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Adventures in Macedonia (Part I) March 25, 2013

Posted by etschneider in Students, Teaching.
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A long time ago, on this blog, Dark clouds over Ohrid I mentioned that I would like to talk about a difficult subject which happened to me while I was working in Macedonia, a work- and academic- life-related topic. I will try to stick to the facts and will try to remain objective as much as possible.

It will be spread on several posts, and it will be based on an interview I gave to a “Macedonian political magazine” named Fokus. Miroslava Simonovska was the journalist, who interviewed me. To structure this series of posts, I will follow the questions she asked me.

In the last post of the series, I will mention the current outcome of the situation. A lot of things happened in Ohrid, Macedonia, during February 2013, and March 2013. Thanks to Jake Grafton for suggestions.

From February 2007 to August 2010 I worked as a Senior Lecturer at the Universiti Teknologi Petronas in Malaysia and decided to come back to Europe for personal reasons. I found the project of the University for Information Science & Technology in Ohrid great and ambitious and decided I wanted to be part of it.

When I signed, I knew that my tasks and responsibilities would go beyond that of an ordinary Senior Lecturer. I would partake into set up a brand new university (the university was one year old when I arrived in September 2010). The idea of being able to participate in designing a new curriculum (according to the Bologna Process and using the ECTS) and having a say in forging such a challenging environment were decisive in me coming to Macedonia.

Back in Germany, my research was oriented on Middleware for Embedded Systems. In Malaysia, a colleague of mine convinced me to work on a plagiarism detection system, unfortunately, since he was the principal investigator, the project went with him when he left the university, though I am quite sure, it could have been a successful project. For a while, I have the idea to reorient my research toward Game Development and some of its subdomains and saw the birth of a new university as an opportunity to achieve this goal. I decided to focus on the urgent matter first (i.e. building the university), and then, if my contract was renewed, to concentrate on my game development research and building a game development lab.

In April 2011, my contract was renewed for two years by the first rector and he agreed for my GameDev projects. The rector S. proposed me to act as pro-rector for academic affairs and I agreed. When the new rector D. came visiting the university one month before taking office, I was introduced to him as pro-rector, even if it was not in black-on-white. Everything was on tracks… In September of the same year, the situation drastically changed. This was the reason for the interview.

The Interview

 

Miroslava Simonovska (MS): What is the issue between you and the University for Information Science and Technology (UIST) in Ohrid?
Etienne Schneider (ES): The issue is that I was dismissed without notice and not given any hint or warning that my performance or behaviour might have been unsatisfactory.

I was hired to start in September 2010 under the administration of the rector Professor S. In July 2011, the administration changed and Professor D. took over the lead of the university. 
When I returned to work after the summer break in August 2011, I pursued my duties as assistant professor and as acting vice-rector for academic affairs as appointed, by the rector S. I assumed that role would continue with the new administration until informed otherwise. 
At the end of August 2011, the new university administration threatened to fire some of the teaching assistants because they had not returned to the university for the beginning of the semester in September 2011. These assistants had been granted paid leaves-of-absence to finish their doctoral research by the University Senate. That decision of the new administration was in contradiction with the decision of the Senate, and no one was informed about this last-minute change of policy.

On September 1st 2011, the new Rector D., called a meeting of the University Senate to – among other actions – vote the inclusion of some new members to the University Senate. At that early date, as members of the Senate, only four of the five foreign professors had returned to Ohrid, me included: an American, two Britons and I. Another was still abroad. One of the British professors, although already present in Ohrid at the University at that time, was not invited to join the meeting. Also present at the meeting were the other British professor J., and Z. the only Macedonian professor employed by the university at that time, and the student who presided the Student Body. And of course, the rector.

The other British professor was denied attendance to the meeting because his contract was signed by the previous rector S. We informed the new Rector D. that all the contracts of all the foreign professors had been so signed. The fact that all other foreign professors’ contracts also were signed by the rector S. was dismissed. No further explanation was offered.

The meeting was surreal. We suggested the votes to be postponed until the two missing foreign professors could attend. The suggestion was rejected: we were told that it was urgent that we accept new members to the Senate, despite the direct violation of the University statutes concerning quorum. Additionally, two of the three members to be added were married, which is forbidden by Macedonian Laws.

We told so to the rector and then he directly decided to nominate a commission to verify if new Senate members could be elected to the Senate at any time. This commission was to be composed of the British professor – J., the student, President of the Student Body, and the Rector himself. After a break, that commission returned and stated that there was no problem in adding new members to the Senate.

The vote on the motion to establish R, the now vice-rector as a new member was taken. The Rector D., the British professor – J., and the student voted in favour of the proposed member, while the Macedonian professor Z., the American professor and I abstained. The Rector D. declared the vote as valid, but several members stated that it was not valid because, by University rules, members could only be added be a “clear majority,” and only 50% had voted in favour.

S, one of the other two – not yet elected – suggested members, and husband of the newly appointed senator asked if any of the current Senate members were illegally working at the university. The person acting as a general secretary said that only the American professor was not eligible for working at the university because he had not provided a copy of his PhD diploma. This fact was lengthily contested by the professor who finally agreed to produce another copy by the beginning of the next week, September 5th. The Rector D. agreed, but the American Professor was asked to leave the meeting nonetheless.

The senate meeting continued, and the remaining two members of the Senate were elected. Each vote was supported by the member added to the Senate during the previous vote. Throughout these suspicious elections, the Macedonian professor Z. and I abstained.

On the day after this meeting/election (Friday, September 2nd 2011), the American professor was fired by email. The following Monday (September 5th) S the advisor to the Rector (husband of the newly appointed Vice-Rector) told the British professor, whose participation to the meeting was refused due to his contract having being signed by the previous Rector S. and his contract being a two year contract, that he was fired. He never received any written confirmation about his dismissal.

After these events, Mr. Pance Kralev, Minister of Education asked to meet the rector, one Macedonian Professor and one foreign Professor, so the Macedonian professor and I proposed ourselves to meet him. The persons he met were the rector, his advisor – i.e. husband of the, at that time, vice-rector and one of the foreign professors that had not been fired. The Macedonian Professor and I were also received after this meeting. The Minister listened to us politely and apologized to us for having made a mistake. It is only after the meeting that we learned that the other meeting – with the rector, the advisor of the rector and the second British professor (the not dismissed one) – had taken place.

On Thursday, September 15th, the Opening Ceremony of the University was held… but in the Macedonian language, bypassing the law voted in 2008 to set English as the official language of the university and all the previous Opening Ceremonies were held in English.

On September 19th, on the 18th days of my new contract, I received a letter that letter terminated my newly signed two-year contract for the 2011-2013 academic years. This contract had been mutually agreed to and signed in good faith by the previous Rector Professor S. in April 2011. The letter of dismissal was then published in Fokus on Friday, October 7th

This is the end of the first part.