Since the end of the war in Kosovo, the University of Prishtina “Hasan Prishtina” (UP) has transformed into the most fertile ground for political parties and interest groups in the country. Year after year, these groups have sown their seeds through nepotism and cronyism, undeserved promotions and other forms of corruption, and while UP degraded, they reaped their rewards.
Three years ago the Çohu organization published a report entitled “The Big Charge” where they analyzed the phenomenon of political party members who were hired on a professional basis at UP. The research covered four faculties — Philosophy, Economy, Law and Medicine — and found that 50 professors had or continue to have ties with political parties. Although such a study has not been conducted recently, we cannot say that the situation has improved that much — in fact, it may have gotten worse.
Political influence in the University has often been challenged under different circumstances by students, at times led by professors and rectors of the University, at other times the students were pitted against the professors and rectors.
From 1968, when there were protests demanding self-determination and the establishment of a University, to 1981 and 1997 when students rose up to demand a republic to free the usurped spaces of the university, to much later in 2014 when students, citizens and civil society demanded that the rector at the time resign due to the accusations of academic fraud against him.
All these attempts were made to preserve the autonomy and quality of the biggest public University in the country. A similar struggle is being fought in 2020.
Outgoing Minister of Education, Science and Technology, Hykmete Bajrami, recently decided to cultivate UP’s fertile soil, perhaps hoping that she will later reap the rewards. She dismissed three members of the UP Steering Council: Ujkan Bajra, Drita Shoshi and Fadil Osmani, on the grounds that they did not fulfill their duties. After this, she appointed three new names: Muharram Bajrami, Fisnik Reçica and Mentor Geci — the latter two are also lecturers in private colleges.
The Steering Council is one of the key governing bodies of UP, together with the Rectorate and the Senate. As such, it is responsible for the effective functioning of the University, while members of the Council, according to the statute of UP, play a crucial role in selecting the Rector, the Deputy Rector, the Dean, the Assistant Dean, members of the Senate etc.
To oppose the outgoing Minister’s decision, the student organizations SKOPI Studentor and Studim Kritikë Veprim, supported by civil society organizations such as the Organization for Increasing Quality of Education (ORCA) and ADMOVERE, organized a protest in front of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. “Minister, you have two alternatives: Which will you pick?” “Withdrawal or Resignation,” “UP: Public, not private University,” were some of the slogans on banners held by around 40 activists, all of whom kept the recommended physical distance due to COVID-19.
You cannot privatize knowledge
The decision of the outgoing Minister seems quite tendentious in two aspects that complement one another. The first is related to the time when these members were appointed, at a time when election processes at UP are expected to be held — one of which is the campaign for the rectorship. While the second is related to the academic engagements of new members, since two of them — Fisnik Reçica and Mentor Geci — are employees of two private colleges, RIINVEST and UBT respectively.
The UP Statute states that members of the Steering Council “act independently and do not represent any individual or group interest.” It is hard to believe that they can represent the interests of UP while they are engaged as lecturers in private colleges, which see UP as their main rival.
While in one way or another, private colleges have failed to “privatize” knowledge — even though they have accumulated profit at the expense of academic quality in these institutions — they continue to be in fierce competition with the public university in the free market.
In these circumstances, who better to help competitors win the race than the Minister of Education herself? In this regard, the decision to appoint employees of UP’s competitors in the Steering Council is a clear example of a Trojan Horse, considering that the council is the main decision-making body of the UP and the privileges and competences that its members are entitled to are key for the development of the public institution.
Access to every piece of confidential information regarding the University of Prishtina, including plans for competing with other (public and private) higher education institutions, and full competences for university finances, tuition as well as appointing and dismissing the rector — these are just some of the responsibilities of the council. The appointment of representatives of private interests in this council undermines the public university and public interest from within.
However, every form and presentation of the University that is related to the public and that embodies universal knowledge can never be particular, consequently it cannot represent partial — or partisan — knowledge and interests.
So we believe that through her decision Minister Bajrami might have found the formula for mixing water with oil and that she might have lawfully exercised her duties; however conceptually, she failed the test of logic for performing as a public officer, and dangerously fell into the trap of politicizing the highest decision-making body in the University of Prishtina.
Ultimately, the best evidence that the University has always produced and aimed toward universal knowledge is the fact that it is the only entity that continuously and endlessly turns to itself, because in addition to distributing knowledge, it has also produced knowledge of resistance and the protection of knowledge hubs. Together with civil society activists and student organizations, we have set out to revive this knowledge by organizing protests to oppose every decision that violates the autonomy and quality of the University.
Until the Minister withdraws her decision, and parties and interest groups understand the paradox of “Particular knowledge,” pressure from University students — through every democratic means at their disposal — will continue.
Feature image: Gerolld Nikolliqi.