Czech ‘title mania’ to survive in new education law

Academics and faculties put pressure on legislators to preserve the so-called ‘little doctorate’ and other arcane Czech degrees

Martin Rychlík | 07.07.2011
What’s in a name? Czechs are captivated by the letters on people’s visit cards and mailboxes, be they JUDr. or PhDr.

The hunger among Czechs for academic titles before one’s name seems instatiable. According to well-placed sources, the phenomenon of awarding “little doctorates” will be maintained due to pressure from academic circles and evidently the grandmother of a well-known Czech politician, who cherishes his own and displays it prominently on billboards.

The so-called “rigorous exams,” thanks to which holders of Master’s degrees can obtain the titles of JUDr. (doctor of law), ThDr. (doctor of theology), RNDr. (doctor of natural sciences), or PhDr (doctor of philosophy), will be continue to be awarded and recognized according to the revised Law on Tertiary Education being prepared by the Ministry of Education.

Those who cannot live without their titles have cause to celebrate — especially lawyers. Take for example, JUDr. Petr Hulínský (Social Democrats, ČSSD), who takes journalists to task if in their articles they don’t include the letters before his name, awarded him by the Bratislava Academy of Police Work for his 88-page thesis titled “Corruption is bad and harmful.” Likewise, Regional Governor of South Moravia Michal Hašek (ČSSD) received his JUDr. from an obscure law school in Sládkovičovo, Slovakia, for having described in general terms how a cooperative functions, as the news server Aktuálně.cz reported.

Undersized doctorate

It’s not just the center-left politicians who have a pathological fixation on the “little law doctorate” — witness two members of the Civic Democrats (ODS), above all Milan Jančík, the political powerhouse and former mayor of Prague 5, who was awarded a fast-track JUDr. from the University of West Bohemia (ZČU) in Plzeň, a notorious diploma mill, but didn’t hesitate to use the letters under his name in promotional materials for the municipality. To appear an even greater intellectual, he added an MBA from the Brno International Business School.

Some time ago, Česká televize (ČT) discovered that Marek Benda (ODS) had been awarded a little law doctorate for a paltry 57-page text but then seemed to distance himself from it before embracing it. “I don’t use any title without authorization. I’d be interested to know if you find this title somewhere,” he told in November 2009. Later, however, he said it still counts and that he would revise and amend his Plzeň diploma.

Haňka: Cancel it!

Given their love affair with the title, would Czechs survive the “little doctorate’s” abolition? “A number of people and universities say that this title should be completely canceled. … Nowhere else in the world are these old titles given out today, not even by the Germans or Austrians,” Prof. Rudolf Haňka, who is heading the tertiary education reform, told Czech Position in an extensive interview, stressing that in his opinion they should, without exception, be canceled. “The ‘rigorous exams,’ in my opinion, are given only because of the traditional but more-or-less meaningless titles of RNDr,. PhDr and so on.”

But there cancelation won’t happen without consequences. Not only do politicians love the little doctorate titles so do the institutions of higher learning. Don’t forget, that for the examinations, which in the ideal case promotes the authors of exceptional academic work, the faculties take in a fair amount of money (from Kč 5,500 at the Charles University philosophical factory in the early 1990s but which no can run to Kč 10,000) for administering the rigorous exams. Who wouldn’t want to earn a quick doctorate? And which institution for issuing just one more document wouldn’t take such a fee?

Why aren’t you a ‘doctor’?

Another hindrance to the canceling of the JUDr. and PhDr., which were already canceled once but returned on the scene after 1998, is the rigid Czech academic environment itself. “When I came to teach at the faculty, I was constantly asked by my older colleagues why I wasn’t a PhDr. holder. I patiently answered that it isn’t a [real] doctorate but just a half step from a Master’s degree. I couldn’t explain it, so finally I took the [rigorous] exam myself,” a 28-year-old doctoral student at the Charles University faculty of Social Sciences said. She is far from alone. The psychological effect of the supremacy of the older doctorate holders above the “mere” young Master’s degree holders cannot be ignored.

In October 2009, sociologist Marek Skovajsa published an essay in Lidový noviny titled “Big production of little doctorates in the Czech Republic” in which he cautioned that the lesser degrees had little in common with the true PhD. The “big” doctorate requires building on a Master’s degree with true scientific research whereas the “rigorous exams” on the contrary seem like a joke hidden within the Law on Higher Education of 1998. The word rigorous means severe or strict. “What is ‘rigorous’’ about a test that requires no study or serious academic work? asked Skovajsa, characterizing them rather as a jovial affair, accompanied by coffee and open-faced sandwiches, and “absolute nonsense.”

It is necessary to add that Skovajsa — or rather PhDr. Marek Skovajsa Ph.D. — from the Czech Academy of Sciences polished up his Master’s degree before his name just to be safe (as did the author of this article – editor’s note).

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