Interview with V.A. Dounaev the First Vice-Rector of the European Humanities University

«Nashe Mnenie»: Sergei Pankovski, Yanov Polesski

Y.P.

The latest EHU press-release “EHU Statement” has reported that on 19 July 2004 the Ministry of Education cut short the negotiations with EHU and demanded immediate and unconditional resignation of Prof. A. Mikhailov, the Rector of EHU. There is a simple question: What does \`immediate resignation’ mean? Can the rector leave his position immediately? What is the procedure of such resignation?

V.D.

It was alleged that Prof. A. Mikhailov has to hand in his resignation to the Chairman of the Supervisory Board. Afterwards, the chairman would have to call the Supervisory Board meeting to take the decision on the resignation. In case the Rector himself addresses the Board for resignation, I could assume, the members of the Supervisory Board would not insist on the opposite.

Y.P.

Are these details taken into account by those who demand the Rector’s resignation?

V.D.

To my opinion, what is taking place here is, to a certain sense, the acknowledgement of the university’s autonomy. The minister realizes that his order is not enough to dismiss Prof. Mikhailov from his position, as well as it is not possible to oblige the Rector to resign upon resolution of the Collegium of the Ministry of Education. The only option is to make Prof. Mikhailov to leave his post “on his own free will”. The Supervisory Board, which is authorized to take such a decision, reserves the autonomy from the state. It is de facto mechanism of the university’s autonomy. Perhaps, this is the only example of such kind in Belarus. Beside other motivations behind the demand of resignation, our University has become a challenge to those rules of the game, which the Belarusian higher education system is today playing on. The EHU just abides by its own principles, even under the circumstances when its existence is at stake.

S.P.

The concerted actions made by the different government authorities evidence the fact that EHU is seen as a problem not only for the authorities of the Ministry of Education but from much broader perspective. For all appearances, it is perceived as a very serious problem, for the removal of which all tools available will be engaged. At the same time, according to some evidences, the authorities undertake some efforts to present the situation as a consequence of the strange personal ambition of Prof. Mikhailov, for whom it would be obviously much safer and more beneficial to give up EHU and settle down at the chair of some European or American university.

V.D.

The minister, in particular, has claimed something of this kind. I might not have understood him right, but I have got the impression that the minister is reading the conflict around EHU through the prism of Rector’s obstinacy. I have tried to explain that the situation has nothing to do with the rector’s whim. The Rector is following the decision, which has been taken unanimously by the University’s corporation, and is not entitled to behave in a different way under such circumstances. These are specific features of the University’s democracy and academic culture of EHU. These imply that the faculty, students and the University’s Senate have the right to define and make decisions on such quite important issues. The fact that the University’s corporation has opposed rector’s resignation, being completely aware of the consequences that can follow afterwards, provides clear evidence of its adherence to the principles of the academic freedoms, which under the given conditions is even more precious than physical existence.

S.P.

In short, Rector’s resignation is a problem which goes far beyond the question of personality. The European Humanities University has been created to embody some system of academic values. This system of values and principles constitute EHU as it is now. And in the end, this exact system of values is at present subject to destruction. Is this the reason why Prof. Mikhailov, who, as said above, could successfully continue his personal career somewhere else, has to stay?

V.D.

I absolutely agree with it. Certainly, for Prof. Mikhailov personally it would be much easier to accept the proposal of the Ministry of Education. But the particular fact that despite the pressure the University’s corporation decided not to relinquish its academic and ethical principles, has resulted in such an acute conflict between the University and the power.

S.P.

It is known that the University at the moment is balancing on the edge. You are going abroad to meet with the international donors of the University and Prof. Mikhailov for consultations. The final resolution on the University has been postponed until 30 July 2004, when, apparently, it will be more appropriate time to speak about this situation in more detail. By the way, speaking about this delay, we still use the word “compromise”. Does it mean that such a compromise is still possible? Will it be in focus at the international meetings and negotiations?

V.D.

The compromise will be put for discussion, but the question whether it is possible or not, depends not only upon the EHU International Board, but the Belarusian authorities, as well. But I am not confident to what extent the other side is ready to compromise today.

S.P.

The rector has addressed a letter to the Chairman of the Supervisory Board, where he expressed his readiness, unless there is no other choice, to resign under the guarantees that the faculty and students would be able to continue their activities and the University would not be closed down. Were these guarantees the subject under negotiation, which the Ministry of Education unilaterally withdrew from?

V.D.

Exactly. The University’s existence depends on the decision of the Ministry of Education, as well as the decision of the donors, who provide nearly half of the EHU’s budget funds. Actually, this is a compromise between the ministry and the donors and how to take into account the interests of both sides, at least for some time, until the University would be able to switch to self-financing.

Y.P.

The EHU Statement declares that the demand for EHU to vacate the building has no legal force. What does it mean?

V.D.

This is a simple legal situation. The University is accused of the fact, that its renewed rent contract has not been registered in time. This could not have been done earlier just because the authorities will start the procedure of registering such contracts only from August 2004. Up to this time, according to the lawyers, the previous contracts stay in force (in our case the deadline for the previous contract is 2006). It is a widely known fact, including those who demand EHU to vacate the premises.

Y.P.

It is also known that for several years the University could not get the permission to construct its own building, which actually means that for a long time EHU has deliberately and purposely been placed under conditions to impede its activities.

V.D.

We have tried to get the permission to build our own university campus for three years but did not manage to do it…


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