Top five (false) objections against the protests

This blog originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Link here (available in English, Albanian, and Serbian). This was written in the midst of this past winter’s massive student protests at the University of Prishtina. It had been discovered that the rector of the university, Ibrahim Gashi, had published three articles in a fake academic journal based in India. The poor quality of teaching and services, as well as cronyism and corruption at high levels of the university’s management have plagued the University of Prishtina since the end of the Kosovo war in 1999. Ibrahim Gashi has since been removed from the post of rector.

If you walked past the rectorate of the University of Prishtina this morning, you would think that we were living in a police state. The rectorate grounds were filled with security guards, and the perimeter of the entire area was stationed with police officers. It’s been more than ten days since protests began, after it came to light that rector Ibrahim Gashi has been published (three times) in a fake academic journal based in India. The articles are nonsense, sloppily plagiarized from other sources — which makes sense, considering that the only criterion for publication is a fee of 80 dollars.

This is just the latest in a long string of depressing stories of academic laziness and dishonesty at the University of Prishtina: in the last few months, teaching assistants and other staff have been investigated and arrested for taking bribes, most notably at the Faculty of Medicine (the last place where you’d want someone admitted or graduated based on bribery). The protests at the rectorate are less about Gashi and more about years of frustration on the part of students, who attend a publicly funded university that is currently sick with corruption and filled with political appointments (Gashi, a high official in Bexhet Pacolli’s AKR party, was elected to the post of rector after a short-lived stint at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs).

Despite the serious damage that’s been done to the university’s credibility, public opinion is still not entirely on the side of the protesting students. The objections to the protests typically look something like this:

1. The protests have turned into an Ibrahim Gashi witch hunt.

It’s true that the University of Prishtina’s problems predate Ibrahim Gashi. His predecessor, rector Muje Rugova, wasn’t much better, and will always be remembered for spending nearly 5000 euros of university money to receive a fake prize in New York for UP’s alleged dedication to quality. The Governing Council, a body that presides over the university’s Senate and reports to the Ministry of Education, failed to proactively intervene both then then and now, when the leader of Kosovo’s largest public educational institution turns out to have less than three academic articles published in peer-reviewed, international journals.

The agreed-upon response has been the forming of a committee which will evaluate the validity of the journal that Gashi and other university staff have published in, which almost reads like they’re buying time. A cursory look at scienceandnature.org makes it quite clear that it is not a home to profound thought and scientific research. Gashi isn’t the only issue, but he definitely is a major issue, and a symbol of the institution’s overall dysfunction.

2. The protests are a VV conspiracy.

Members of Studim Kritike Veprim, a student group that is associated with political party Vetevendosje, have been among the main organisers and supporters of the protests, and this has led critics to claim that the manifestations are “political.” The presence of party politics at student protests is a legitimate concern: the University of Prishtina is infamous for its politically influenced student groups, which sometimes serve as sub-branches of parties. However, it isn’t true that Studim Kritike Veprim is the only driving force of the protests; there are also protestors from the Political Students Club, the Ulqin Students Club, and among students not affiliated with any group. At the protest I went to, it seemed like half of the crowd were people who had graduated a long time ago.

While politicization is a legitimate concern, I would be more concerned about the university’s official parliament, which not only protested in defense of the rector but also manages this pro-Gashi Facebook site ( no longer exists, as of last search in June 2014). In the meantime, and Gashi aside, UP’s students suffer from a wide array of stupid and easily fixable problems like the lack of real textbooks, professors who don’t show up to class and crowded lecture halls.

3. The protests “paralyze” the university, preventing it from functioning normally.

The UP of the past 14 years can be called a lot of things, but functional is not one of them.

4. Barely any students show up to the protests.

That may be the case now, but that can change quickly. It also isn’t entirely fair to expect students to tame a monster that they didn’t create, or to blame them for not coming out to protest while accusing those who do of being politicized.

5. You have to change the system from within.

How can you change a system that shuts you out, ignores you, mistreats you, and tries to evict you with security guards?

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