Four members of the Board of Governors of Tallinn University of Technology (TUT) stood down today, amid controversy surrounding the election of the new rector, former education minister and IRL politician Jaak Aaviksoo.
One of the leading universities in Estonia has for the past month been dragged into nasty argument over the election process of its new rector.
The TUT's Board of Governors elected Aaviksoo rector by 8 votes in favor on May 22, but four members, part of a 11-strong board, later said that they did not vote for the former government minister, meaning that at least one of the eight votes Aaviksoo received, could have been forged.
Despite this accusation and the fact that 25 members of the 41-member TUT Council also decided against Aaviksoo in a separate vote – 28 votes against would have been needed to veto Board of Governors' selection – on June 17, rest of the governors still stood by their choice.
On June 25, group of TUT employees, including two professors, took the decision to appoint Aaviksoo as the university's new rector, to court.
Before the Board of Governors convened for today's meeting, to finally confirm Aaviksoo as rector, one opposing member disclosed to online portal Delfi that he had been threatened by another governor.
Mart Saarma, one of the most cited Estonian scientists with more than 200 publications and over 10,000 citations on his name, said that Toomas Luman, a prominent businessman and influential mover and shaker in Estonia, rang him and “warned about getting involved with a wrong sort of people”, a reference to other three governors who opposed Aaviksoo's appointment, apart from Saarma himself.
“Luman suggested to think over what 'side to choose',” Saarma said.
“I have not received a phone call like this for the last 25 years,” he said, adding that applying pressure like this should not belong to a democratic European country. “It only cemented my belief that we are not talking about electing the best rector candidate here, but there is another motivation behind it.”
Luman confirmed the call, but told Delfi that there must have been “miscommunication“ between him and Saarma.
Today, Toomas Luman and three other governors resigned from the TUT's Board. In a letter delivered to Education Minister Jürgen Ligi, they said that TUT must have the new rector in place by new academic year, but due to circumstances surrounding the election process, they step aside.
The controversial election process is feared to slow down the development of the Tallinn University of Technology, where the alumni include world-class Estonian scientists, engineers and start-up entrepreneurs. TUT has been ranked among the 500 best universities in the world.
Editor: S. Tambur