How things get solved at the University of Prishtina: Committees and commissions

This article originally appeared on Kosovo 2.0. Link here (available in English, Albanian, and Serbian). 

What has the University of Prishtina been doing to solve its image problem and its very real issues with academic honesty?

On January 28, the Senate of the University of Prishtina decided to take emergency measures to save the institution from its recent embarrassment. Under pressure from the Governing Council (the body that oversees the work of the Senate) a new body was created to evaluate the academic honesty of the university’s staff: the Commission for the Evaluation of Academic Publications. On January 30, while appearing on BIRN news talk show Jeta ne Kosove, former rector Ibrahim Gashi and former head of the Governing Council Muharrem Nitaj stated that they expected this commission, in cooperation with the university’s Ethics Committee, to verify the academic integrity of UP staff.

The Commission for the Evaluation of Academic Publications has three members, each one a professor at UP: Agni Dika, Shaban Buza and Naser Zabeli. Their job is to contact all university faculties (or more precisely, the faculties’ “academic units”), and acquire CVs as well as hard copies and links to all publications published by academic staff since 2000. The information is being gathered through a form distributed via email more than 10 days ago.

This commission, however, is only charged with verifying that publications exist — it does not evaluate the academic work contained therein. This means that works of the “Ibrahim Gashi” type could potentially pass the Commission’s evaluation. If the Commission has suspicions about a publication’s academic value, or if it turns out the publication doesn’t exist, it gets forwarded back to the faculty’s academic unit and it’s their job to make sure that the issue gets brought before either the Ethics Committee or a special evaluating committee. The number of publications assigned to a professor is important, since it affects his/her ranking in the university, as well as their chances of future promotion. Since the commission is only staffed by three members, it will take a while before the public finds out the results of their findings.

The Ethics Committee is the body responsible for evaluating the academic integrity of students and staff, as per the university’s Code of Ethics. The Code of Ethics only came into being as of July 2013, despite being an implicit requirement under the university’s statute. It’s unclear what the expected timeframe was, but to an observer it would seem that the Ethics Committee is a body that should have been created as soon as the Code of Ethics was made official, if not sooner. The timing of the rector’s scandal happened to coincide with the Senate’s decision to finally name people to the committee; Myzafere Limani, the head of the Ethics Committee, has stated to both Kosovo 2.0 and BIRN that she was completely unaware of her nomination until two months ago, when a Senate decision was dropped in her university mailbox.

It isn’t clear exactly how the committee is supposed to function, because the Senate has yet to approve the committee’s working regulations. Questions such as how one sends a complaint to the committee, how the committee processes cases, and the nature of the committee’s powers remain unspecified until the working regulations are voted and agreed upon in the Senate. At the moment, there is no direct link between the Commission for the Evaluation of Academic Publications and the Ethics Committee — a bad sign for the administration’s attempts at reform.

Academic staff contacted by Kosovo 2.0 confirmed that a university-wide reevaluation is taking place. Our research also showed that various other evaluating bodies do exist within the university’s structure, as such structures are necessary parts of granting degrees as well as academic promotions (the clear failure of these mechanisms is perhaps the reason why another, extraordinary commission was created). University of Prishtina professors Arben Hajrullahu and Qendrim Gashi, outspoken critics of university management, have suggested the creation of a unified, national body for evaluating degrees and academic titles. Given that the Ethics Committee — the body accountable for academic integrity — is still not fully up and running, and that the massive task of tallying all UP publications has been assigned to a mere three individuals, it’s unclear exactly how the creation of still more committees and commissions will improve things at the university.

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