Chicago-based foundation fears diminishing of academic freedom in the Ukraine

John Presta

The Board of Directors of the Chicago-based Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation of America passed a resolution on March 19th in support of the National University of Kyiv-Moyhla Academy located in the Ukraine. The foundation has been crticial of the government of the Ukraine, saying that the governement is not allowing academic freedom and university autnomy. The school is the premier university in the Ukraine and known in many circles as the “Harvard of the Ukraine.”

The resolution introduced was in response to a crisis of democracy and academic freedom in Ukraine. The Board of the Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation of America will send the resolution to Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych, calling for policy reforms to support Ukraine’s choice for democracy, intellectual, and economic prosperity.

The Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation’s Co-chairmen are William Green Miller, former U.S. Ambassador of the United States to Ukraine, and Minister Borys Tarasyuk, the Chairman of the Parliamentary Committee on European Integration and Ukraine’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs.

In a statement to the board, Ambassador William Green Miller said, “We believe a free academic community is critical to the maintenance of a vibrant and viable democratic society.” He continued, “The actions of Ukraine’s administration toward the country’s higher learning will ultimately govern the ability of Ukraine to achieve democracy and full nationhood.”

Ukraine’s Ministry of Education, Research and Sports, led by Minister Dmitro Tabachnik, has not met the lawful obligations of the Bologna Declaration Ukraine signed in 2010, joining 28 European nations as signatories, promising to reform the country’s higher education system allowing for academic freedom and university autonomy. The Declaration includes specific requirements for integration of academic programs so that university degrees can have reciprocity and courses transferable between European countries. Since the signing, the ministry has reversed the move toward European standards and transparency and it has assumed a centralized policy of control.

Minister Tabachnik has proposed laws undermining the European declaration and has used selective funding to exert government control of the nation’s universities. He has withheld grants and levied other economic hardships, a spokesperson for The Board of the Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation of America told The Chicago Examiner. The spokesperson said that the government is singling out the Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, the nation’s oldest, and most reform-minded university, for particularly harsh treatment.

“Democracy in Ukraine is only two decades old and the danger of a return to authoritarian rule is real,” stated Borys Tarasyuk, Ukraine’s Parliamentary Leader for European Integration. “Intimidating the nation’s cradle of future leadership for political aims is an attack not just on academic freedom, but also on Ukraine’s democratic future.”

The country’s current archaic education system does not provide for academic freedom, university autonomy, curriculum choices, Ph.D. programs, transparency in admissions and degree awards, independence in research, management, and administration, and achievement of higher educational standards, a spokesperson for The Board of the Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation of America told The Chicago Examiner.

Assistant Professor in Modern Jewish History at Northwestern University, Yohanan Petrovsky-Shtern, said of the situation, “The present Ukrainian government is more interested in strengthening its power than in stabilizing the country’s economy and advancing its education. Although the government has signed agreements promising the country’s trend toward the European Union, in fact the opposition forces are being silenced, the leaders of the opposition harassed and arrested (as the former PM Tymoshenko), and the Russification policy gaining the upper hand.”

Professor Petrovsky-Shtern added, “The real trend of the present Ukrainian government, which seeks more to please the Russian authorities than to find a common language with its own people.”

The issue of certification of degrees must be brought into focus as well. “The absurdity of the ministry’s refusal to certify foreign academic degrees and credits, even from the best universities in the world, such as Oxford, Harvard, Stanford, Sorbonne and others makes a mockery of Ukraine’s entire educational system. Yet, the ministry continues to promote the current antiquated Soviet relic of certification known as “nostrifikatsia,” said Marta Farion, president of Kyiv-Mohyla Foundation of America.

Marta Farion added, “In Ukraine, education has become a political battleground. The academic community, students and their parents, as well as the business community are interested in providing education to a young generation at a level playing field with European universities so that Ukrainian university diplomas will be recognized in other countries and so that graduates will be able to compete for jobs and professional opportunities nationally and internationally.”

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