One change implemented in the new law on higher education in Macedonia is the requirement that Ph.D. candidates and professors going for promotion should publish some number of research articles in respectable foreign journals. I'll discuss the details of this law in another post, but for now I want to focus on the state of scholarly publishing in Macedonia. It seems obvious to me that the the reason why the Minister of Education decided to implement these changes into law was because he believed that foreign journals are much more rigorous and selective in what they publish compared to Macedonian journals, and that Macedonian journals will publish anything that's handed to them regardless of quality. Is the Minister right, and is his approach to the problem appropriate.
I am approaching this issue from my own experience teaching and conducting research in Macedonia in the humanities and in the social sciences.
First, we need to keep in mind that the reading public for scholarly articles in Macedonia is really quite, quite small. For example, if you are conducting research on the ethnography of a particular region in Macedonia, most likely there are no more than about 2-3 other scholars in the entire country who might be interested enough to read the article. Second, the concept of "double-blind" reading of articles submitted for publication does not work in a small country where everyone in a specific field knows each other. My point is, in the current situation quality control in what gets published in Macedonia is practically impossible. This is not to say that there is no high quality research in Macedonia. There is, but it's extremely, extremely rare.
While in most western countries there are professional organizations that take the responsibility for controlling the quality of research by their members, there is nothing equivalent in Macedonia. So, what gets published in scholarly journals in Macedonia? Basically, anything and everything that is written by scholars. Let me give you three specific examples.
In 2005 two authors, Tome Bosevski, an electrical engineer and member of the Macedonian Academy of Sciences and the Arts, and Aristotel Tentov, Professor at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technologies in Skopje published an article in one of the proceeding of the Academy, where they claimed to have deciphered the middle text of the Rosetta Stone and concluded that the text was written in ancient Macedonian, which seems to resemble one of the contemporary dialects of Macedonian. Keep in mind that neither of these gentlemen has any background in linguistics, historical or any other sort. The article is about 90 pages long with only seven references (http://makedonika.files.wordpress.com/2008/06/bosheski-tentov-angl.pdf). Two of the references are dictionaries, two of them refer to a Slovenian high school textbooks, one refers to a text on Protoslavic, and one on a Macedonian dialects. That's it! There is not a single reference to any research on the Rosetta Stone. For almost a decade these two "scholars" have been promoting their research around the country and have received accolades by many of their colleagues. After all, this is not research by some freshman student. The Academy organized an elaborate promotion of their research findings that was attended by many scholars and political figures.
As you may guess, their research is nothing more than pure gibberish. If their research findings were truly valid one would expect there to have been organized an international conference on the subject. As it happens, no one outside of Macedonia has taken their claims seriously. So, here we have two electrical engineers conducting linguistic research on an ancient text, they come up with some truly nonsense conclusions, and all of that is quite acceptable to the Macedonian academic community. What does all this say about the ability of the Macedonian academic community to control the quality of research and publication of its members?
The next example is a gentleman named Alexander Donski, whose research focuses on tracing the history and links between Macedonians living in the Republic of Macedonia and the Macedonians of Alexander the Great. He is a member of the Institute of History and Archeology at the University in Shtip. His current "research" is on establishing a Macedonian link with the Romanovs of Russia! One of his books is titled "Jesus Christ and the Macedonians". He is also a member of the "Organization of Ancient Macedonians". There are many, many such examples of absurd links in his publications. Again, we are speaking of a member of research team at a government funded research institute that is part of a major state university. My hunch is that he has managed to place himself in the current position and is able to publish anything that he writes because his views fit quite well with the views of the current political party in power. In one of the Institute's web pages he is pictured together with the country's president (http://inisa.ugd.edu.mk/).
I pose the same question again. Why does the academic community in Macedonia give voice to individuals who obviously have absolutely no respect for academic scholarship? It's obviously clear that the government, and the Ministry of Education, have no interest in controlling the quality of research. But why do Macedonian academics tolerate them? Fine, this person was most likely hired based not on his academic qualifications but on his contributions to the politics of the government, and academics have no hiring or firing power. But why are they not shunned by their more sensible colleagues?
I had personal experience with the third example. In 2009/2010 I had an opportunity to teach at a newly established university in Macedonia, the University for Information Science and Technology in Ohrid. During that same year the Macedonian Parliament added "St. Paul the Apostle" to the name of the university. There are many institutions in Ohrid, including the airport, that have recently changed their name to "St. Paul the Apostle", and by doing so establishing a link with Paul's travels to Macedonia. By tradition Macedonian universities have "patron holiday" that is connected with the name of the university. The university in Ohrid needed to have one as well. But what date top pick? The obvious choice should have been August 13th, St. Paul's day in the Orthodox calendar. That date was not acceptable because the patron day celebration takes place when school is in session. The selection of the date was entrusted to Jane Bakreski, one of the humanities instructors. Bakreski has a Master's degree from the Faculty of Fine Arts, National Academy of Art in Sofia, Bulgaria, with a major in painting. For the university's patron holiday Mr. Bakreski selected October 22. I was curious to know how he came up with that date. His reply was that he consulted with a Macedonian monk, who informed him that the Apostle Paul was actually in Ohrid on that date! I wanted to know if he knew of any specific references to this claim. There are obviously no such references, but he did ask me to please not spread my "erroneous conclusions" among others. In addition to being an instructor at the university, Mr. Bakreski is also an icon and a fresco painter. His contribution to the university is an icon of St. Paul standing somewhere in the middle of Ohrid (http://www.uist.edu.mk/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=92&Itemid=133&lang=en).
There are many maps of Paul's travels in Macedonia produced by biblical scholars, but none of them show him being anywhere close to Ohrid. So, here is a university that has entrusted the selection of a patron holiday, the most important holiday for the university, to someone who produces it from his imagination. This same individual is also entrusted to hold academic lectures to students at the university. How credible can his research and his teaching be, and why does the academic community at the university permit this type of "scholarship"?
These three examples are not atypical. The question is, is there anything the academic community, NOT the Ministry of Education, can do to prevent the publishing and spreading of such fake scholarship even when legitimate scholars are at odds with the wishes of the Ministry of Education and with the university's administration?
I think the main reason why legitimate scholarly research in Macedonia is impossible is the lack of resources. The current Minister of Education, Nikola Todorov, seems to think that there is very little research and publishing in Macedonia because professors are simply lazy. Recently he has said that the ministry will equip numerous research laboratories at all state universities, and he is also willing to pay 250 euros any professor who publishes an article in a foreign journal with an "impact factor". The Minister thinks of a laboratory in terms of a "classroom". That is, a set of equipment that any researchers can just walk in and do any sort of research. What if the government spends a million euros to equip a fancy laboratory, but the equipment can't be used for researching a specific problem? Let's not forget that the government financed the translation of first class scholarly literature that professors in the classroom don't find useful.
A modern library with current literature is essential for conducting even the most essential research in the humanities and social sciences, and none of the libraries in Macedonia fit into this category.
It is good that professors have finally decided to voice their frustration at the government's attempt to control how they teach and how they conduct their research. However, they also have to recognize their own inefficiencies and come up with their own solutions. An objection against the government's approach is not any good if it's not met with a better proposal from the academic community. The status quo is obviously not working. As I follow this conflict in the media I have yet to hear academics propose a different way to deal with the problems.