The crisis between the Egyptian government and university professors entered a new phase when the government missed an August 1st deadline to replace university heads appointed by the previous regime and to address complaints about the decline in faculty salaries.
Movements led by university professors in several provinces have threatened to increase their protests to include sit-ins and teaching strikes if the government does not respond to their demands.
Over the past four months, university independence movements, composed of thousands of professors and students, protested against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. Education officials are demanding independence from the executive branch and an increase in salaries and scientific research budgets.
More than a hundred university professors representing most of Egypt's public universities demanded earlier this month that the government implement a July decision to replace all university leaders appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak's government.
In a letter addressed to the Minister of Higher Education Motaz Khurshid, the professors listed three demands: replacement of current university leaders, free elections among faculty members, and an increase in appropriations for scientific research and professors' salaries.
The demands also include extending health insurance benefits to lecturers and teaching assistants, the right to choose supervisors of masters and doctoral thesis, and lifting all restrictions on foreign travel and attendance at international conferences.
A wave of demonstrations swept Egypt's universities, particularly in Ain Shams, Cairo, Alexandria and Suez in March that lasted over a month.
The largest demonstration occurred in Zagazig University in Sharqia province where thousands of teachers and students demanded the dismissal of University President Ibrahim al-Damati because he was a member of the former ruling National Democratic Party.
The crisis reached its peak when the Coalition of University Faculties, whose membership includes thousands of university professors, threatened to go on strike July 3rd if the deans and heads of universities were not replaced.
Sharaf issued a decision July 3rd calling for replacement of all university leaders by August 1st, but the decision has not been implemented.
In an attempt to contain the crisis, the new Higher Education Minister Motaz Khurshid said there was no crisis with university professors and promised their demands would be met soon as possible.
He said in a statement issued July 6th, "The ministry is working towards a compromise by meeting with many of the political groups and university leaders and faculty members to strike a balance between maintaining the current university leaders and the expectations for change in the upcoming phase."
Khurshid said two proposals for selecting new university leaders were submitted to public university department boards, and responses from the boards are expected to arrive no later than the middle of the month.
According to the law governing universities, the executive branch appoints university presidents, their deputies, deans, and department heads.
During the Mubarak regime many appointments were made by the state security officials, which meant an applicant for university leadership was denied if the individual opposed the regime or was affiliated with a party other than the former ruling National Democratic Party.
Dr. Hani al-Husseini, a founding member of the March 9th Movement for the Independence of Universities, told Al-Shorfa that the solution is to follow through with replacement of all university leaders before the new academic year begins.
He said two proposals that were submitted regarding selection of university leadership call for either direct free elections among candidates who meet standards or indirect elections by elected committees composed of senior faculty members representing an electoral college.
"The objective of either of those two systems is to ensure integrity, transparency, and administrative and financial independence from the state," al-Husseini said.
Dr. Awatef Abdul Rahman, a professor at the College of Media at Cairo University and an activist in the Movement for the Independence of Universities, said, "Universities are an important component of the movement for comprehensive change. Democracy and social justice in Egypt will not be achieved while university education continues to decline and the leaders who were appointed by state security and the former regime are kept in office. "
She said financial, administrative, and academic independence and ensuring accountability and transparency within the university are necessary for the universities to become effective agents for change in society.
Dr. Sahar Yusuf, an assistant professor at Ain Shams University, said, "The low salaries and limited research budgets are what caused the deterioration in science standards among professors. You rarely find an equipped workshop anymore unless it was acquired through a grant from an international organization or company."
Yusuf said there are severe constraints on travel for lecturers and assistant professors on scientific research missions abroad and participation in international conferences.
"There is a great deal of corruption among the deans and heads of colleges who manage this without any accountability," she said