Autonomy of the University?

Education is the foremost concern of a nation. The prerequisite of free thinking, which is the prerequisite of real education, is the autonomy of the university. With the view of introducing autonomy in our university, we shall define this term and describe the present situation in our country. The autonomy of the university means the functioning of the university without the spiritual or secular influence of its founders. The need for the autonomy of universities is as old as universities themselves. At first, the autonomy was necessary, as it still is, for independent scientific activities, free of dogmas. The main problem in those times was the influence of the churches and monasteries, as the founders of the universities, on the activities of these institutions. Ideas of those times, predominately influenced by theologians and church dignitaries, were connected with religion and creating was seen as a way of glorifying God, which, naturally, hindered the development of critical thinking requisite for constructive and serious analyses of the world around us. It was in the Renaissance that dogmas gave in to the growth of human thought and science, which gave a new aspect to the term 'the autonomy of the university' - individuality and distinctiveness of the institution. Another significant aspect of the autonomy of the university is a kind of territorial autonomy. We mention the case of the group of Cambridge students who, after they had drunk quite a few pints of beer in a pub, got into a fight with the citizens. The cause of the argument has not been recorded, but it is known that the students withdrew to the university building. The local police came and took the culprits to prison. The students rebelled, their professors sided with them, the fathers of the arrested students - high-born noblemen - appealed to King, who made a decree by which he pardoned the students and forbade the entry of sheriffs into the buildings and onto the properties of the universities in the whole United Kingdom, unless they are given the permission of the university officials. As the human society develops, the relationships in it become more complicated, or systematized, depending on the point from which they are viewed. The relationships between the founders and the universities become more complicated as well, which brings about the necessity of regulating these relationships. The simplest solution is, of course, the law. In the epoch of enlightened despotism, the first laws regulating the relations between the founders and the universities, as well as the questions connected with the autonomy of he university, were passed. Naturally, those laws did not always and fully regulate all the problems of the autonomy of the university, but we can mention with pride one which represents the height of the liberal legislature of that time. It was a law which, believe it or not, was passed in Serbia at the beginning of this century. According to that law, beside other liberal regulations which we can hardly imagine today, a full-time professor could not be dismissed from his job unless he himself did not comply with his dismissal(!). Now we shall describe in short the history of the universities of the Serbs. The first institution of high education was the School of Theology in Sremski Karlovci. It was founded under the patronage of the Karlovac metropolitan diocese and its students were the future priests of the Serbian Orthodox Church. As far as Serbia is concerned, in 1808 Dositej Obradovic, influenced by the ideas of the enlightenment, founded the Lycee in Belgrade immediately after it was freed from the Turkish governors. When the First Serbian Rebellion was crushed, the Lycee was closed. Later on, during the rule of Mihailo Obrenovic, the High School (Velika Skola) was established, and at the beginning of the century it became the University. It was then that the above mentioned liberal University law was passed. At that time, a high number of wealthy Serbs, led by their national feeling, bestowed their property, buildings, ships, gave scholarships to talented students for their education in foreign countries. Unfortunately, the war broke out and many students, school assistants and professors of the University lost their lives.

After the war and the October Revolution, many professors from the Russian universities came to Belgrade and they raised the level of education at Belgrade University to a higher degree, and made the University an educational institution of a worldwide renown. The ideas of the October Revolution, however, started spreading at the University. The authorities energetically reacted to this. The autonomy of the University was grossly violated then. It has been recorded that in 1935 after the demonstrations of progressive students, the police entered the Law School, where the students were, murdered one student and arrested a few others and sent them to prisoner camps. Ivan Djaja, the Chancellor of the University, resigned then. Contrary to the anonymous individuals of our day, the Chancellors of those times were people of high morals and eminent experts known worldwide. Then the war broke out again.

After the war, everything changed. Some other people came - the rule of the people came. The people's rule did everything it could to reduce the autonomy of the University to the smallest possible degree. First, it expropriated the whole property of the University, which is a unique case, since the state, as the founder of the University, first took away its own property, and then appropriated it. The next step naturally proceeded from the previous one. The University in Belgrade was divided into two parts: Belgrade University and the University of Arts. Led by its ideology, rejecting all different opinions, the state authorities introduced new subjects, such as Civil defence and Marxism. Later on, when they realized that the Soviet path to socialism was not the Yugoslav as well, they used all their creative abilities and came to an ingenious solution - socialist self-management. Of course, that new form of socio-political-production relations pervaded all aspects of the society, including the university. The workers' councils and the motto "everybody knows everything" enabled the cleaning ladies and the janitors to decide together with the academicians about the salaries, the distribution of apartments and the problems of heating.

However, very few people mentioned the autonomy at that time, since, professedly, the employees at the university decided themselves about the problems at the university, and that, in fact, was the autonomy.

From such a state of formally great, but really nonexistent autonomy, we come to the present time. Today the relations between the founder, i.e. the Republic, and the university are regulated by the University Law, which was passed after the Student Protest '92. That law formally established the nonexistence of the autonomy, which had been hidden behind the disguise of self-management earlier.

First of all, the conditions concerning the founding of the university were not regulated by that law. Namely, the founder is the Republic (obligatorily), but the university can be founded by physical and by juristic persons as well. However, the conditions which must be fulfilled by the founder and the procedure of establishing the university were not precisely determined by the law, in which way many possibilities for bribe and blackmail have been left. The autonomy defined at the beginning can hardly be achieved in this way.

Another thing that is contrary to the autonomy is the way the managing and expert organs at the university are organized.

According to the law, the managing organs at the university are the Chancellor and the Council. The University Council consists of two times as many members as there are institutions constituting the university. Those institutions can be schools, institutes and libraries. Half of the members of the council are elected by the Scientific-educational school councils, whereas the second half are elected by the founder. The expert organ at the university is the Scientific-educational Council, or the Educational-artistic Council, which consist of the deans of the schools and the managers of the institutes or libraries which constitute the university.

According to the law, the University Council has the jurisdiction in the following activities:

1) it makes the statute of the university
2) it makes decisions about the investing of the university funds
3) it approves the financial plan, the reports about the work and yearly account of the university
4) it discusses the questions of the students' standard and gives suggestions to the authorized organs for the improvement in that area
5) it makes the program of activities at the university
6) it makes the acts about the establishment of the university centers and university departments
7) it acknowledges the statutes of the schools
8) it makes the decision about the announcing of honorary PhD titles
9) it makes the decision about the establishing of an institution the founder of which is the university
10) it elects and dismisses the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor of the university
11) it elects the president of the council
12) it elects the general secretary of the university and
13) performs its other duties determined in the statute of the university.

In what way are these regulations contrary to the autonomy of the university? First, the half of the members of the Council who are elected by the founder need not be people from the university, or even people with university education. They are merely people chosen by the will of the founder, and you will certainly agree that people outside the university cannot make such important decisions as they are legally bound to make.

Second, the founder, through the Council, directly influences the program of university studies, the statute and the appointing of the Chancellor and the Vice-Chancellor, in which way the autonomy of the university is completely denied. If the founder of the university is the Republic, the half of the members of the Council are elected by the Government.

Therefore, the appointing of the Council members depends on the results of elections and the ability of certain parties or coalitions to form the Government. In this way the Government, i.e. the party or coalition which has formed the government can, using only legal regulations, have both spiritual and secular influence on the university.

As for the student representatives, the law is not strict, which means that it depends on the university statute whether there is or there is not the representative of the students. The student representative is a member of the Scientific-educational, or Educational-artistic Council and he has the function of the Student Vice-Chancellor. However, he, as well as the Chancellor, is elected by the University Council, which is an absurd procedure. He, therefore, is not the representative of the students, but a formally displayed figure serving only to make it appear outwardly that there exists some communication and coordinated work between the professors and the students. Bearing in mind these facts, we should not be surprised by the behaviour of the present Student Vice-Chancellor of Belgrade University, since, after all, he had to be elected by the majority of the Council members, and we have already learned how they are appointed. This is an additional proof of the nonexistence of the autonomy of the university.

Student organizations are in a similar position. According to the law, they can be freely formed, but owing to the Council and the Chancellor, according to some invented regulations, certain organizations can and others cannot be registered. In this way, the basic human rights, as well as the principles of the autonomy, are violated.

It should not be forgotten that education and the freedom of thought are the greatest treasure of a nation. They must not be manipulated by any political or social organizations. The program of education is the primary concern of a nation and it must be agreed upon by all social and political organizations. In the present situation, the agreement on this important issue does not exist.

Back to BOOM 19 index
Back to the Home Page