Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

It’s War

Gazeta Wyborcza launched its latest offensive – and it is often quite offensive – on Polish lecturers on Monday, Oct 19th in the year of Our Lord 2009 with a big splash on the results of a survey which showed, among other things, that university lecturers think university lecturers are capable and clever and – more surprisingly – their students also think them capable and clever. So, everything okay then? Everyone happy? No! Gazeta Wyborcza is certainly not, interpreting the results as evidence of complacency (and entitling their campaign “The Higher School of Shame”) because Polish lecturers, their universities and their courses are in fact rubbish. Fact always trumps opinion. Facing the page bearing the report (headlined “We, wonderful lecturers in our super colleges” – oh, the irony) are two interviews, one with the minister for science and higher education (former rector of a private university), and one with the rector of Collegium Civitas (a private university). The businessman uses the opportunity to sing the praises of private universities and fee-paying students.

(Gazeta Wyborcza also saw fit to print a comment from its internet forum from one kociewak2, a law student here in Gdańsk, who claims that in England professors are available 24 hours a day. A few of my friends are professors in England but when I rang them this morning at 3 am they were unavailable for a comment.)

Monday’s paper contains a quarter page ad for a private college which offers – nay, guarantees – an MA degree (“magister”) in two years if you have finished school. Presumably – though it’s not mentioned – you also need a BA degree since it takes five (5) years to earn (not buy, with a money-back guarantee) an MA in Poland. There is also an ad for a competition organized by something called the Future Academy. That might be a third level institution, who knows? There are no ads in the paper from taxpayer-funded universities.

The campaign against free education continues in Tuesday’s paper, which reports that the Conference of Rectors of Higher Academic Schools demanded of the minister the right of public universities to charge fees if private universities are to be funded by the state.

Klaus Bachmann, a Political Science professor, writes in the same paper an article about the need to reform higher education. He has some good points to make and seems a very little less enthusiastic about denying university education to the poor but – this is Poland after all… One of the present system’s weaknesses is that lecturers in the humanities are cut off from the outside world: they read only Polish books and lecture only in Polish. Perhaps they should lecture in Swahili? No, of course not. They should lecture in English to Polish students about Polish literature (this already happens: there a bonus is paid for lecturing in English). I can see, of course, how widening one’s reading to non-Polish books would increase a Polish prof’s knowledge but how would lecturing in English – with all the attendant misunderstandings, hesitations and repetitions – help?

Doctorates and post-doctorates (“habilitacje”) should of course, Bachmann continues, be written in English so that foreigners can review them since Poles can’t be trusted. Research should be published in other countries, in other languages (sometimes Bachamnn remembers the existence of languages other than English, sometimes not, as when he suggests linking pay to the number of one’s English-language publications). I can imagine the editors of Western academic periodicals eagerly awaiting a deluge of submissions on the demographic history of Pcim, based on Parish records, 1718–1767. Harvard is just dying to sink its teeth into minor Polish writers whose works cannot even be bought in Poland.

One of his ideas – as usual, something that’s been knocking around the west for years – is “putting elite [Polish intellectuals’ second favourite word, after “prestigious”] research centres beyond the reach of universities” because they (universities) are “incapable of guaranteeing high quality.” This is already happening in Germany, where such “elite research centres” are funded by private foundations. I can suggest a snappier name for “elite research centres”: why not call them “universities”? Since they are funded by private foundations: “Private Universities.”

For such a gung-ho westerner, Bachmann seems to have ignored a fundamental piece of advice given to American university students: do not use false dichotomies in your essays. Here he goes:

Wednesday’s pitched battle against lecturers is a little less ideological. Plagiarism is condemned and the merits of professional, non-academic education are talked up. But – this is Poland after all… The minister has ordered a higher education strategy to 2020 – not from her civil servants, good God, they wouldn’t have a clue – but from a consortium comprised of famed educationalists Ernst & Young and world-renowned teachers, The Market Economics Research Institute. “The experts … admit that fees cannot be avoided. Students are opposed to fees.” So are lecturers, as GW’s own opinion poll shows. Being a journalist must be so exciting – always finding out new and surprising things, like Ernst & Young are against free education, while students are for it. The pope wears a funny hat and bears don’t use public toilets…

If there’s one thing you Polish profs have to get through your goddamned heads it’s Speak English or Die.

If there’s one thing you Polish students have to get through your goddamned heads it’s Pay Up or Shut Up.

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