Saturday, March 26, 2011

Response to article by Ferid Muhic on the law on higher education

In a recent article by Professor Ferid Muhic titled "Што не разбираат граѓаните на Македонија, а Министерството се „прави на Тошо“? published in the Magazine Forum ( the author focuses on two main issues: the government's manipulation of public opinion regarding the recent laws on higher education, and he also tackles the question of the relationship between the government and institutions of higher education.
Here I would like to comment on the second question.

In his article Professor Muhic blames the government for not telling the truth about the relationship between the government and educational institutions, which according to him is the reason why the government's actions have garnered 80% of public support. He also states that had the government informed the public of the fact that institutions of higher education in Macedonia are independent social entities the public would have recognized the government's attempt at manipulation and the percentage of support would have been reversed. Next, he compares the autonomy of the university with the autonomy of the church, and he suggests that just as the government has no business in meddling with the autonomy of the church it also has no business in meddling with the autonomy of the university. In other words, he equates the relationship of the government with the church to that with the university.

What the relationship between a government and publicly financed institutions should be has been an issue of discussion since the establishment of the very first publicly financed institutions. The other point is that there is no such a thing as a universally accepted standard for the relationship between the two. In countries with long democratic traditions this relationship is set in a democratic process with the participation of both entities. This relationship may also change periodically to reflect changes in the society. What is unfortunate about the situation in Macedonia regarding this issue is that Macedonian professors and Macedonian institutions of higher education lack any tradition of democratic management of themselves. From my personal teaching experience in Macedonia I am totally convinced that if the government were to have a hands off policy toward universities the authoritarian form of governing would simply pass onto the Rectors and the Deans, and professors would be in no better position.

There is no question that the new laws on higher education are absurd and mostly impossible to implement. There is also no question that individual professors are personally responsible for the failure in the quality of higher education in Macedonia. If they disagree with this point, or if they think that this refers only to a few renegade professors, then they are really lying to themselves, or as Professor Muhic would say, "се прават на Тошо". I have yet to hear from the professors their own initiatives and statements like, "This is where we have failed, and this is how we plan to improve." I have yet to read initiatives for changes in the laws on higher education that are initiated by professors. In the absence of such initiatives they give a free hand to the Ministry of Education., and the Ministry responds with a knee-jerk reaction. If the professors want to have greater impact in the educational system and greater influence in the legal system first they need to empower themselves and organize themselves into a truly professional organization capable of managing their own affairs. Knowing the current mentality of the academic community in Macedonia I doubt very much such a thing could happen in the very near future.

Now to the point regarding the church-state relationship. Professor Muhic states:
Ниту еден орган, па ни Министерството за вери, не може да менува ни една буква во доктрините на религиите, како што не може ни да наметнува мерки со кои ќе ги регулира и одредува внатрешните односи, кои согласно законот, остануваат во компетенција на црквата. ... како што црквата не може да определува кои политички акти да се гласаат, а кои да се отфрлат во Парламентот.
I cant's speak about the laws on church-state relationship in Macedonia, but let me explain in short the situation in the US. Churches in the US are tax free institutions, and to keep the tax free status they may not engage in political campaigns. But there is nothing that forbids them from campaigning to pass or defeat certain laws. The church does have a social role in society, and it should not be prevented from participating in the implementation of laws that benefit society. Two prominent examples are laws on abortion and gay marriage.

Comparison between church-state and university-state relationship is not valid because the former is financed independently, while the later is financed by the government. Should the entity that is financing the university have anything to say about how the university is run? Professor Muhic further states:
како што Универзитетот не може легитимно да ја евалуира работата на Парламентот, квалитетот на работата на министерот или на службениците во ресорното министерство, така, сосема истото важи и обратно!
Two issues are raised here. Do professors have a legitimate right to evaluate the functioning of the government? Does the government have a legitimate right to evaluate the functioning of the university? Professor Muhic states that neither has the right to evaluate the other. Does that mean that I as a professor don't have the right to publish or state publicly anything that puts in negative light anyone in the government? (I once was told by a Rector of a Macedonian university that anything negative I say about he university will be considered as slander against the Ministry of Education and of the Macedonian education system and a grounds for legal action against me). I don't have the right to campaign for the removal of the Minister of Higher Education if I am critical of his policies? In a recent article in the Chronicle of Higher Education the Republican Party of Wisconsin is seeking, under the state's open-records law, to obtain e-mail sent by a Madison professor who has publicly criticized that state's Republican governor, a move the professor is denouncing as an assault on his academic freedom. ( As you can see, this is an important issue even in the US. In my opinion, as soon as you take away to right to be critical of government you can no longer call yourself a democracy.

The second question is should the government have the right to control and evaluate educational institutions. Professor Muhic states:
Законски е регулирано дека содржината на наставните програми, реформа на универзитетот, оценка и евалуирање на работата на наставниот кадар, никако не може да го врши ниту министерот, ниту Министерството за образование, туку сето тоа останува законско право и обврска исклучиво на Универзитетските органи!
The law does state that university organs are responsible for regulating the content instructional programs, reforms in the university, faculty evaluations, etc. Universities and professors need to ask themselves an important question. How effective have we been in the past twenty years in regulating programs, in reforms, in faculty evaluations, etc.? What have we done to improve the quality of higher education in Macedonia? I don't mean here to justify the government's approach. In fact, I believe the damage resulting from the new laws will be felt for many decades to come and will be almost impossible to reverse. I am only pointing to the fact that universities and professors need to bear more responsibility for allowing the state of higher education in Macedonia to reach this level.

Finally, the question is not whether or not the government should have any involvement in the running of the university, but rather where does the government's role end and that of the university begins. There can't be a hands off policy from the government because the university is financed from public funds and to some extent the public needs to make sure that its funds are not wasted. In the current situation it is unfortunate that the country has a Minister who lacks basic understanding of the role of institutions of higher education in society, professors who are still mostly entrenched in an archaic educational management system, and students who are still afraid to demand quality in their education.


  1. Imam dve prasanja do vas.
    1. Dali ste objavile dosega trudovi vo spisanija so Imakt Faktor?
    2. Koj gi snosi trosocite za objavuvanje na vasite trudovi vo spisanijata i na konferenciite (kotizacijata, patnite trosoci i smestuvanjeto)?

    Pozdrav od Makedonija

  2. To answer the first question, I don't know of a specific list of journals with "impact factor". I also don't know what "impact factor" really means. In most US universities publications in "peer reviewed" journals are rated much higher than those published in non-peer reviewed journals. It is true that some journals are rated higher than others. The important question is who should be rating these journals? At my institution, and I think it's also true for other institutions in the US, the journals are rated by the profession itself. For example, in my profession the journal of the Modern Language Association is rated the highest. So, if I publish something there it will be rated much higher than in some other regional journal. It's also very important to remember that the quality of my publications is evaluated by colleagues in my department. Neither head of my department, nor the dean of my faculty, nor the president of the university, nor the Secretary of Education of the United Sates have anything to say about it.

    To answer the second question, in some years I have received 3.000 dollars, in some years 150 dollars for travel to conferences and to conduct research, and in other years nothing. But I'm still required to conduct research and to publish. Not all research requires travel. Each department at my home institution determines the amount of funds available for research and travel. There are also funds available on the university level, and these are competitive. Many professors apply, but only a few get them. Who gets them is decided by a committee of professors, not by deans, etc. There are also funds available on the Federal level. I was fortunate to receive several of them for my research in Macedonia. Grantees of these Federal grants are selected by a committee of professors as well.