UPEI president Alaa Abd-El-Aziz resigns, citing his health

Alaa Abd-El-Aziz is resigning from his position as president of the University of Prince Edward Island, a post he had held for 10 years.

Abd-El-Aziz made the decision due to his health, he said in a statement distributed by the university on Tuesday.

“The last few months have been very difficult, and my health has suffered for it,” he said. “Therefore, it is with much regret that I announce that I have decided to retire from UPEI, effective immediately.

“This is much sooner than I had ever anticipated, and I am disappointed that I will not be able to complete projects I have been working on.”

At the end of November of this year, the chair of the university’s Board of Governors, Pat Sinnott, told the campus community that Abd-El-Aziz had agreed to extend his term until 2025 in order to allow time for a search committee to recruit and interview candidates for the job.

In job for 10 years

Abd-El-Aziz, whose academic specialty is chemistry, assumed the UPEI presidency in July 2011. He had previously been provost of the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, and held degrees from Egypt’s Ain Shams University and the University of Saskatchewan. He also was awarded an NSERC postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Toronto.

“Currently an executive member of the Atlantic Association of Universities and a member of the Standing Committee on International Relations with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, Dr. Abd-El-Aziz also serves on the Board of Directors of several organizations including the PEI BioAlliance, Holland College, and the Confederation Centre of the Arts,” the university’s website says. 

During his tenure, the university opened the Canadian Centre for Climate Change and Adaptation and began work on a new UPEI residence building.

UPEI president Dr. Alaa Abd-El-Aziz, left, P.E.I. Premier Dennis King and then-UPEI Student Union president Emma Drake hold an artist’s rendition of the campus’s new 260-bed student residence in September 2019. (Tom Steepe/CBC)

He also oversaw a growing enrolment. For example, the number of international students was 536 in the 2012-2013 academic year. Now, UPEI’s website says, “The campus welcomes more than 1,400 international students from more than 90 countries each year. That represents more than a quarter of the entire student body.”

Most recently, UPEI announced the creation of a faculty of medicine in partnership with Memorial University in Newfoundland and Labrador, as well as the expansion of its nursing school.

“I am very grateful to the many colleagues and students I have worked with on several program and campus initiatives over the last decade that have allowed us to help students reach their full potential,” Abd-El-Aziz said in his statement. “I have sincerely enjoyed working with you at this wonderful institution.”

Harassment settlements

There was also controversy, however.

On Friday, CBC News reported that a former staff member at the university said the use of non-disclosure agreements had created a “culture of silence and fear” on campus, eventually driving away that professor and a number of other people.

In 2013, CBC News reported that UPEI had reached settlements with two employees who had filed complaints of sexual harassment with the P.E.I. Human Rights Commission, involving allegations against Abd-El-Aziz. At the time, UPEI Board of Governors chair Tom Cullen said the allegations involved “inappropriate comments” but no more details ever became public.

This fall, CBC confirmed that both of those settlements involved non-disclosure agreements — in which victims agree to remain silent about what happened to them in return for compensation.

It’s unclear whether CBC’s coverage of the issue had an impact on the president’s decision to resign.

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