sunday, May 13, 2018

Questions now surround the appointment of new University of T&T (UTT) Prof Wasi Uz Zaman Khan.

Khan was recently hired as head of the Water Resources Engineering, Project Management and Civil Infrastructure Systems (PMCIS) department, even as the university moved to cut staff in a first round of retrenchment on Friday.

Khan is originally from Pakistan but was said to be residing in Canada at the time he applied to UTT. But there are now questions about his affiliation to a senior UTT member and whether this may have influenced the selection process.

Despite facing serious financial difficulty, UTT last month placed additional vacancy ads for both a professor and associate professor for the department. The vacancy ad was published on April 9 for a professor—Structural Engineering, Project Management and Civil Infrastructure Systems. The deadline for applicants was on May 8. According to the “job/purpose/summary”, the applicant/s had to provide strategic and operational direction and overall leadership to the respective academic programme.

The university has since received several applications for the post, including several people applying from the Middle East region—a few of them allegedly said to be well-known to or connected to UTT president Sarim Al-Zubaidy.

UTT deputy chairman of the board of governors, Prof Clement Imbert, has confirmed several applicants were from the Middle East region but added that Al-Zubaidy said he knew of the applicants very well and immediately recused himself.

The vacancy ad was placed by UTT since last year and UTT president Sarim Al-Zubaidy sent a memo to staff last month (April 30) announcing Khan’s appointment and that he would take up duty the following day—May 1, 2018.

The Sunday Guardian was told Khan’s appointment came as a shock to UTT staff, with many alleging Khan was a close acquaintance of Al-Zubaidy.

On April 14, in an interview with the Sunday Guardian, deputy chairman of the UTT board of governors, Prof Clement Imbert, admitted the university had received several applications for the post, including from people from the Middle East. Imbert said then too that Al-Zubaidy said he knew one of the applicants very well and immediately recused himself.

However, the Sunday Guardian managed to get a copy of the Interview Report Form (IRF), which listed Al-Zubaidy in the number one position of panel members who conducted interviews last November. The other four members were: Prof Winston Suite, Prof Rodney Rambally, Prof Betty Mc Donald and Leah Ramgattie, who is the vice-president of Human Resources (acting).

The IRF stated that five people —Dr Wasi Uz Zamman Khan; Jose Ochoa-Iturbe; Dr Lawal Abdool Qayoom Tunji and Michael Rishi Baldeo—were shortlisted for the position but only four were interviewed.

According to ResearchGate.com, Al-Zubaidy listed Khan as one of his co-authors on a research paper. On the same website, Khan also listed Al-Zubaidy as one of his co-authors.

According to the summary rating for the interview process, Khan possesses a PhD in Energy and Environmental Management, B.Eng Chemical Engineering and BSc Chemistry and Physiology. The summary rating stated Qayoom Tunji also possesses a PhD in Environmental Engineering and an MSc in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

At the end of the interview process, the panel reportedly felt Qayoom Tunji was not a good candidate “due to his limited leadership and strategic skillset and did not recommend him. In Khan’s case, the panel recommended him given his academic leadership and accreditation experience, “coupled with his goal-oriented and results-driven passion.”

Contacted on the issue, deputy chairman of the UTT board of governors, Prof Clement Imbert, reiterated that Al-Zubaidy knew Khan but recused himself from the interview process. Imbert also said Al-Zubaidy told him he worked with Khan in Kazakhstan, adding he could only go by what he was told by Al-Zubaidy.

When told that Al-Zubaidy’s name appeared on the IRF, Imbert’s response was, “Well, maybe he recognised after the fact and recused himself…I don’t know.”

Imbert said Khan will be the only full-time professor in the department and assured his appointment “replaces no locals.” But on allegations that there were no courses at the university to facilitate Khan’s expertise, Imbert said he was needed in hydrology. Imbert added that Khan’s appointment and Al-Zubaidy knowing him was “no issue.”

In a previous interview, Imbert had said that the Civil Engineering Faculty was unable to get the required accreditation because they do not have staff of a certain qualification level—meaning someone with a PhD qualification.

More imfo

UTT president Prof Sarim Al-Zubaidy has welcomed the new head of the Water Resources Engineering, Project Management and Civil Infrastructure Systems department, Prof Wasi Khan, to the institution.

In a memo to staff, Al-Zubaidy recognised Khan’s over 15 years of academic experience, five years’ industry experience and ten years’ managerial experience.

“Professor Khan has worked as the head of various engineering and quality assurance departments, including acting Dean at the School of Engineering, Nazarbayev University,” Al-Zubaidy said.

“As an Environmental Engineer, Professor Khan has considerable international experience having participated in programmes and institutional building in Asia and North America. He collaborated with teaching faculty in various universities internationally, on water and wastewater treatment and solid waste management. His research areas of interest include water resource engineering, energy and environment, air pollution, water and wastewater treatment, engineering education and waste management,” he added.

Al-Zubaidy added that Khan “will provide academic leadership, primarily through demonstrating and fostering excellence in research, teaching in the area of Water Resources Engineering and through the provision of guidance and assistance to staff in developing their capacity for teaching and research.”

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