Scandal-hit law faculty faces departures, dissension

The law school at the University of West Bohemia is wracked by allegations that the clock has been set back to the bad days

Martin Rychlík | 26.04.2011
Karel Eliáš is going to retire from the Law Faculty of the University of West Bohemia

The University of West Bohemia in Plzeň appeared to be a school for scandal in 2009 when the Faculty of Law was revealed to have given out fast-track doctorates to prominent politicians, officials and police officers under suspicious circumstances. A new administration was introduced and the faculty seemed to be emerging from the crisis under a team of reformers. But elections to the academic senate appear to have put the clock back again, with the main reformers failing to be elected. Failed reformist candidates included Professor Karel Eliáš.

Eliáš, the author of new Civil Code, and one of the biggest stars at the faculty as head of the department of private law and civic procedure says he is now looking to leave after failing to be elected dean. He is likely to be joined by another 20 staff members, including the head of the department of criminal law, Helena Válková, and labor law specialist Petr Hůrka. The departures have sparked speculation that the faculty faces collapse. Czech Position spoke to Eliáš about his future and the faculty’s prospects after meetings with the newly elected management.

Q: Do you see any chance of remaining at the faculty after the negotiations?

A: After Wednesday’s [April 20] talks, I basically fail to see such a possibility. Particularly, when during that meeting Dean Květoslav Růžička made decisions that even went against recommendations put forward by representatives of the university management. And when I learned who the dean is proposing to the academic senate for the positions of vice dean for science and research and [vice dean for] strategy and development it has became clear, I think, that my future at the faculty has no sense.

Q: Is there any possibility that university rector Ilona Mauritzová will directly intervene in developments at the Faculty of Law?

A: Rector Ilona Mauritzová had been and still is at pains to stabilize the situation at the Faculty of Law. It is, as a matter of fact, rather a difficult job for her — she has been rector relatively briefly, since March 1, and the situation at the faculty must be unclear for her. This faculty works in a different way from other faculties.

Q: What makes it nonstandard?

A: Almost everything, except instruction. That is alright — that is, up till now the friction among university lecturers and their respective groups has not affected the quality of instruction. It is, however, a fact that prior to the elections to the academic senate some colleagues misused their lectures to recommend to students whom they should vote for to represent them.

Q: Can the school sink even deeper? Is it under threat of collapsing altogether?

A: The faculty is not under threat of collapse. Certain interests will keep it afloat, even though such efforts will most probably come from outside circles because that is what happened at the Faculty of Law in the past and the ensuing continuous media interest, of course, also harms the university as a whole. But I would like to stress that the University of West Bohemia is also involved in outstanding projects and has faculties and institutes with great scientific achievements to their name.

Q: What is the worst thing that happened since 2009 that prevented change and reform at the faculty taking root?

A: The problem is that there was not enough time. One year is nothing, even if one disregards the previous nine years when the faculty had been functioning in a different manner under [former Vice Dean] Milan Kindl and [faculty Dean] Jaroslav Zachariáš who, in effect, had it under their control. Some people’s employment was terminated in 2010 but many others at the faculty stayed on. The departments were free to request grants and their staff could publish scientific papers. ‘Those who didn’t show any interest in doing anything more for the faculty than merely teach and those who wanted to avenge their defeat at the hands of the reformist group united.’

But after a year it emerged that many departments were simply not pursuing such activities. … This proved to be yet another setback for the faculty. Our department recorded a Kč 3.0 million profit over the past year and the department of administrative law a Kč 1.0 million profit. The faculty as a whole, however, made a loss of Kč 2.3 million. Between the nonprofit making departments this amounts to a loss of Kč 6.3 million.

And, as a result, those who didn’t show any interest in doing anything more for the faculty than merely teach and those who wanted to avenge their defeat at the hands of the reformist group united. The election results show that two-thirds of the Faculty of Law is composed of such people.

Q: What’s it like if 62 percent of the entire faculty’s scientific research output has been produced by your department?

A: These are just the figures from the RIV database (the Ministry of Education’s research and development registry), just the output of publications. But where grants are concerned, particularly thanks to Dr. Milan Hulmák, Dr. Petr Bezouška and professor Bohumíl Havel our department acquired Kč 20 million in grants.

Q: Why is there such a discrepancy between the departments?

A: If you go through the people in charge of the departments, then you’ll see it largely concerns commuting university teachers. And that is due to the fact that because of the wages, which are relatively low at the Faculty of Law, a considerable number of academic staff give lectures at other institutions, especially private schools. It is not exceptional if a lecturer of ours teaches at two or three private universities across the Czech Republic — in Karlovy Vary or in Prague.

Q: How would you assess the current atmosphere at the faculty?

A: It’s just a feeling, but it reminds me of normalization [the period of communist repression following the 1968 invasion].

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