HSE: A Community of New Professionals
On March 6th 2013 an open discussion on ‘Freedom and Responsibility in the Public Space’ took place at the HSE.
‘Do members of the university staff have to maintain certain university values and a communication culture beyond it walls? Do we need to record our mutual values in writing, in order to create a university code of ethics? Are the existing HSE’s Rules and Regulations sufficient to regulate such a complicated issue as the balance between the freedom to express personal positions and mutual respect?’ Yaroslav Kuzminov, Rector of the HSE, invited all interested students, staff and faculty of the university to discuss these three questions. About 100 people gathered in the Academic Council meeting hall, and the regional campuses participated via video conference. In addition to this, the discussion was broadcast online on the HSE website.
‘I like the fact that there is a discussion, not only within the HSE, but in wider society, about what a university should be, and what a university’s corporate culture is’, said Yaroslav Kuzminov opening the meeting. ‘What is, for example, the Higher School of Economics? The HSE doesn’t just consist of liberals, we have all kinds of people here. The HSE doesn’t only work with the government. In fact, only one third of our projects are commissioned by the government, and we actively cooperate with the business community. We are very diverse, and this is very good, but we still need to be defined somehow. I’d suggest the following: the HSE is a community of new professionals, people, who are really useful to others, they’re not just pretending to work. We would like to be a best practice example of a team’.
And to achieve this aim, according to the Rector, it is necessary to outline the HSE’s attitude to five key problems which either directly or indirectly influence the effectiveness and reputation of any university.
Five simple rules
The first of these concepts is related to following academic or professional ethics. ‘This is a painful problem for Russia’, Yaroslav Kuzminov said, ‘Taking into account the quality of our academic community and staff attestation we now have a situation of the emperor’s new clothes’. According to the Rector, preparation and viva voce processes of theses have become a ‘mass imitation’ of academic work. ‘The HSE has avoided participating in this quasi-academic process’, the Rector reminded the audience, ‘We didn’t have high indicators of defended theses among postgraduate students, since it is difficult to defend a thesis at the HSE, and many students are afraid to do this and, instead, defend their papers at an institution where it’s easier’.
The problem of plagiarism is also relevant here. ‘The HSE was the first to start really fighting against plagiarism and continues to do this: each year we consider three or four cases against our teachers’, Yaroslav Kuzminov said.
The second group of problems outlined by Yaroslav Kuzminov includes standards of behaviour for students and lecturers in the educational process. The main problem here is plagiarism in student work, but simple copying from other students’ papers is also one of them. ‘Completing tasks for someone else is considered to be a friend’s duty’, the Rector said, ‘The attitude to copying is a battlefield between Russian and American educational cultures. In the US they do not let others copy, it is normal for students to inform the administration about such cases. And in Russia it is taken as a game: a team of students vs. a team of teachers fight for supremacy’. While we can’t adopt the American ideal, it is quite realistic to introduce stricter control in classes or for students to work on team projects where not one student, but the whole team gets the grade, the HSE Rector believes.
He also emphasized another ‘behavioural’ aspect – readiness for cooperation and collective responsibility. The Rector welcomes the practice which has appeared at some faculties, when senior students volunteer to organize additional seminars on difficult subjects for younger students.
Lecturers should also be attentive to colleagues and students. ‘A lecturer should be available to an interested student or colleague any time’, the Rector noticed.
The third group of problems is related to behavior at the university beyond the frames of academic process and study. Simply speaking, these are the rules of everyday behaviour. The balance between independence and abusive behaviour is very delicate and should be discussed in terms of specific examples.
There are two more important topics which need to be articulated. One of them is the ‘fundamental denial of political competition within the university and its dorms’. ‘We participate in politics and have more influence than a lot of political parties’, Yaroslav Kuzminov admitted, ‘But we are not part of the political process. We are looking for optimal solutions, we listen to other points of view, we don’t ignore others and don’t engage in mudslinging. This is a key principle which we must repeat again and again: the HSE includes representatives of various political views – United Russia, systemic opposition, non-systemic opposition, but they are involved in political activity beyond the university walls. It is a guarantee of the university’s stability. This is our mission in the divided Russian society: we should learn to follow the British rules of polemics’.
The last big topic was understanding freedom in the university. ‘The university is a platform to express freedom, and we will consistently expand the space of freedom and choice for the students’, the Rector said, ‘The University should do its best to promote self-realization for people, and it should make all its resources available at any time’.
Yaroslav Kuzminov reminded the audience that the HSE was the first to ‘relocate’ its library from university walls to the internet space. The students are free to come together in clubs and associations which can publish information and participate in the competition for material support. The university should be literally open for students.
As part of the meeting, serious attention was paid to the ethical behaviour of students and teachers in the public space of social networks and the opportunity to create a university code of conduct etc.
The value of such meetings is of course not to merely get together, talk, debate, make quick decisions and go back to business. It is important that the discussion which took place at the Academic Council meeting hall helps to systemize the ongoing discussion about university ethic norms, and promote an open and organized dialogue between HSE students, teachers, researchers and staff.
Oleg Seregin, HSE News Service
Photos by Nikita Benzoruk