Taltech rector Jaak Aaviksoo rejects alumni calls to resign

Taltech Rector Jaak Aaviksoo.
Taltech Rector Jaak Aaviksoo. Source: Siim Lõvi/ERR

Tallinn University of Technology (TTÜ) rector Jaak Aaviksoo has rejected calls for his resignation, in the wake of whistleblower revelations in the media about the alleged misuse of EU funds, which directly led to the prosecutor's office opening a criminal investigation.

Two of Aaviksoo's predecessors at TTÜ, known internationally as Taltech, as well as dozens of prominent university alumni, made their feelings known Friday evening, via an open letter.

The signatories, including former rectors Andres Keevallik and Olav Aarna, as well as several former university professors and other alumni, stated the view that recent developments are either totally unacceptable for the university's reputation, or constitute actions causing irreparable damage to its reputation.

Aaviksoo's response in his own open letter as published by ERR's online news in Estonian is as follows:

"I am appealing to the public concerning a proposal for me to resign as rector of the Taltech."

"The people who made the demands – mostly emeritus professors and their alumni supporters – are familiar to me. The profound changes resulting from the university's development plan – extensive structural reform, curriculum modernization, tenure professor positions, as well as the new acronym introduced with the support of the university council and board of trustees and students – have not always been easy and decisions have not always been consensual."

"I respect those colleagues who have taken different positions and their supporters among the alumni body. Unfortunately, the criticism has not always been constructive, especially by those members are not active in the university."

"To advance the university, decisions must be made which ensure its sustainable development, and on this I remain firm – changes are needed to move forward."

"The accusations against the [Ragnar] Nurkse Department [of Innovation and Governance – the RNI] and the university which appeared in Postimees are very serious. Investigations has been launched by the university and by the prosecutor's office. As at present, the central task is to find out the truth; after that we can begin to make decisions. This organization is the rector's responsibility."

"In the light of the above, I do not consider resigning the responsible thing to do at present. I shall resign immediately an investigation is made into any suspicions of criminal offense against me personally, or into the university."

"It is vital that we understand exactly what happened and why it happened, connected to the RNI's project management. It will then be up to us to decide who is responsible for what, and what we need to do to make such things as rare an event as is humanly possible. But I want to take this opportunity to say one thing: Extending individual cases to attacks on the scientific community is unacceptable demagoguery. The denigration of top-notch scientists and researchers in the face of personal fear or emotional reactions is not a mature way to go."

 "We safeguard our people, we safeguard what is good withi the vortex of necessary changes, compromising on that which cannot be tolerated. Honest whistleblowing, as well as journalistic research, has been and continues to be needed because it also shines a light on old corners that have not seen a cloth or brush [in a long time]. I call upon the leaders of Estonia's research and education to protect and promote scientific leadership together – even in areas where it has been more convenient to tolerate bureaucratic inefficiencies."

 Jaak Aaviksoo, Rector of Tallinn University of Technology.

The story broke a week and a half ago in daily Postimees, after a whistleblower went to the paper with concerns that EU funds had been used at the Ragnar Nurkse Institute, among other things, to pay individuals for work on projects which they had had nothing to do with. The whistleblower, soon named in the media as Keegan McBride, a former RNI employee and current PhD student (at Taltech), said he had first given Aaviksoo his information in March this year and that while the latter had expressed his concerns, nothing had apparently been done to rectify the situation since then.

The prosecutor's office opened a criminal investigation into the activities early on this week, directly as a result of the media reports, it said.

In February this year, an open letter opposed to the official renaming of the university as Taltech, unofficially introduced in late 2018 on Aaviksoo's watch, saw 14 signatories, again former rectors, deans and similar, as well as an additional 34 named professors at the university, opposing the way in which the name change was carried out, rather than the name change itself. The signatories claimed this had not taken place in accord with university statutes.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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