The supervisory board of Yerevan State University (YSU) on Thursday narrowly failed to sack its long-serving rector, Aram Simonian, who is under mounting pressure by the Armenian government to resign.
In December, a government body subordinate to Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian implicated the YSU administration in serious financial irregularities.
The Armenian police likewise alleged last week that Simonian has embezzled YSU funds and engaged in other corrupt practices over the past decade. They asked another law-enforcement body to launch a formal investigation.
Simonian, who has run Armenia’s oldest and largest university since 2006, angrily denied the allegations, linking them to his continuing membership in the former Republican Party of Armenia (HHK). The 63-year-old said he will not step down before serving out his current term in office in 2020.
YSU’s Board of Trustees met on Thursday to discuss some of its members’ proposal to cut short Simonian’s tenure. Only 12 members of the board voted for including the issue on the meeting’s agenda. Thirteen others voted against that.
“We have no agenda and I declare that the meeting is over,” said the recently appointed board chairman, Gevorg Muradian.
The board has a total of 32 members. Half of them are appointed by the government. The others are chosen by the YSU faculty and students.
On Wednesday, Education Minister Arayik Harutiunian categorically denied media allegations that law-enforcement bodies are pressuring board members to vote for Simonian’s ouster. “I will resign as soon as it is proved that the police or the National Security Service exerted pressure on any board member,” he told reporters.
Harutiunian reiterated his calls for Simonian’s resignation but denied any political motives behind them. He argued that some senior officials at the Armenian Ministry of Education remain affiliated with the HHK and that he is not trying to force them out.
“[Simonian] is trying to politicize things, drawing his colleagues into this process,” said the minister who has for years taught at YSU. “I would urge his colleagues not to succumb to those provocations.”
A member of HHK since 1997, Simonian had long been accused by his detractors of suppressing student activism and placing YSU under the strong influence of the party headed by former President Serzh Sarkisian.