Does the Lithuanization of the university and displacement of “unhandy” Belarusan lecturers result from the philosophy of EHU trustees or from the harsh laws of the management?
A new wave of layoffs happened in EHU. In accordance with the order of EHU rector Anatoly Mikhailov, the university doesn’t anymore need the services of a number of lecturers: Alexei Krivolap, Konstantin Tkachev, Andrei Rolenok, Olga Shparaga, Andrei Lavruchin, and Maksim Zhbankov.
In February 2014 EHU university employees demanded to reinstate in a job Pavel Tserashkovich, the head of the Senate EHU who was dismissed. However, the suppression of academic freedom in the university has continued.
Six months later, in July, from the e-mail of the EHU vice rector Aleksandr Kolbasenko members of EHU Senate and trade union of the professional and teaching staff EHUnion received odd letters signed by the Commission for employment of the professional and teaching staff.
The professors responded to the letters with a public statement, after which total cleanup of the Senate and the Trade Union began. Those EHU employees who were dismissed are convinced that the administration has almost confessed in the political motivation of staff decisions, as it is democratic activists who are displaced from the university.
“EuroBelarus” Information Service discussed EHU repressions and layoffs with the scientists and people who know EHU firsthand – ex-lecturers, Andrei Kazakevich, the director of the Institute for Policy Studies Palіtychnaya Sphera (Political Sphere) who used to be a EHU lecturer, and Uladzimir Dunaeu, a former Vice Rector of the EHU, the member of the public Bologna committee.
- What was the reason of the latest wave of repressions against EHU teachers and lecturers?
- Andrei Kazakevich: - It doesn’t look very surprising for me, since during the whole time of the university’s work, EHU administration has been occupying the same position. And it always were teachers who had their own opinion about the policy of the university who were dismissed.
Unfortunately, EHU doesn’t work as a university with an academic community; it is rather some private firm with the management that decides who will work and who will not. Those people who are unhandy and create some problems are dismissed.
I think that the main reason why contracts with these people are not signed and why they are ejected from the learning process is that they create certain hindrances for administration.
Uladzimir Dunaeu: I can only guess, as one needs to be acquainted with the university’s strategy to answer this question. Perhaps, this Lithuanization (a process of cultural assimilation of Lithuanian culture or language experienced by non-Lithuanian people or groups of people. - EuroBelarus) to certain extent answers the requirements of the management and of the international Governing Council. Perhaps, this is the philosophy that seems more prominent for them.
From my point of view, Lithuanization at the expense of displacing Belarusan teachers and Belarusization is a wrong path. It makes this university progressively less useful for Belarus.
- What is EHU to expect after the total cleanup of its democratic activists? What form will it take after all Belarusan is excluded from it?
A. K.: - There are several development scenarios. EHU can evaluate in an almost commercial organization, which provides certain services. It will pay for itself, but it will completely lose the contents that initially formed the basis for this project in Vilnius; the contents that have to do with democracy, civil society, Belarusan nation, and Belarus in general. EHU will function as a structure, which provides its students with diplomas and some opportunity to stay in Europe.
Second variant that I know is under consideration now is that EHU will be integrated into some Lithuanian university as a faculty, as a program for Belarusan public, for Belarusan market.
These two variants are the most feasible ones if those who provide financial aid to the project won’t understand that the return to the original mission of EHU, i.e. work for Belarus, for democratization, for the strengthening of Belarusan civil society, academic traditions, academic self-government and so on is required.
U. D.: - The thing is that the university less and less corresponds to the announced values, to the orientation on fundamental European imperatives such as academic freedom. On the whole, the right to criticize the management of the university without any consequences or repressions is a fundamental right of all lecturers.
The situation that we have now indicates that there is no place for academic freedom in EHU. And if the university demonstrates such neglect of fundamental academic imperatives, then what do we need it for? Is it only to make sure one more time that any Belarusan university regardless of its place of residence doesn’t think of academic freedom as of some value?
I think that this is a serious challenge for EHU. It is of great importance for Belarus to have an example of how academic community and academic strategy can be built, and neglect of fundamental imperatives certainly makes it useless, and even harmful, as it leaves Belarusans without hope that they can establish a university where European values will actually be realized somewhere sometime.
- There are apprehensions that the university is becoming Lithuanian rather than Belarusan – the number of Lithuanian citizens in the EHU administration is growing. In your opinion, what is the reason for such personnel policy and strategy that is being used by the management?
A. K.: - It is easier. The existing administration doesn’t think that EHU should perform some kind of Belarusan mission; it doesn’t think about working for the Belarusan academic community by providing specialists with the opportunity to teach English for Belarusan specialists.
It is much easier to work with Lithuanian teachers, as they won’t create any additional problems. I also heard that there are some organizational problems, as to bring a person from Minsk to Vilnius means to create additional expenses for the university. Thus, the issues of optimization can somehow explain it.
However, the main factor that I already mentioned is that it is easier and less problematic. The mission of such people as Shparaga, Krivolap, Zhbankov, Tserashkovich, and others is to develop civil society, Belarusan culture, and democratic freedoms for Belarus. While for Lithuanian lecturers the university is just their work.
- Dismissed lecturers have been talking about the conflict as about the confrontation between the value of academic freedoms and administration of commercial educational project at a level of average Lithuanian universities. What international court has the powers to declare the actions of the administration to be illegal?
- A. K.: - I am not familiar with the Lithuanian legislation, but if some court declares that the actions of EHU administration violate the rights of the lecturers, the administration can always appeal against this decision in court.
However, even if some lecturers are reinstated, I don’t think that we should rely on court now. It won’t considerably change the logic of the university’s work; it won’t promote the formation of a community that would work for Belarus.
The only establishment that is able to introduce some real changes is the financial support provided by university’s sponsors. If they realize that the current EHU development is a deadlock, it will be a serious argument for changes.
As far as I know, those lecturers who were dismissed tried to reach this level and work on it; but they didn’t succeed.
It seems to me that this is the very key moment, which can positively influence the fate of the project.
U. D.: - It is a difficult question. First, there is a certain presumption of university’s autonomy. There is a certain management system. By and large, this situation shouldn’t have taken place, as personnel policy is the prerogative of the Senate.
But as far as I understand, it is the Senate that the repressions aim at; these mechanisms are hardly a form of defense in this case. But there are still union committee and courting procedures in Lithuania.
As far as I know, EHU Senate appealed to the academic ethics’ inspector in the Seimas of the Lithuanian Republic, and we have a conclusion about the violation of academic ethics and EHU procedures. We have European University Association, where one can appeal for moral support. We also have the Magna Charta Universitatum Observatory, which monitors the observation of academic freedom. We can appeal to all these institutions; however, these are not the instruments, which guarantee protection. It is rather some public evaluation.
As for some compulsory instruments, I think that only court can do that.
- As for permanent Vilnius citizens it is easier for Lithuanians than for Belarusans to work on their posts. But it is the latter who influence the contents of the learning process. Is there any sense in the functioning of Lithuanian university with the Belarusan nameplate?
- U. D.: - EHU can quite well exist as a Lithuanian university oriented on Belarusan students. The strategy is for university to decide.
But should we think of EHU as of some democratic project? Maybe, not. It loses all its meaning. These are probably the risks that EHU should consider. And, accordingly, donor support should also take into consideration this role of EHU. This question should be addressed to the university’s board – the international EHU Governing Council.
If our democratic community is interested in the Belarusan project, it should somehow express it attitude towards this situation, and look for the answer.
I am the observer, who looks upon the situation in EHU with sadness and regret. We can criticize this process, but we should remember that the fundamental right of any university is the autonomy in decision-making process. The best thing we can do is to provide a correct autonomous procedure for elaboration of strategy, including the problem of personnel policy. It should be a common cause for lecturers, students, and university’s management; and it is only equal partnership of the participants that can lead to the perspective decision. We should hope for that.
If this mechanism is working badly or even broken, there is nothing good for us to come. However, this is also a part of EHU autonomous rights. You see, suicide is also a right of an autonomous university.
A. K.: - This is the main dilemma for the administration that exists in EHU. As on the one hand, it is really easier for it to work only with Lithuanian personnel; and on the other, the project still gets funding for Belarusans.
From my point of view, if the project becomes a purely Lithuanian university where only Lithuanian lecturers who have nothing to do with Belarusan situation will be working, then there is no sense for such university to exist.
The money, which is allocated for the university, can be redirected for some subsidies, or for opening Belarusan departments in the already existing universities. It is clear that if EHU loses its Belarusan contents, then from the financial perspective it would be more efficient to shut down the project, and reallocate money for some other forms of support for Belarusan students – establishment of new Belarusian-oriented programs or allocation of a vast number of scholarships for studies in Lithuanian, Polish, and other European universities.
There is no sense in the existence of the project without the Belarusan contents.