Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Is Macedonia Ready for a Western Style University?

In 2008 Prime Minister Gruevski expressed interest in establishing a world-class English language university. Professor Peter Bock of George Washington University was contacted and given the task to design the university, to be based on the US educational system. A year later the University for Information Science and Technology was born with six foreign professors (including this author) and Blagoja Samakoski as its first Rector. Since then, all of the foreign professors that were initially hired have been dismissed, Danco Davcev replaced Samakoski as Rector, three additional foreign professors were dismissed, one Teaching Assistant was promoted to Assistant professor and to Vice Rector in matter of two weeks, the university administration was accused of nepotism for hiring several family members, the Rector and Vice Rector were accused of plagiarism, and the university is being sued for breach of contract by two of the dismissed foreign professors.

The question now is, is Macedonia ready for a world-class English language university? Based on the opinion of professor Peter Bock, the architect of this new university, and the experiences of the former foreign professors, the answer is most definitely, not yet!

Prime Minister Gruevski failed to realize that for this type of university to succeed,  it needs a level of financing that the government is not ready to support, and it needs to be governed by, and function in the sort of academic culture that unfortunately we all found lacking in Macedonia.

The average nine month starting salary of an assistant professor in the technical fields in the USA is in the range of $80.000 and higher. The salary for experienced associate and full professors can easily reach above $150.000. How many professors from the US is the Macedonian government willing to hire at these salaries? I should note that the salaries at the university in Ohrid were, and still are two or three months late. Some foreign professors had to borrow money just to meet day to day expenses. In the letter of dismissal of one foreign professor, the current Rector indicated the professor's demand for timely arrival of his salary as one reason for his dismissal.

The integrity of a university in the US and in western Europe rests on academic culture that is defined by collegiality, academic freedom, freedom of speech, the rule of law, academic integrity, shared governance, and respect for student rights. What we experienced at the university in Ohrid was a culture of fear originating from the highest levels. Students being threatened with dismissal, for expressing negative opinions about the university or its administration. Dismissed professors being threatened with lawsuits for defamation of character. A faculty senate that can only be described as a farce. The Rector is the highest authority in the senate, and he also has the authority to dismiss any foreign professor for any reason. That being the case, what foreign senator would be willing to vote against the wishes of the Rector, knowing that he can be dismissed at the stroke of the Rector's pen?

Having taught at two major universities in Macedonia I have come to know what most Macedonians already knew, that cheating and plagiarism is rampant throughout the entire educational system. But, when a Rector and Vice Rector have been discovered to have plagiarized parts of their major research, it is inconceivable that the Minister of Education would give them full support in running the university. It is unlikely that any US universities would be willing to cooperate with a university that tolerates plagiarism.

Currently the Rector seems to have the authority to break a contract for employment of any foreign professor, as has been the case with five professors thus far. The only regress a professor has is to sue the university. However, as one foreign diplomat has advised one of these illegally dismissed foreign professors, justice in Macedonia is not always blind. So, the question now is, how many respectable professors would be willing to leave a job at a university in the US, move their family to Macedonia and work under the conditions described here? Not many, unless they are desperate for any job. And if the Macedonian government continues to manage the university in Ohrid as it has up to now, it should expect to hire only desperate foreign professors.

A Macedonian version of this post appeared in PlusInfo.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Employment at University in Ohrid

Recently the University for Information Science and Technology in Ohrid, Macedonia, published the guidelines for hiring foreign professors. They can be found here. Any foreign professor considering applying for a position at this university should first consider asking some important questions and contacting former foreign professors who had worked there.

First of all, consider that a contract with this university, or with any government institution in Macedonia, is not worth the paper that it was written on. The university has the right to break the contract at any time for any reason whatsoever, and there is absolutely no recourse for the employee whatsoever. You may sue the university, as several professors have already done so, but justice in Macedonia is never blind. Keep this in mind if you intend to move to Macedonia with a family.

Freedom of speech at this university is expressly forbidden both for students and for professors. In fact, you may be sued for defamation of character (of an individual, of the university, or of the Ministry of Education, or the country as a whole) for stating anything "negative" about any of these. The term "negative" is interpreted as anything that is contrary to what is expressed by these institutions. Below is a link to a letter by the Rector of the university where he states that this is one of the reasons for the dismissal of one foreign professor.

Nine foreign professors were dismissed during the first two years in the existence of the university. Some were dismissed even AFTER they and the university had already signed a contract. None of them were given a reason for the dismissal. In fact, the Rector of the university is not legally obliged to give a reason for a dismissal of a foreign professor.

The Faculty Senate is NOT independent. I would strongly advise you NOT to be a member of the Senate, if the position is offered to you. The Rector of the university is the Chair of the faculty senate. The Rector has the right to disregard any decisions by the faculty senate. During senate discussions it is not advisable that you express an opinion that is contrary to that of the Rector, otherwise you job may be in jeopardy, as it recently happened with two foreign professors.

The contract that you will sign is very short and it does not provide too many details about your responsibilities. For this reason I would advise you to include the following details in your contract::

1. An exact list of the courses that you will be required to teach during your employment. Otherwise they may ask you to teach a course for which you are not qualified to teach, and they may dismiss you for not doing a good job teaching it.
2. The exact number of contact hours during the week. How many hours during the week will you be expected to be in the classroom.
3. How many office hours will you be expected to have for consultations with students.
4. What other responsibilities are you expected to have, their exact nature, and how many hours each week for each responsibility.
5. Will there be student evaluations of your teaching and what will be the exact format. This is very important because in the recent firing of three foreign professors the Rector of the university "ordered" the president of the student senate to "manufacture" evaluations for only these three professors.
6. MOST IMPORTANT! Will my salary be paid on time? Be aware that your salary for each month must be approved by a ministry in Skopje, and there is nothing the university can do to quicken the process. You will NEVER get your salary on time. Sometimes it may be two or three months late. Bring lots of cash with you to last you at least three months. If for whatever reason you get dismissed, it is not very likely that you will get the salary for the last month or two.

Do not expect a professional atmosphere at this or at many other institutions of higher education in Macedonia. They simply don't have the culture of professionalism in their educational system. Expect students to be cheating on all of the exams in one way or another, and there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You will be expected to simply forgive them and give them another chance, and another, and another, until they pass the final exam.

Plagiarism is rampant in Macedonia, and you should expect it from your students and from many of your Macedonian colleagues. There are no laws or rules against plagiarism in Macedonian educational institutions. It was recently discovered that both the Rector and the Vice Rector of the university had plagiarized major parts of their research, and the government did absolutely nothing about it. There was no legal way for the Ministry of Education to punish them for this infraction.

Consider seriously contacting the current and former foreign professors at the university before making any final decisions. You can get the email addresses of the current professors from the university's we page. Below is a list of some of the former professors:

George Mitrevski, USA
Matthieu Puigt, France
Matthew Ager, England
Etienne Shneider, France
Gregory Hillhouse, South Africa
Aurora Rana, Philippines
Peter Bock, USA, the "architect" who came up with the original design for the structure of the university

Below are links to English translations of two interviews in a Macedonian newspaper:

Interview with Dr. Etienne Schneider
Interview with Professor Peter Bock

Also read my posting on the firing of foreign professors where you will find numerous other documents.