Autonomy and Freedom: Support for Reform of Higher Education in Ukraine
The Parliamentary Commission on Education in Ukraine will consider several proposals on educational reform.
The proposals reflect two different approaches to Ukrainian higher education, to Ukrainian political trends, and to the country’s geopolitics. Yet they are much more than that. To put it bluntly, these proposals reflect the future of the new generation of the Ukrainian people. They put forward either a European integrationist trend or a back-to-the-USSR isolationist course. Once one of these proposals is presented for a vote in the Parliament, and becomes the law of the land, the future of Ukraine will be sealed. And the dilemma is clear — bringing up a new generation that shares European educational standards, or casting it into the mold of homo sovieticus. The stakes are high.
Reforms will either curb or allow independence of universities, and, in the long run, they will either restrain or promote the intellectual sovereignty of the Ukrainian people. If the proposals of the newly reappointed minister of education and his supporters take shape, then bureaucracy would dictate what to teach, how to teach, what disciplines students should take, and what professional careers individual students should build.
If the conservative approach prevails, intellectual sovereignty would become null and void. Universities would be integrated into the politically biased and inefficient state bureaucratic system. If the reformist proposal has the upper hand, individual universities would establish their own rules and defend their standards. They would be able to act independently.
One needs to remember that Europe managed to produce such giants as Pierre Abelard, Martin Luther, Erasmus of Rotterdam, Nicolaus Copernicus, and Miguel de Cervantes, precisely because of the independent university system. These and other great thinkers, philosophers, writers and scholars came to being due to Bologna or Alcalá-de-Henares, Padua or Sorbonne, independent institutions with sovereign systems of intellectual property.
Remarkably, these great European universities juxtaposed independence with mobility. They allowed students to take classes in a variety of disciplines. They respected the right of choice and fostered intellectual mobility. They allowed students to choose between disciplines. Universities allowed philologists to become philosophers and medical doctors to become writers.
This mobility is exactly what makes today’s world media so rich, productive, and inspiring. In our time, the best journalists are often university-trained historians; the best writers may be former scholars of physics; and poets can be former medical doctors and engineers.
To impose a strict yoke on the university system, disallowing universities to run themselves and shape their own priorities and mobility system is to strangle the idea of higher education and to plunge Ukraine into backwardness. Ukraine will not become independent unless it allows for independence of its university system. Take it away and Ukraine will turn into an agrarian addendum of the Big Brother, as it had been for centuries.
This is precisely what is at stake — the independence of Ukraine on an intellectual level. This is exactly what the opponents of pro-European reform are trying to suppress. Intellectual independence and mobility is what scares them most.
What kind of a writer are you if you have a medical degree, they would say to the writer and politician Yuri Scherbak and would not allow him to attend the graduate school of journalism. Why are you trying to get to a music conservatory with your medical institute diploma, they would say to Ihor Shamo and would prevent him from becoming a great Ukrainian composer. Who are you to defend your Ph.D. on the history of cinema if you received your master’s degree in German philology, they would say to the Ukrainian thinker Vadym Skurativs’kyi.
It should be crystal-clear that it is up to the individual to decide which school to attend, what area of study to follow, and how to apply one’s intellectual capacities. It is up to a university to decide how to structure undergraduate and graduate education. Even the best-educated authority cannot be a specialist in all the branches of knowledge. Therefore, it is the university as a sovereign intellectual institution that should make decisions about its development.
This is what reform is all about — and this is what we support. The independence of Ukraine begins with an independent mind and with intellectual mobility. Only the sovereignty of universities can make true Ukrainian independence happen because it is the independence of the mind that can set the individual free. Marta Farion, President, Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation of America, USA.
Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, The Crown Family Professor, History Department, Northwestern University, USA.
Marko R. Stech, Executive Director of CIUS Press and CIUS Special Publications, Toronto, Canada.
Rory Finnin, Chair, Cambridge Committee for Russian and East European Studies, Cambridge, UK.
Alex Motyl, Professor of Political Science, Rutgers University, USA.
Vyacheslav Bryukhovetsky, Honorary President, National University “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy”, Ukraine.
Mychailo Zgurovsky, Rector, National Technical University Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, Ukraine.
Serhiy Kvit, President, National University “Kyiv Mohyla Academy” , Ukraine.
William Green Miller, Former Ambassador of the U.S. to Ukraine; Co-Chairman of Kyiv Mohyla Foundation of America, USA.
Borys Tarasiuk, Former Minister of Foreign Relations of Ukraine; Co-Chairman of Kyiv Mohyla Foundation of America, Ukraine.
Yuri Shevchuk, Lecturer of Ukrainian, Columbia University, New York, USA.
Natalia Pylypiuk, Professor of Ukrainian Culture, Language and Literature (Dept. of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies), University of Alberta; President of the Canadian Association of Ukrainian Studies, Canada.
Oleh S. Ilnytzkyj, Professor of Ukrainian Culture, Language and Literature (Dept. of Modern Languages and Cultural Studies), University of Alberta, Canada.
Serhy Yekelchyk, Associate Professor of Slavic Studies (Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies), University of Victoria, Canada.
Mykola Riabchuk, Senior Research Fellow, Ukrainian Center for Cultural Studies, Kyiv; Co-Founder and Member of the Editorial Board of Krytyka, Ukraine.
Jaroslav Rozumnyj, Senior Scholar with the Department of German and Slavic Studies, University of Manitoba, Canada.
Zina Gimpelevich, Professor Emeritus of Russian, Dept. of Germanic and Slavic Studies, University of Waterloo, Canada.
Giovanna Brogi, Professor of Slavic Studies and Ukrainian Literature, Dept. of Modern Languages and Literatures, University of Milan, Italy.
Serhii Plokhii, Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History, Department of History, Harvard University, USA.
Marta Dyczok, Associate Professor, University of Western Ontario, Canada, Fellow, Munk School, University of Toronto, Canada, Adjunct Professor, NaUKMA, Ukraine.
Marian J. Rubchak, Senior Research Professor of History, Valparaiso University, Valparaiso, Indiana, USA.
Volodymyr Dibrova, Editor and Writer in Residence, Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute; Preceptor in Slavic Languages and Literatures, Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Harvard University, USA.
W.Roman Petryshyn, Director, Ukrainian Resource and Development Centre, Faculty of Arts, Grant MacEwan University, Canada.
Maria G. Rewakowicz, Affiliate Faculty and Shevchenko Society Fellow, University of Washington, Seattle, WA, USA.
Daria Darewych, President, Shevchenko Scientific
Society of Canada