Former employees of a university in Kazakhstan are advising colleagues to think twice before applying for jobs at an institution they say is undeserving of its claim as a premier American-style center of learning. Approximately 10 lecturers, professors, and deans have resigned, or been fired, over the past two years because of administrative abuses and shortcomings at the KIMEP, they say in a letter.
"You shouldn't bring Westerners 5-, 6-, 7,000 miles away from their home bases and treat them the way they do," said Peyman Pejman, a former associate professor of mass communications at the university and one of the writers of the letter. "One of my responsibilities as a journalist is to let other professors know what they're coming into."
Dana Stevens, director of international relations at the university, characterized the criticism as "standard sour-grapes stuff." Mr. Stevens acknowledged, however, that aspects of the letter have merit and may be attributed simply to "growing pains" as the institution evolves into a major undergraduate program.
"My sense is that while we're not perfect, we're a hell of a lot better than I thought we were going to be, and we're slowly getting better," he said by telephone.
"It's very hard to keep people here because of the type of people we get: We win some; we lose some. Sometimes we get some political fights, and we sort of ask people to leave — such as some of the people, I think, who are complaining."
The president of the university, Chan Young Bang, said in a letter to The Chronicle that Mr. Stevens did not speak for the institution. However, Mr. Bang has declined to comment personally or designate someone else to speak on behalf of the university.
Mr. Bang also said in the letter that faculty turnover at the institution "is reasonable given our Central Asia location."
The university, which is also known as Kimep, was founded in 1992 by Kazakhstan's autocratic president, Nursultan A. Nazarbayev, who sought to establish on former Soviet territory an institution in the tradition of the best of what the United States offers.
Approximately 4,500 students have enrolled for the next semester in its undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral programs, which are taught exclusively in English. The institution grows by some 500 students annually, a rate that will require by 2010 the recruitment of about 20 Ph.D. holders to Almaty, a city of 1.2 million circled by white-capped mountains.
Unless conditions have improved, the new hires should expect their contracts and salaries to be compromised, said Pat Gunning, who was head of the university's economics department and a professor there. "What is it like to be a foreigner teaching at Kimep? The simple answer is 'insecure' in one's job," he wrote in an e-mail message.
Mr. Gunning said he resigned last year as department head, then was fired outright — for what Mr. Bang characterizes in the letter as "repeated gross misconduct" — less than a year into his four-year contract. Mr. Pejman resigned in June, a year into a three-year deal, after he was accused by a student of sexual misconduct.
Mr. Pejman says that he was accused unfairly, but the university lacked a clear policy on how to handle the matter. "We've since redone the entire disciplinary procedure… for the future, to protect him and everyone like him, as well as the accusers," Mr. Stevens said.
Some authors of the letter — which Mr. Pejman said has been mailed to newspapers and foreign embassies in Kazakhstan — are suing the university.
The critics describe instances of cronyism and plagiarism, elements of professional life that would run counter to the words of Mr. Bang, who writes on the institution's Web site that the university "has evolved into a premier world-class educational university — while maintaining the highest level of honesty and transparency."
Mr. Stevens says that all complaints are investigated rigorously and openly; most decision-making has been taken out of the hands of a "core of insiders."
Moreover, he said, all contracts with faculty are governed by a clear-cut code of practice, although salaries can rise and fall due to fluctuations in currency-conversion rates. The university is trying to right all the wrongs in order to meet the criteria for accreditation internationally, he added.
"Is Kimep a good place to work? Absolutely," Mr. Stevens said. "And we are looking forward to a new group of professors."
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Article: Former Employees Criticize Conditions at Institute in Kazakhstan
dated September 1, 2006
Volume 53, Issue 2, Page A73