Thursday, 27 June 2002

Will anything change? Hardly!

From: settler < settler_777@yahoo.comThis email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it
Date: Thu Jun 27, 2002 9:02 am
Subject: Will anything change? Hardly!

"Nomad" and Kazbek Seyilhanov, two KIMEP students, recently showed their dissatisfaction with KIMEP mismanagement and in their open letters explained their concerns.

Some people (Dr. Richard Faillace, Peg, Erlik Karazhan, Yelzhas) reacted by addressing or disputing some of the statements the two students made. In this text I do not want to address the specific event of KIMEP management or mismanagement; I will rather analyze the situation in general terms, from a distance, focusing on the logic and underlying principles rather than specific facts. I do not assert that KIMEP is mismanaged neither that KIMEP is well managed. So, the following paragraphs should be read starting always with a phrase "If KIMEP is mismanaged then so and so...". To save space, I will omit this phrase, however the reader should proceed knowing that my position towards KIMEP management or mismanagement is neutral.

First of all one thing which delights me: There are students in KIMEP who care, who are not afraid to raise the critical voice, to express their dissatisfaction. These are the signs that KIMEP is at least somehow successful in what it claims: educating future leaders and teaching western democracy. People like Nomad and Kazbek are the first individuals who show the signs of mature citizenship - it is worthwhile for them to spend a minute, think about the situation, write a critical article, and find courage to publish it. This is very promising for the future of Kazakhstan, which has still undeveloped democracy and citizenship in the Western sense.

Now let me start with a simple question: What will happen after Nomad's and Kazbek's letters were published? The answer is: Nothing. The same happened before: after critical remarks of Dr. Angotti, after parents meeting, after memoranda wrote to Dr. Bang by TACIS consultants, after the criticism by Dr. El-Namaki etc. Looks like any attempt to change the situation fails - Dr. Bang and his team continues to manage KIMEP the same way. Why? For "technical" (to lesser extent) and "systemic" (to larger extent) reasons.

First "technical" reasons: One general thing deeply rooted in the Soviet countries is the lack of communication, or even miscommunication. Successful system of communication includes worked-out communication means and channels through which smoothly flows information rich in relevant content, properly "packaged" (structured, formatted), properly timed etc. It includes recipients eager to listen and react. When necessary, parties meet and clarify their views, positions, explain their way of thinking. This process is permanent and, as part of organization structure and culture, develops into delicate network. In a well functioning organization the channels are well defined and supported (that includes financial investments, such as computer systems), and, perhaps even more importantly, people are trained how to communicate effectively: how to use the system, how to write a brief but informative memorandum, how to prepare meetings and prepare for the meetings, how to make sure that there is a follow-up, how to collect feedback, how to provide feedback etc. Unfortunately, the effective communication system in KIMEP is non-existent (although KIMEP claims to be in a position to teach the modern management practices including communication) , the current way of communicating is similar to Soviet-type institution. Let me ask again: Why? Perhaps because the better system waits to be developed, because there are no resources, specialists etc. So, if there is mismanagement in KIMEP, it is just incidental, it is because that management lacks information to make better decisions. (However, management which fails to obtain that information, fails in designing and implementing a good communication system, fails in training staff how to make efficient use of it, is a poor management.) Perhaps Dr. Bang and other top managers don't read student letters or TACIS memoranda (or even don't receive them), perhaps they don't subscribe to Yahoo! Kimep newsgroup (Nomad and Kazbek: What did you do to make sure that Dr. Bang receives your letters and has means familiar to him to react?) Or perhaps because the management doesn't need it (effective communication system). The management would not listen anyway, because the management pursues its own goals which may be incompatible with the goals of the rest of KIMEP community. The management doesn't need to know what students or faculty think, or even worse: the management doesn't want to make visible the difference between their goals and the goals of the rest. So the management not only doesn't need it, it doesn't want it. It doesn't want the communication system which would (arguably) show the student and faculty dissatisfaction, which would shed light (arguably) on various mismanagement practices. It doesn't want a democratic management system - a system with a written charter defining procedures such as flow of management information, where and how this information is generated, who receives it, and how it should be dealt with; a system in which students and faculty have a say in management, a system in which key management positions are staffed by elections (as Nomad quoted Dr. Chinapah: a system in which students are empowered to "fire their deans".)

However, the "technical" reasons are only marginal. More important reasons are "systemic". The previous paragraph already touched the issue. Let's assume (just a hypothesis) that the top management really has some odd goals and, what is perceived by Nomad and Kazbek, is not incidental, but intended. (If it is not intended then the solution is rather easy: let's sit together, discuss problems, make things transparent, make plan of changes, change the system where necessary, designate responsible people, and, if some of these people are incapable to produce satisfactory results in reasonable time, replace them.) Why the management can unscrupulously pursue their odd goals (again, it's just a hypothesis!) and nobody can stop them? Because there is nobody to stop them. First - it looks like quite a few people, possibly majority, is more or less happy with the current situation. Quite a few mediocre students are happy that they get their diplomas with relatively little pain and demands on them. Even unaccredited diplomas are good - good enough for local market (mediocre students don't have any higher aspirations), and good enough to show something to their parents. So why to bother with what's going on in KIMEP? Many good students don't bother either - they know that KIMEP diploma is not that important; they are rather getting ready for rapid career, establishing already their career record, working full time or part time, and not having time and interest to deal with KIMEP problems. The same with faculty and administration: quite a few of mediocre staff is happy to keep well paid jobs with an approach "don't bother me - I don't care as long as I get my paycheck". So in general it looks like this: mediocre students, faculty, and staff are happy, and majority of good students, faculty and staff are ignorant pursuing their own selfish interests, letting KIMEP to its own destiny. One of the systemic reasons is simply ignorance. (I remind the reader: I assume that there are problems in KIMEP for the purpose of this argument, but do not state it. Maybe there are no problems - then there is nothing to be "ignored" and everything is just fine). Ignorant, passive, uninterested majority perfectly inhibits any lonely calls for change of few caring individuals. The management doesn't need to react, doesn't need to do anything - the ignorance will do it. Ignorance is part of immature democracy and citizenship: a true citizenship requires interest and desire to participate (recognition of a problem), freedom of thinking and ability of critical evaluation (analysis of a problem and taking own's position), personal courage (to speak up), human concern (willingness to help others, to support a common goal), and respect for the truth (the concept that any injustice, even if done to somebody else, unknown and unrelated, concerns me, and I should, as much as possible, react - raise my voice, support those who suffer, and fight with the cause of the injustice). This and only this is a real basis of any liberal democracy, thanks to many such people (and blood of these people) in the past and present we (or at least some nations) enjoy democracy today. The difference between a society with a really functioning democracy and a pseudo-democracy (such as in Kazakhstan) is in the grass roots - in the nature, character, and behavior of individuals. (I do not claim that every citizen of, let's say, Holland, actively participates in public life, is honest etc. But their forefathers set up the system of the "invisible hand" with its own inertia and build-in self-protection features. This system is kept alive by relatively few "active" individuals - nation's elite. Thanks to the system and the elite maintaining it and asserting the values such as love of freedom, rule of law, and tolerance to minority opinions, even "passive" individuals receive benefits of functioning democracy). This ignorance (arguably) extends beyond KIMEP - it is reinforced with the ignorance of government bodies, media etc. There is no one to listen to the few voices calling for attention, no one daring to stand up and do something - write an article, question the management, ask for explanation, run an inspection (or is it again because of communication problem - because they don't know? Is it because Nomad didn't address his letter to board of trustees, media, ministry of education, or president Nazarbaiev's office, who is a patron of KIMEP?)

Ignorance is however only a part of the picture. The next part is inexperience, incapability. If one stops to be ignorant and wants to do something, one must know what to do and how to do it. Let me again assume that there are problems in KIMEP, and imagine that one day KIMEP miraculously relocates to some democratic country, and KIMEP students quickly learn the basic lessons of democracy. What would be (roughly) observed in, let's say, Holland, Germany, or USA?

First of all don't forget that now we are in a liberal country. The owner (let's assume Dr. Bang is an owner for a while) can manage the way he wants, as long as it is legal (no fraud, no misleading advertising, no unfair competition practices etc.). The customers (students or parents) have a choice to select KIMEP, or not to select KIMEP. As long as customers (or sufficiently large niche of customers) keep selecting KIMEP, it must be good choice for them, and everything is fine. If KIMEP has severe problems (perceived not by few individuals but by majority), the word would spread, the students would stop coming and KIMEP would eventually cease to exist. Simple self-regulatory free market process.

There are two problems here: misleading advertising and falsely created image (potential students learn only later that there are problems) and what to do with students who have already enrolled. Reputation develops over time. No company can succeed fooling their customers for a long time - any advertising is helpless if the product or service is simply not good. In some cases misleading advertising can be the ground for product return, or legal action (remember that we have miraculously moved to a Western democracy!). But how to return to a student two-three years of "wasted" time (to return tuition money could be requested by the judge), if he is not receiving in KIMEP what he expected to receive? Or if he doesn't get accredited diploma in spite of the promises? What can such students do? These questions should be asked even more if Dr. Bang is not an owner but just an entrusted manager - in that case he may not manage in the way he likes and just wait what the market will do - he is obligated to manage in the interest of owners (in our case the government and the people of Kazakhstan) - doing to the contrary may be reason for his firing or even legal
action against him. A good government, then, must step in and perform regular inspections, analyses, opinion surveys etc. to make sure that there is no mismanagement - in other words, it must care, too.

For students who are already enrolled and experience mismanagement there is a plethora of ways to react:

1. Set up a student organization. Some western universities have strong organizations similar to trade unions - students pay membership fee (some universities even require that all students pay the contribution no matter whether they actively participate or not), other universities provide funds and other support to the organization from the university budget. Organization uses the money to run its own office, obtain equipment (computer/phone/fax), and secretariat (sometimes student volunteers, at large universities even paid workers, or paid students who receive in this way the financial aid). Students then elect the organization's president and other representatives. The procedures can be detailed in a constitution or organization charter.

2. Set up organization of parents. Can be organized similarly as student organization, can be attached to student organization.

3. Both organizations represent and protect students' and parents' interests. They maintain communication channels inside the organization (list of emails of all students and parents, list of mailing addresses), and channels of communication with the university management and external bodies (media, government agencies). Individual students and parents may raise concerns and issues with their representatives. Organization representatives then discuss the problem, question the management, and issue official statement. If the solution is not found the organization can organize meetings, debates, or other events. The role of such organization is usually not only political - it also organizes clubs, entertainment, invites guest speakers, and is active in many other ways in the time of "peace".

4. In the time of "war", i.e. in case of severe problems (such as, as Nomad claims, in KIMEP) there are means and ways for collective action. These start from an exchange of memoranda between student organization and management, creation of joint working committee composed of management and student representatives which works to solve the problem, informing the board of trustees or other superior body (ministry of education, organization which granted accreditation), and, in extreme cases, strikes. Strike can be a symbolic one - students communicate their concerns and requirements to the management, and, for example, wear a specific clothing (all supporters dress in black, or wear some visible sign of support attached to their clothing), while classes continue. More severe form of a strike is that students stop coming to classes, or even occupy the building. Sometimes students come to classes but instead of having class read poetry or have political discussion of the issues in question (with invited guest speakers and representatives of media). Or students occupy administrative building, office of the dean etc. (Keep in mind: we are in a hypothetical Western country; check here what is legal and what is not and follow the procedures prescribed by the law!)

Students can also organize a demonstration in front of management offices, roll out slogans, have speeches, in the extreme case throw a few tomatoes against office walls (I simply list all the possible ways to react as they could be and sometimes are experienced in a functioning western democracy). If the institution requires paying the tuition - an obvious form of severe protest is collective non-payment of the tuition money. Qualified legal advise is a must in any severe form of protest - lawyers can be hired with student organization's money (in a western democracy in case of severe problems, quite typically a lot of support will come for free just from sympathetic supporters - journalists, human rights organizations etc.).

To finish, let me say that in most situations any form of extreme protest is never used - the problems get usually solved before they get that far. Just the threat of employing these forms makes the management listen and respond carefully to any allegations; listen and respond with a carefulness proportional to problem's escalation. Because there is no such mechanism now (because of either the content with the status quo, ignorance, or inexperience), the result of Nomad's and similar letter is simply nothing - they don't even deserve a reply letter from the management. Very finally: Don't be fooled into thinking that somebody will bring the democracy for you on a silver platter. Democracy can't be granted; it has to be deserved, worked through, fought over.

Tuesday, 4 June 2002

Concerned about KIMEP

Dear KIMEP community, This is to express my serious concerns about the future of KIMEP and comment on some issues mentioned in the article.

"It is the responsibility of the students of the Republic of Kazakhstan to question their instructors, professors and administrations. It is their duty, the duty of their parents and of the citizens of their nation to demand that education in this Republic is honest. Without such an outcry, and without the moral indignation to demand rights and respect, both inside and outside the classroom to ensure honesty in education, no government or administrator will care." Richard Faillace, Ph.D., "Freedom of Education in Kazakhstan", KIMEP Times, #5 (38), February 2002


Dear KIMEP community, This is to express my serious concerns about the future of KIMEP and comment on some issues mentioned in the article.

Firstly please be noted that all below-mentioned statements are based on my own observations, some documents and interviews with some people most of whom wished to stay anonymous. For the reasons of protecting my sources and myself, I cannot disclose and refer to any specific names.

Let's start with "nationally recognized" statement from the article. I should remind you that we were promised twice by the administration that KIMEP would get accredited by the Ministry of Education of Kazakhstan. Once it was supposed to happen in November 2001, but later it was explained that there are some problems with the ministry. We were told again that accreditation would be complete by April 2002. However, as you see we are not still accredited even by the Ministry of Education not to mention any other foreign accreditation agencies. The explanation that we have a different language of instruction and documentation is not a very sound reason for this delay since Suleyman Demirel University, another similar western-style institution in Almaty, was accredited long time ago by local government bodies.

Next comes Dr. Bang, USA scholar (?!) and the president of KIMEP. To be frank, I would have called him a smart businessman rather than a scholar interested in KIMEP's development as a non-profit educational institution. There is an evident conflict of interests about his presence at KIMEP. He has great business interests in Kazakhstan. He has wide network of warehouses across the country and he owns real estate properties such as many villas in Almaty countryside mostly rented to foreign ambassadors.

USKO, his private company in Kazakhstan, has already entered diversified local markets varying from construction to telecommunications. Though KIMEP is still a state-owned institution, which requires administration to organize open bids for any significant acquisition, I could not see any other supplier except USKO supplying all new furniture and equipment, doing most of the repair works. According to some undergraduate students who have done a research project about construction industry in Almaty, USKO offers one of the highest prices for its products and services. So I'm really doubtful that KIMEP organizes open bids and USKO is doing all these works at fair market prices. The cost of new canteen is estimated to be more than $400,000 which is really a waste of money while we do not have enough appropriate reading materials and qualified staff and faculty. In Dr. Bang's perspective, investing in books and teachers may not be a very wise investment decision since he cannot expect any financial return later. According to KIMEP's balance sheet as of December 31, 2000, "Property, plant and equipment, net" is valued at less than $700,000 which is a really funny figure for all KIMEP's premises including nice centrally-located buildings, huge land, dormitory, etc. Only new canteen makes up more than half of all these real estate properties!

According to Dr. Bang's Entrusted Management Contract concluded with Kazakhstan government, he has to make certain amount of investments each year to fulfill his obligations as the president of school. All his investments mentioned above would be considered as part of his price offer to buy out KIMEP next year in August when it will be offered for privatization. So with all his investments up to this moment, which come back to his pocket through USKO maybe even in a greater amount, would probably be just enough to acquire all KIMEP's property next year at a very cheap cost for him. So his strategic goal looks like as to become owner of KIMEP's real estate property. Otherwise he would consider bringing teachers and buying books instead of illegally distributing them and charging money for copies (?!). We cannot think of any accreditation if KIMEP continues breaching copyright laws. Teachers and books are direct costs relevant to KIMEP's core business that is to provide high quality education, and these costs should be given a priority instead of wasting money on nice toilets and canteens. It's funny that the Department of Business Administration, the core department at KIMEP, has only one professor with a western Ph.D. It's really funny to see "Masters teaching Masters"! Next issue in the article is about donor organizations and universities KIMEP claims to have cooperation with. I have not seen any significant cooperation except with all those listed universities except with the Korean Women's university. All other relations just seem to be spontaneous but not intended strategic network building, e.g., Dr. Leibert has brought James Karlin from North Dakota university and called this as "cooperation". Maastricht School of Management (MSM) was here because of TACIS, European Community sponsored project, and all other relations don't seem to be the first intended step of KIMEP's administration.

Story with donors is also misleading information. TACIS has finished its project after investing in KIMEP more than 10 million euros in almost 10 years, and I don't think they will stay here any longer. Dr. Eric Cornwell, who once used to be a dean here, hinted during conference devoted to accreditation issues held in Bishkek last fall that KIMEP would never get accreditation in Europe unless Dr. Bang leaves KIMEP. My impression is that European Union is not willing to invest any money in a place which is not transparent and where conflicts of interests exist. I remember how Dr. Ottavio Angotti left KIMEP. Dr. Angotti, our loveliest dean and guru of accounting who was provided and paid by USAID, faced significant difficulties in implementing his ideas and encountered strong resistance from administration. We still remember him saying "...don't believe them..." pointing out Mr. Rahman's side. After this conflict, USAID withdrew Dr. Bojan Popovic, another professor provided by them. I am really suspicious about USAID's support to KIMEP nowadays. So due to the lack of transparency and mismanagement at KIMEP, we have lost most of our sponsors and donor organizations. This is quite normal matter of facts because anyone would be reluctant to invest in such a stinking place. I think I should also mention the case of Dr. El Namaki, our previous dean who suddenly left KIMEP after being only several months here. Dr. El Namaki, a scholar and consultant to many international organizations, a board member of several foreign well-respected accreditation agencies, founder and reformist of many business schools around the world including MSM and many other programs, honored us by his acceptance to manage KIMEP's academic programs. However, he was surely disappointed by what he found here. He also faced strong resistance from Mr. Rahman, Vice-President and key person of Dr. Bang at KIMEP, Ph.D. physicist or whatever he claims to be, and all other management people who are probably seriously concerned about keeping their jobs. Dr. El Namaki, a person with a vision and great experience in strategic management, offered administration to restructure KIMEP. Dr. Bang accused him of being undemocratic, but I have personally witnessed his open-door policy. He created taskforce teams consisting of faculty members to research current situation of academic programs and to assist him formulate improvement strategies. Of course, Dr. El Namaki was right by expressing his unwillingness to work with physicists! Dr. Bang naturally preferred Mr. Rahman instead of Dr. El Namaki who might have threatened his business interests in KIMEP. Dr. El Namaki had a vision about KIMEP and proposed many ways to make KIMEP truly leading institution in Central Asia. Under his management, KIMEP would receive foreign accreditation much easier and earlier than what our current administration promises us because he has personally participated and managed accreditation applications for other institutions whereas none of current professors at KIMEP have ever dreamed about it! Dr. El Namaki was tired of endless attempts of communicating his vision and ideas to the management. He had better alternatives to opt and now, he is the president of Montreal International School of Management (MISM) in Canada. Upon his departure, I heard that all people who supported him were pressured by the administration.

Well, I could not see anything meaningful about administration except those endless plots and games going on behind the scenes. As you should have already heard, KIMEP didn't apply for membership in Central Asian Foundation for Management Development (CAMAN) which is engaged in accreditation issues for Central Asian schools and supported by European Union. CAMAN was founded by Almaty School of Management, part of International Academy of Business. University of International Business, another competitor of KIMEP, is also an active participant in CAMAN activities. Recently, CAMAN members have been invited to world forum in Bangkok dedicated to management education to introduce Central Asian business schools to a global community of management institutions. CAMAN's 3-day trip to Thailand is to be sponsored by USAID.

I cannot just close my eyes behind the fact that KIMEP is not there! By the way, another important competitor is entering market. Kazakh-British university has recently been founded in Almaty by the support of British government. I also heard that it's informally backed by very influential people. They got Akimat's old huge building and many professors from Europe are invited to teach there. So the competition is getting tougher. I remembered a funny story about President's scholarships. Some people told me how our administration arranged this scholarship that is claimed to be from Mr. Nazarbaev. They just contacted President's assistants and asked if they can use his name but pay money themselves. So what KIMEP administration calls "Presidential Scholarship" is actually our own money. This is surely a clever PR strategy as well as using President's name aside with KIMEP's.

To sum up, I think we are being mismanaged and misinformed. I am sure that if the President and other government people knew our problems, they would have taken necessary actions to prevent this gradual degradation of our school. I am really upset that most of KIMEP students are not concerned and interested in KIMEP's future. I guess many people think that they will just cut ties with KIMEP after graduation and walk out without any concern getting a diploma which actually is only a piece of paper. However, we must be concerned about KIMEP since its reputation and quality of education would become an intangible asset for the rest of our lives. I don't want to see one day that KIMEP will be traded in auctions as a nice real estate property. I remember Dr. Chinapah, UNESCO official who had a guest lecture at KIMEP, saying "Nowadays, students, as the major customers of modern and progressive educational institutions, are being empowered greatly, and even in some place given authority to fire their deans. This tendency of active participation of students in important management decisions should be celebrated...."

As I told before, no names of sources are disclosed, but most of things mentioned could be verified if you investigate the situation. If you are interested in making your contribution to change this situation, please keep track of all events happening around you and don't hesitate to say your "YES" or "NO". This is our school, and if you are convinced you should do something, DO IT NOW and do it smart! I welcome KIMEP administration to give explanations to my concerns if they have any comments..