You are the founder of New Bulgarian University and probably the most important figure there, being a chairman of the university board. Well, why do you still teach in The University of Sofia?
I have always been lecturer only in The University of Sofia. And I keep to this distinction. New Bulgarian University is administrative task for me. It is a task, however, along with many minor tasks. One of them, probably the most important one, is to test how the double rule in university is structured: on one hand, the rule of the board that is in charge of the strategy and finances; on the other hand, the rule of the rector who is in charge of the academic work. That means that NBU, which is not a state institution, has in itself the outside agent. The board plays the role of the state; it ensures finances, keeps an eye on the strategy; all that gives comfort and security for the academic rule, so that it can manage with regular and concrete tasks. On the bases of my experience in the University of Sofia, I am well aware how difficult it might be for a single man to combine all these functions. This is the reason why I am lecturer in The University of Sofia and only administrator in NBU.
NBU copes with the funds, doesn’t it?
It does, because we know what we gain and what we possess. That makes a working responsibility appear. Otherwise, the common case is irresponsibility and dissipation. That’s why in many cases the financial dependence on the state means insufficient money and inefficiency; it means expensiveness. It is even more usual for our state itself, which is both poor and dissipating.
But the meaning of the word “efficiency” in education is a little bit dim.
Efficiency in education necessarily means what it does mean in all other areas – to produce more with certain amount of resources. It means money for research, for development of the scientific work and the students, for building the usual material setting. All good educational institutions have funds that secure certain advantages. Another thing follows from that: some people should be only lecturers, another people – both lecturers and researchers, another people – only researchers. The roles must be more and must be alternated. An educational structure, that really works, presupposes both equality and efficient inequality. That means also that payment should be different and changeable; it means also that the budged should be flexible and that it could be filled by different sources, by different projects and cooperation. Such is the experience of NBU. The question of funds is, however, more complex. One must have them, but one must have them in an efficient way. So, the flexible structure for gaining and securing funds should be based on modern arrangement of spending them. NBU gains advantage of the first thing, while the second one refers to problems that are widely known by Bulgarian experience with using European funds. Certain funds are not spent. In that sense, the shallow argument that there are no funds usually means: “I must get it without the burden of writing projects”. That is, there is such an element in our poverty – we are not yet flexible and initiative persons who can participate in a network of regulations.
But isn’t managing projects a kind of subjection to utilitarian thinking, while thinking itself, free thinking somehow shrinks?
If we put it in university language, you are stressing the value of the fundamental science and its independence in respect of any practical circumstances. Well, the question might be formulated like that: is it possible, if one considers the fact that there is constant shortage of funds, for a modern Bulgarian university to develop fundamental science in the field of technologies? I think, it is, but indirectly, in cooperation with other Bulgarian or foreign universities. The same is true in respect of what you have called “thinking itself”, which supposedly does not demand great funds. But it also presupposes a network and an open existence, a contact with conventions, by the way, also conventions how to attack conventions. A modern university cannot exist just by itself. It is true, of course, that good university is that university which is put aside from the practice and common life. But it is put aside namely for the development of living. The new thing today is that this manner of staying aside is shared by others who are also put aside.
Is Bulgarian discontent reasonable?
In many cases it is. We are living in really poor country and there are many reasons for one to feel of little value in the face of what comes from abroad. But the feeling of inferiority is a kind of fury to generalize in rather negative manner expressed also as indolence. It is much easier to lament for Bulgarian education, than to try to discern what is positive and what is negative in it, to try to think in more categories. Here is an example. We have recently organized a conference dedicated to the 15th anniversary of NBU. The opening ceremony was attended by the minister of education, by deputies, by the rector of the University of Sofia, and by rectors of other universities. We have stressed that the aim of that meeting is to discern the positive aspects of Bulgarian university education. The speakers followed that call. But the journalist who attended the meeting caught only the negative things. They are able to identify as a great event only what is truly negative. Well, however, the public image not necessarily coincides with reality. Our task – of those who work in the university rather than of the media – is how to manage to discuss things, how to express the complex reality in a complex manner. A more concrete task is set in the same direction: the picture of Bulgarian education should be more properly presented. Briefly said, it is variegated.
I remember the expectations when 15 years ago NBU was about to be born. We thought that the emergence of new university would create rivalry which would spur on the older institutions.
As a smaller and new institution NBU has certainly achieved faster and even first in Bulgaria some things. Here are two examples: 6 years ago NBU brought into use primary tests for the university. After that they became widespread in Bulgaria. My second example concerns the credit system. We introduced it more than 10 years ago. At first we were regarded as a bad exception. Then our regulation was used as a base for the one that was created by the Ministry of Education. Who is first does not matter; what matters is that both these things are now in common use.
But the public opinion is that these tendencies do not concern most of the provincial universities where the level of education is low…
It is easy to say that it is low. We need, however, more concrete answer on the bases of thorough examination. By the way, such examinations do not work because Bulgarian universities are not attached in a network. Forms of cooperation, of common acts, of common programs are missing. It is the same with Bulgarian schools. Wide fronts and wide abstractions are usual in that field as well. People always fall into using huge oppositions between state and private, ours and alien, past and present, while these things should be regarded only as a beginning of reflection. One should pass from these oppositions to low-tension ones, and from them to fusions which are the only that can guarantee, to a certain extent, that what we say is close to the complex reality.
Anyway, one can see that you have the ambition to create more and more new areas of education.
It is true. There are some programs in NBU, such as Cognitive Science or Semiotic, which cannot be found in other universities in Bulgaria. Other programs, such as Political Science or Law, have names equivalent with programs in other universities, but in regard of the structure and curriculum they are quite different. In some cases we are inspired by the idea just to add something – it is the case with the program of Architecture which does not copy what is made in The University of Architecture, or the case with the program of Plastic Arts which is not competitive with the one in The National Academy of Arts.
Some time ago many lecturers of NBU had been working in The University of Sofia. Such a practice always seems to me to be – I beg your pardon for the word – vicious.
Teaching in two places is vicious and it is due to the incapability of the universities to create a network. At the moment the biggest part of lecturers, who come in NBU from outside, do belong to Bulgarian Academy of Science.
Different programs compete in NBU for student’s choice. The choice, however, is determined by the interests of the day.
Yes, reality and interests are exposed to changes, so the university must reflect these changes. The inner market of programs, which exists in NBU, is a good thing. Those who want to create a program must, therefore, cope with a kind of inevitable management. To attract students is not easy. To turn someone to what you teach demands certain efforts.
But usually those who have managing skills do not posses scientific knowledge, and vice versa.
That’s why these people must cooperate and join in a team. To make a working team is a difficult task, especially in Bulgaria, for our space is still in the state to overcome its socialistic atomism. We are such atomized people, at least the older generation; people without resource to cooperate. Of course, there is something positive about it: strong connection between friends and warm atmosphere among relatives which are both highly valued by those who come from Western countries to live in Bulgaria. Well, modern life, however, demands something else – you should be able to work not necessarily with friends.
And you think all that is legacy…
This is the first bad legacy of communism. The second one is that the ideas of fact and truth are misted. Usually it is not a big deal that something happened on Thursday, at 3 pm. But meaning and truth have common base on which the fact might be set. Thus we say: “Well, it doesn’t matter that A acted in wrong manner in regard of B at that hour and on that place. The truth is that in Bulgaria these things used to happen and will happen.” That’s why our journalists are interested in the negative state of affairs with a strong tendency to generalize. In this sense, they are not citizens, but rather paradoxically, philosophers, specialists in annihilating the concrete reality because of an abstract world of common presumptions. For me it is the most negative legacy of the communistic time. It has something to do with the atomism. Everyone has become separate unity. That’s why my generation still values, in a romantic manner, individuality. As for me, I always look for people of originality, of talents. I cannot work on the following assumption: “Ok, these people are mediocre, let’s see what’s going to happen if they join in a team.” Well, it is the case with contemporary democratic convention – there are many people, the biggest part of them just ordinary, in the most positive meaning of the word “ordinary”. But their joining together guarantees that one could jump over, while with others, the natural ordinariness, and in some sense could grow stronger.
And what is the part of education in that process?
It is enormous. Education guarantees that jumping over ordinariness by the means of knowledge, and it does something else as well – it instructs in sociality, in passing, without crisis, from state of separation to state of cooperation, and vice versa. In my opinion, that is the fascinating goal of Bulgarian university education today.
Taken by Hristo Butzev, “Kultura”, 37/2006