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.

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