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COMENIUS UNIVERSITY PRESIDENT REJECTS CLAIMS HE IS USING ACADEMIC POWER FOR POLITICAL ENDS

Educator tries hand at politics

FERDINAND Devínsky, president of the country's largest and oldest university, is fighting a running battle with academic opponents who say his entry into politics this year has less to do with public service than with strengthening his academic clout.
Running at number 10 on a list of candidates fielded by the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party for September elections, Devinský since 1997 has held the influential top job at Bratislava's Comenius University.
Devínsky received close media attention last year as an anti-corruption advocate in connection with an alleged scandal at the university's Management Faculty. In the affair, Jozef Komorník, the faculty's dean, was accused of manipulating entrance exams in favour of some applicants, including the son of high-ranking SDKÚ candidate Roman Vavrík.


POLITICAL hopeful Ferdinand Devínský.
photo: TASR

FERDINAND Devínsky, president of the country's largest and oldest university, is fighting a running battle with academic opponents who say his entry into politics this year has less to do with public service than with strengthening his academic clout.

Running at number 10 on a list of candidates fielded by the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) party for September elections, Devinský since 1997 has held the influential top job at Bratislava's Comenius University.

Devínsky received close media attention last year as an anti-corruption advocate in connection with an alleged scandal at the university's Management Faculty. In the affair, Jozef Komorník, the faculty's dean, was accused of manipulating entrance exams in favour of some applicants, including the son of high-ranking SDKÚ candidate Roman Vavrík.

"An Education Ministry investigation confirmed that the law had been violated and that the dean, Mr. Komorník, was responsible," Devínsky told The Slovak Spectator August 14.

But Komorník, writing in the Domino Fórum weekly on June 6, claimed Devínsky's tough stance on the matter had not been above-board. "The university president used this case to gain media exposure in a pre-election year," he wrote, adding that Devínsky had also helped to weaken the influence in the SDKÚ wielded by Vavrík, who is also deputy mayor of Bratislava.

In a letter addressed to Comenius University's academic senate dated June 4, Komorník added that his "clear opposition" to a new law abolishing the legal independence of faculties from universities had been one of Devínsky's reasons "to get me out of office at any cost".

Devínsky dubbed the allegations "complete nonsense".

The faculties lost their independence after a new University Law was passed in spring this year, increasing the powers of university presidents.

University officials whom The Slovak Spectator contacted last week refused to comment on the issue, with many saying they feared personal consequences as well as harming the university's reputation.

Komorník's letter also stated that in making public the alleged manipulation of entrance exams, Devínsky had been taking sides in a "political battle between two groups in one party [the SDKÚ], as a prominent party member [Roman Vavrík] is also the father of one of the students whose tests were checked [for alleged manipulation]".

"The party finally placed Devínsky in an electable position," Komorník's letter said.

Devínsky said his placement on the list had been a "complete coincidence" that had no relation to the blow dealt to Vavrík. The scandal had occurred a year ago, Devínsky said, when he had no idea that he might work with the SDKÚ.

"What do I have to do with the SDKÚ anyway? I'm not even a member," said Devínsky, who is running on the party's election ticket as an independent candidate.

Yet another letter written by Komorník on March 28 suggested that Devínsky was trying to weaken his academic opponents to get backing for his drive to establish a new social sciences faculty at the university.

"It's easier to get financial support for such activities when a bad situation exists at other faculties," Komorník wrote.

In June a decision was taken by Comenius to open the new faculty, with entrance exams to be held in October and only weeks later courses to start for around 80 students.

While the university has had serious financial problems for many years, and while Devínsky admits that Comenius now has an operating budget of about 30 per cent of its 1992 income when inflation is taken into account, he sees funding for the new faculty in bright colours.

"Every leader should be able to look into the future and create resources," said Devínsky, adding that he had found money for the project both at home and abroad.

The Comenius president said he had rejected offers from other parties and decided to go with Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's SDKÚ because the party set education as its second-highest priority, following Slovakia's western integration.

Convinced that the Slovak elementary and secondary schooling system must be reformed to ensure top university instruction, Devínsky said he was prepared to take a seat as Education Minister, if given the chance.

"I see my political future as lying wherever I will be needed," he said.

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