YSU’s last rector, Aram Simonian, resigned in May 2019 under government pressure. Pashinian and his associates accused him of placing YSU under the strong influence of the former ruling Republican Party of Armenia.
Critics say the post of YSU rector remains vacant because of the current government’s failure to replace Simonian with a figure loyal to it.
Under Armenian law, the rectors of this and other state universities are appointed by their boards of trustees. Most board members are chosen by university faculties as well as student councils.
The YSU board was disbanded this spring due to the resignations of half of its members which were reportedly engineered by the government. That allowed the Armenian Ministry of Justice to form an ad hoc panel of three officials who named Hovannes Hovannisian the university’s caretaker rector.
Hovannisian, 41, has taught theology at YSU since 2003. Until this week he was also a senior member of Armenia’s former parliament affiliated with Pashinian’s My Step alliance.
Hovannisian insisted that he is now an “apolitical and non-partisan” figure as he was presented to senior YSU professors by Education Minister Vahram Dumanian on Thursday.
“The university must become a real educational establishment that is free from political, partisan or any other influence,” he said.
Speaking to journalists after the meeting, Dumanian declined to explain the choice of YSU’s new acting head. “What is it that you don’t like? … What is your problem?” the minister said.
“This is a political decision that runs counter to democratic principles,” said Menua Soghomonian, one of the YSU professors who have challenged the government in recent months.
Soghomonian argued that Hovannisian was one of the authors of a controversial government bill passed by the National Assembly in March.
The bill strongly opposed by the YSU faculty would empower the government to appoint most members of the university boards.
In a ruling handed down on Monday, the Constitutional Court declared the bill unconstitutional. The court cited an article of the Armenian constitution which entitles state-funded colleges to a high degree of autonomy.
Pashinian and his associates, among them young scholars, pledged to give universities more freedom from the government after they swept to power in 2018.