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.

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