Monday, March 21, 2011

Recipes for the survival of the University for Information Science and Technology in Ohrid

Ohrid University will remain viable for as long as it has the support of the government and the Ministry of Education. As one colleague said, "They already have a building, and they are building more. They are not going to tear them down." However, the institutions that established the university need to be aware that buildings alone don't make a university. The university will continue to function for many years to come, but in what format? Will it follow the model of other State and private universities in Macedonia, or will it truly emulate the best qualities of the best universities from around the world.

Based on my one year experience teaching at UIST, in this posting I would like to offer a very long list of recipes, in no particular order, that I believe are necessary for the survival of the university in the model envisioned by the original establishing committee.

    I believe the fact that the current rector has assumed all three functions listed below has contributed greatly to many of the personnel and academic problems at the university. Add to that the fact that he was rarely in the office more than one day a week, and even then for only a few hours, and you have a situation where minor conflicts and misunderstandings boil over into major problems. Add to that the fact that in his absence he had delegated much of his authority to his secretary, who lacked both the experience and authority to handle personnel and academic problems. Add to that the fact that the current rector resented having to communicate with the faculty directly through email, but preferred to convey all messages through his secretary (during the entire year I recall receiving from the rector only two direct messages after the end of the school year). Add all of these together and you have a recipe for disaster. This is why I think that the responsibilities of teh rector should be split among three positions.

    1. Rector

      1. Hire someone who mill have total dedication and commitment to the functioning of the university with no other business or political commitments.
      2. Needs to be accessible on sight at least three days each week for at least six hours each day. Be accessible to all faculty for one-on-one discussions at least one day each week.
      3. Needs to always communicate directly with faculty, rather than through staff members. Professors find it demeaning having to discuss personal issues through a third party.
      4. Should avoid micromanagement. Leave day to day running of the university to subordinates, such as the Office manager and Vice rector for instruction.
      5. Create and promote cordial relationships and atmosphere.
      6. Avoid managing through fear and intimidation.
      7. Respect privacy. Do not admonish or reprimand employees in front of others.
      8. Treat employees and students with dignity and respect.
      9. Strongly forbid and punish the practice of "mobbing" by any employee against any other employee.
      10. Do not treat the institution as your own private enterprise.

    2. Office manager

      1. The duty of the Office manager should be to manage the day to day activities of the administrative staff.
      2. Hire someone with extensive experience managing a large staff of employees, preferably someone who also has some experience working for a foreign institution either in Macedonia or abroad.
      3. Conduct weekly staff meetings.
      4. Develop rules for the staff.
      5. Provide clear instructions and procedures for dealing with complaints.
      6. Treat employees with dignity and respect.
      7. Strongly forbid and punish the practice of "mobbing" by any employee against any other employee.
      8. Clearly delineate each employees specific responsibilities. Saying "You are in charge of X, Y, and Z is not enough.
      9. Do not assign employees tasks that are either impossible to complete, or the employee is not capable of completing
      10. Inform professors of the responsibilities of each employee so that they know to whom they should address concerns and requests.
      11. Avoid showing anger in front of employees.
      12. Avoid managing through fear and intimidation.
      13. At the end of each year conduct consultation and review of each employee. Indicate weaknesses and provide suggestions for improvements.
      14. Ask employees to conduct an anonymous evaluation of the Office manager.

    3. Vice Rector for instruction

      1. Should hire either someone from abroad, or at least someone with extensive academic experience abroad. Must have a Doctoral degree.
      2. This person should be the one most responsible for implementing the academic programs and the "spirit" of the institution.
      3. Should be available on site at the university at least four days each week.
      4. Coordinates (does not dictate!) all of the academic activities with each of the professors and with the ECTS Manager.
      5. Consults with professors regarding the content and presentation of courses.
      6. Keeps in contact with colleagues at other institutions to coordinate mutually beneficial activities.
      7. Is responsible for conducting searches for new faculty and staff.
      8. Promote (do not dictate!) cooperation.
      9. Promote sharing of ideas to improve the functioning of the university.

    4. ECTS Manager

      1. The Rector, Vice Rector for instruction and all the faculty should be required to carefully read in English and in Macedonian the documents related to the Bologna convention and the European Credit Transfer System.
      2. These documents are quite specific as to policies and requirements. They recommend that the ECTS Manager have a doctoral degree and be a member of the faculty.
      3. Conduct workshops for students and for faculty to familiarize them with the system and to explain to them what is required of them in order to conform to ECTS.
      4. The ECTS Manager should not be responsible for managing courses and classes.

    The professors are the university's most valuable resource. A highly qualified, engaging faculty will produce highly qualified and engaging students. The university's approach in hiring faculty and how it treats them once they are hired is very important for the success of the university.

    1. Search for and contact possible candidates long before placing an ad in the media. Most faculty searches in the US are conducted during the fall of the previous academic year. The best candidates are always hired early. If you wait until March or April to advertise a position, your pool of candidates is going to be mainly those who did not get hired because they were not as competitive as others.
    2. Form a search committee of professors for each group of candidates that will be responsible for screening the applicants. Don't leave the screening to assistants, who most likely lack qualifications to do the job.
    3. Since all instruction at the university is in English, always make sure that each candidate possesses native or near-native fluency in English. It's extremely difficult for students to understand lectures by professors with accents from all over the world. Their English comprehension is not the best in the first place, now they have to listen to lectures on material they do not understand from a speaker whose English pronunciation is worse than their own. There are standard tests to test pronunciation, and it should be conducted by a specialist and for every applicant. During the preceding hiring procedures none of the English professors or assistants were consulted in the screening of the candidates who applied for a position to teach Technical Writing. The candidates were screened by the rector's secretary and couple of the assistants.
    4. Translate into English all documents that professors need to sign.
    5. Encourage faculty to share their experiences and encourage them to give suggestions for improving instruction.
    6. The faculty as individuals and as a group are most qualified to determine the appropriate content for specific courses. Don't leave this task to assistants.
    7. The hiring mess that took place in the spring 2010 should never be repeated.
    8. Offer faculty the option of signing a 12-month or 10-month contract. Foreign professors have families abroad that they would like to visit for an extended period of time. Some professors may want to conduct research abroad during the summer. One candidate in the spring of 2010 decided not to compete for a position because he was required to sign a 12 month contract. He was a recent PhD graduate and needed time for research in order to boost his CV.
    9. After the first year, offer faculty a 3-5 year contract. A large turnover of faculty, as it happened in 2009/2010 and 2010/2011, should be the exception and not the rule because it is a very poor reflection on the university.
    10. Designate a two hour block (mid day) some day during the week when there aren't
      any class scheduled, to be used for faculty meetings and for organizing any other activities, so that there won't be a need to cancel a class. Also, all faculty should be advised never to schedule any private (outside of the university) meetings during this block.
    11. Always give ample notice for faculty or senate meetings. According to the University Statute, the Rector needs to give a 7 day notice for a senate meeting, unless it is an emergency. That never happened. We never got more than a two day notice, and many times it was no more than a day.
    12. Provide a written agenda for all faculty meetings. Include copies of documents that are to be discussed.
    13. Provide travel funds for faculty to attend conferences.
    14. The contract with faculty should be specific as to the number of contact hours (classes) the faculty member is expected to have each semester. The contracts for the 2010/2011 school year indicated that professors were expected to teach "minimum" of 10 hour per week, which in reality could be anything between 10 and 40 hours each week.
    15. Provide opportunities for professors to conduct research.

  3. STAFF

    1. Hire most qualified people for each position.
    2. Develop a staff manual that will describe policies in detail.
    3. Treat staff members cordially and with respect.
    4. Since staff members need to communicate with professors on daily basis, make sure that their level of English is at a level appropriate for communicating with professors.
    5. Promote (or require) "English only" rule in communication among staff members and with Macedonian students.
    6. Organize English language classes for staff members whose English is not up to par.
    7. Rather than reprimand, always try to solve problems through a discussion and suggestion for improvement.


    1. Reorganize program so students have more free time to study. It's difficult to expect students to complete homework assignments when they are in class almost eight ours each day. Follow the ECTS model to determine how many hours students should spend in class to get the appropriate number of credits. Leave this task to be determined not by the Rector but by the ECTS manager in consultation with the Vice Rector for instruction.
    2. Never disrespect the privacy and integrity of students.
    3. Revise from scratch the Student Manual with input from students and faculty. Make it a model for other universities to follow.
    4. Never reprimand students in public.
    5. Create a student honor code.
    6. Develop strict written policies on plagiarism and cheating.
    7. Create the position of Student advisor who will be in charge of dealing with student problem issues.
    8. After the first year assign a Mentor from among the faculty to each student. It should be the responsibility of each professor to have students as mentorees.
    9. Contact international honor societies to see what it takes to establish a branch for students at UIST. In the US, employees always look at such memberships when hiring college graduates.
    10. UIST should think about establilshing a scholarship fund for students in need. My suggestion is to propose this idea to all technology companies and social organizations in Macedonia and abroad. This would be great public relation for any company. Companies don't need to commit large amounts, any amount will be welcome.
    11. Entrance exams.
      Prospective students should be informed what background they need to have before they apply to UIST. For example, students should know what level of each subject they need to be competent in (not simply have taken courses in thouse subjects) in order to begin their study at UIST. The best way to do this is to put online the list of requirements for each course offered in the first semester. It's also a good idea to put online a sample test for each course for prospective students to take and see if they fulfil the requirements. If students know these requirements, and they feel that they do not meet these requirements, some may want to take tutoring in those subjects during the summer in order to prepare themselves for UIST. In the case of English, for example, students may want to take a summer class before applying to UIST. If possible, I would also suggest that UIST might consider offering an intensive English class for prospective students during the summer. Students would pay some tuition, so this would be at no expense to the university.
    12. Cheating.
      I understand that cheating and plagiarism is rampant at all Macedonian universities. My understanding is that this is a bad habit that students picked up in secondary schools. It is a habit that was probably never punished, so students continue with that habit at the university. This was a big problem at UIST in the beginning as well. It's still a problem with some students. UIST needs to have a "no exceptions" policy on cheating and plagiarism if it intends to maintain its integrity. Unless students are punished in some way, they will continue with this habit. Students need to be informed in writing as they enter the university that cheating and plagiarism will not be tolerated, and more importantly, they need to know exactly what are the consequences for such behavior.

  5. Web page
    The university web page is a window into the university. Great care should be taken to make sure that it presents good reflection of the universiy. Because UIST is an English language university, it is important that the web pages are edited so that there are as few English errors as possible. Reading the CVs of the Macedonian assistants I noticed way too many mistakes in the English. May I suggest that assistants should be advised to edit their web pages, perhaps with the assistance of the English instructors. I really think it would be embarassing to have web pages in such poor English at an English language based university. Most universities in the US have a template for CVs for all professors, the format of all CVs is the same. You should consider doing the same for the CVs at UIST. You DEFINITELY should never have any links to non-existent or empty pages.


  1. Yes, I agree with the written above, just hope to see some progress of implementing the recipes at the University.

    Although I have the same strong opinion as you professor, and sadly i still lack the guts to reveal my name due to the possibility of penalties from the university, for showing support and stating my opinion.

    Best wishes,
    some of your students :)

  2. Sound and honest recommendations from someone who believes in UIST.
    I just do not see enough students, both interested and qualified, who are willing to relocate to Ohrid.This boutique type of school can not succeed in isolation of what is otherwise A broken system of university education in Macedonia.Fixing the system shall be the prerequisite for having a chance to establish a school such as USAIT.

  3. You are correct that fixing the system should be a priority. The problem is that the ones who are responsible for fixing the system are either not aware that the system is broken, or they are aware and they think they know how to fix it, or they are aware and really don't care much about the system of higher education. My personal opinion is that the system of higher education is nowhere near a priority for the government and for the administrators in higher education.