Rector's speech at the ceremony of 666th anniversary of CU founding

The seventh of April marks the anniversary of the founding of our university, which bears the name of King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV. So it is that we of the academic community and our esteemed guests meet every year – this year for the six hundred and sixty-sixth time – to recall the significance of Charles’s deed of foundation and to consider the inspiration of his legacy for the present and future of our alma mater.

Charles’ founding of a studium generale – the first north of the Alps and west of the Rhine – was a cultural and political act of extraordinary significance, not only for the Kingdom of Bohemia, but also for the wider region of Central and Central-Eastern Europe and, in a certain sense, for Europe as a whole. The university in Prague became a centre for intellectual activity, in all the broad spectrum of meanings and significance of the term. In the 1380s, when the Sorbonne in Paris was experiencing a serious crisis, the university in Prague, following its absorption of some masters and students from Paris, was even at the forefront of the academic world of the time, cultivating both science, as it was then understood, and a considerable deepening of learning in Europe. Even then, the university’s influence reached far beyond the boundaries of academic ground, extending from religious and ecclesiastical politics to questions of Czech state prestige and soon – during the Czech Reformation of the 15th century – to the creation of a Czech national identity.

This situation occurred because, amongst other reasons, the university in Prague was, for many years, the only institution of its type in the lands of the Bohemian Crown. For centuries it played an irreplaceable role in the formation of the educated elite of our country. Charles University was not, however, a closed oasis of scholarship, but made a major contribution to the formation of the intellectual and social climate of the Bohemian Lands and intervened in politics, with all the ensuing consequences. One of my predecessors in the office of Rector, the theologian Jan Hus, was burnt at the stake, and another, the physician Jan Jessenius, was quartered, and parts of his body displayed on a wheel. In the year 1848, students of the University stood on the barricades. On 28 October 1939, students of Charles University and other institutions protested against the Nazi occupation; medical student Jan Opletal was shot dead and, not long after this, on 17 November, all Czech universities were closed, nine students executed and a large number were sent to concentration camps. Many teachers from Charles University and other institutions of higher education were to die later. In February 1948 too, many university teachers protested against the violent Communist coup; a procession of students to Prague Castle was brutally dispersed, and the subsequent purges affected both students and a large number of teachers at Charles University. It was a student of the Faculty of Arts of Charles University, Jan Palach, who burned himself to death in January 1969 in protest against the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the armies of the Warsaw Pact countries and the ongoing normalisation process, which was to result in the persecution of many professors,

associate professor and assistants of Charles University. Two decades later, on 17 November 1989, a procession of students, teachers and ordinary citizens started from the University premises at Albertov, making its way to Národní street, where its participants were brutally beaten by the repressive forces of the Communist government, starting a chain of events leading to the rapid collapse of the regime and ushering in a free society.

Of course these, and many other, chapters in the history of our university are now more or less in the past. The anniversary of the founding of the university is, however, also a day to reflect on the fact that Charles’s deed was supported by a well thought-out, forward-looking concept. 7 March 1348 was the day on which his ideas on the status, focus and public influence of the University started to become reality. Today I wish, therefore, to refer to this concept in looking ahead to the vision of and prospects for Charles University in both the short- and long-term.

It was the wish of Charles IV that the university that he founded be the equal of those in Bologna and Oxford, that is, the best universities in Europe at the time. It is therefore our great duty to fulfil this historic legacy. However, nowadays there is not only the illustrious university of law in northern Italy and the cradle of university education in the British Isles; the academic world has dramatically expanded and become interconnected and Charles University, a top European academic body and amongst the two to three hundred best, most productive universities in the world, must not only defend, but also improve, its standing. Our fundamental priority will therefore be to constantly improve the quality and prestige of pedagogical and scientific activities and also to create a positive image within Czech society and on the international stage. A key role in this must be played by excellence in science, international cooperation and the ever-greater mobility of teachers and students, an effort that must be supported at a European level.

The effort to maintain or improve the university’s standing amongst the very best in the world is not empty ambition, but an obligation to fulfil the ideas that stood at the centre of Charles IV’s founding project. Of course, it is also a question of our enduring responsibility towards the Czech nation, our historic obligation to provide the best possible education in a wide spectrum of fields in science and the arts for younger generations of Czech students and prospective students from all over the academic world.

The primary value of a university and its faculties lies in the people who work and study there: we are a community of people educating ourselves, educating others and ourselves through research activities. We create this value, extending across fields and faculties, communicating intellect, together: academic staff and students – that is, the academic community as a whole. The priority within this community is to open doors and increase permeability between individual fields and faculties and to remove those barriers that still exist between the arts and sciences and between students and their teachers. The traditional introversion of disciplines and fields, to which we have been accustomed in the past, is changing, and a very broad concept of interdisciplinary cooperation across departments and institutions is now a necessity.

This cooperation chiefly concerns the educational aspect of our activities, where it will be necessary to foster the greater permeability of programmes, to create shared interfaculty programmes and to develop joint international programmes at the joint degree and double degree level. This tendency is, however, just as relevant to research activity at the university. Let us direct our energies towards joint projects of larger interfaculty teams and joint teams with our colleagues from other universities and the Academy of Sciences, as well as greater involvement in prestigious international projects.

The aforementioned overlapping of fields and the new concept of interdisciplinarity clearly demonstrates that the traditional, Humboldtian concept of universities is going through a gradual evolution: our basic mission, that is, the permeation of the educational process with freely orientated scientific work, realised together with advanced students and, primarily, postgraduate students, is now supplemented by the so-called third role of the university. I understand this role as being that of the university’s relationship to society in the broadest sense of the word, that is, the preservation of the university as a public corporation and an institution that makes a substantial contribution to major societal processes. A university is, and must be, a forum for free plurality and the exchange of opinions, a place for critical, open discussion and the bearer of positive intellectual trends, while primarily emphasising the fostering and guaranteeing of ethical standards.

If Charles University is to maintain and improve its position as a top scientific centre, we have ahead of us much work, and not only with respect to the aforementioned development of interdisciplinary cooperation; a further challenge awaiting us is the adoption and sharing of unique technologies. Above all, however, we must define priority trends and choose the disciplines to which we give significant support. In this, I am aware of the fact that scientific work stands and falls by the teams of qualified experts that carry it out. For these, the university must put in place high-quality facilities and contribute to the realisation of a stable environment for their work in all fields fostered at our alma mater.

Pedagogical and scientific research activities must exist within the university in true symbiosis and harmony, with neither receiving particular preference. A university teacher, a person of science, must have the ability to encourage and develop scientific thinking in students. Methods for the evaluation of pedagogical work must be developed that are comprehensible and relevant to the discipline in question, and high-quality results appreciated. Without teaching that is of high quality and modern in all respects, we cannot keep pace with developments at the top level of science. Of course, this also means that we must motivate students more to contribute to research activities carried out at our centres and postgraduate and post-doctorate students to independent research and innovations in teaching.

Our university will be more emphatic than before in its development of postgraduate studies. In accordance with the European trends known as ‘triple I’, I wish to orientate the demands placed on these students towards the concepts of ‘international, interdisciplinary and intersector’, that is, to exceed the purely academic level and orientate themselves towards the suggestions and needs of the wider environment of the university and society. In increasing the demands placed on postgraduate students and dissertations, the requirements for the conferment of associate professor degrees or nominative procedures (for professors) naturally cannot be allowed to stagnate.

International prestige, a stable position on the international scientific stage and corresponding pedagogical results: these must be the criteria for the support of disciplines at our university. In this regard, there are no large or small disciplines, but only disciplines with output that is relevant in an international context and those that must still achieve this level.

Although some may consider it to be of secondary importance, one of the essential pre-requisites of our success in an international context will be a modern publication policy. I am convinced that such a policy must be based on open access principles and electronic multimedia systems. Just as university management will motivate teachers at our faculties to provide teaching in not only subjects, but also whole fields, in foreign languages, chiefly English, as well as to forge links with courses in universities abroad, support will also be given to the centres, research staff, teachers and students who create up-to-date teaching texts and electronic educational tools, including their use for continuous and lifelong learning.

Similarly, our communication with Czech society must also be modernised with respect to both the communication to society at large of our latest findings and international successes and to opening up the world of academia to views from the outside. A university that endeavours to recruit the best young people to its classrooms and laboratories while requiring the support of society must inform the public of its past, present and, chiefly, its future in a way that is as comprehensible as possible.

I would like to recall today one more aspect of the university. The task of a university is not only to develop scientific research and the teaching of students with all of which I have spoken thus far – that would be too little. The higher goal is education. University communities must not forget the value emphasised by the founder of our university, Charles IV – that of wisdom, which has both an educational and an intellectual dimension. This quality did not, and does not, appeal to either totalitarian regimes or populist politicians. A wise person is not easily manipulated and does not easily submit to cheap enticements. It is precisely in this regard that I see the great, society-wide mission of Charles University – a mission whose goal it is contribute to the building of a positive present and a positive future for our national community, our state and our shared Europe.

Lying ahead of us in the near future is the fulfilment of the concept of our founder in the light of the 21st century. Naturally, this will require a considerable amount of energy, resourcefulness and openness from every one of us.

I am convinced that we are prepared for the fulfilment of these, not inconsiderable, demands in the open world of academia. I consider it essential that every member of the academic community contribute to the creation of a feeling of togetherness of all constituent parts of the body of our university. The successful development of the university is dependent on the personal contribution of every member of the academic community.

In conclusion I would therefore like to ask all colleagues, both existing and future, all members of the academic community of our university and all friends of the university to make a good, meaningful contribution to this shared goal.

Let us together endeavour to make Charles University a university of the third millennium – one that is free, self-confident, prestigious and respects its traditions while being modern, inspirational and open to the world. Only then can we be successful.

Quod bonum, faustum, felix, fortunatumque sit.

Last change: January 21, 2015 12:21 
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