Letter to the Editor | Imprudent and inaccurate comments by University of Saint Joseph Rector

In an article about a new management structure at the University of Saint Joseph that appeared in the Macau Daily Times on Tuesday 30 September, the Rector Peter Stillwell was reported as saying that “back in 2012 when he was appointed rector ‘there was a big scandal in the media’ regarding the way the new campus was being funded. ‘It was said that funds hadn’t been well managed,’ and therefore the Catholic Foundation decided to appoint a new team to run the university”.
Given that I was responsible within the university for its new campus project at that time, and that I was working closely with the appointed project management company – Macau Professional Services – I cannot let this imprudent and inaccurate comment stand. I can categorically state that at no time did anybody from the media, or from the university, or anywhere else ever raise any credible questions about the quality of the management or use of funds relating to the new campus project with me. Nor did I ever see any evidence of a supposed ‘big scandal’ on this issue. Macau Professional Services also did not report any such issue in our regular meetings.
The new campus for the University of Saint Joseph was a very difficult project that was very well managed at that time given the difficult constraints that we were working under. Very little funding was available for the project. Nonetheless, the project team was able to secure a site for the new campus and to successfully resolve land ownership issues related to the site. It was also able to get a world class, ‘green’ campus design concept by a respected Japanese architectural team that was then fleshed out by Macau Professional Services. Finally, with limited funding, the team was able to cost effectively clear the site and pile the foundations, using an open and transparent tender process. Then we had to wait until more funding became available before further progress could be made, which took an unexpectedly long time. All new campus spending was fully accounted for and there was never any suggestion of any impropriety concerning any new campus related work made to the team managing the project.
I am very disappointed that the Rector should make such imprudent and unsubstantiated comments in the press. I find it very unprofessional. I see no point in dwelling on the past, and I have moved on from the University of Saint Joseph, but I cannot let the Rector slander the project team without rebuttal.
As part of the previous senior management team at the university, the stated reason for the university dismissing me in 2012 was that I was too expensive and that the university needed to cut back on its operating costs, and no issues related to the new campus were raised. At the time I was the most senior academic in the university and I had successfully worked there for eight years. The university paid me out according to the Macau laws concerning dismissal without cause. While in my mind I was very unjustly treated by the university, there was nothing I could do about it, given the labor laws currently in force in Macau.
My record of performance at the University of Saint Joseph is very strong. I worked very closely with the previous Rector during a period of major change when it grew from being a very small post-graduate institute with less than 100 students and 10 staff that was losing several million patacas each year to a substantial university with 2,000+ students, and 100+ academic staff that was breaking even. This complete turnaround of the university was achieved in just eight years, and then with the change of Rector in 2012 nearly the whole senior management team responsible for this major turnaround was cast aside without explanation.
Similarly, Macau Professional Services is a well-respected and successful construction project management company in Macau that has a long record of professionally and competently carrying out projects. I understand that Macau Professional Services is still managing the new campus development (at least up until the beginning of 2014), and surely they would have been replaced in 2012 if there were problems with the project management and use of funds.
Unfortunately, these imprudent and inaccurate comments by the current Rector seem to be symptomatic of recent actions and comments by the University that seriously bring into question its ethical stance and business practices.

Richard Whitfield PhD

Categories Macau