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понедельник, октябрь 23, 2006

Rethinking Education: The Birth of Western University

aвтор: Unlike
 
by Husein Baghirov, Founding Rector.



Western University, one of Azerbaijan's first private universities, stands as a flagship for the country's rapidly changing educational system. Ten years ago, Husein Baghirov, now Azerbaijan's Minister of Environment and Resources, started Western University from a keen desire to offer education to meet the new challenges of Azerbaijan's independence. The university is called "Western" because it is modeled after Western universities in terms of its values and approach. Much of the instruction there is conducted in English.
We asked Baghirov to describe this unique university's beginnings during the chaotic period just before Azerbaijan gained its independence. Here he discusses his philosophy about education and some of the challenges that lie ahead for Azerbaijan's educational system.
Looking back over the past decade, it's important to understand the impact that Soviet ideology has had on our educational system. First and foremost, education was viewed as a tool for the development of the Soviet military industrial complex and created to fit the ideology of Soviet expansionism. It was used to inject the populace with a certain set of ideological values. The Soviet system presented a very strong vision to its people - perhaps not the correct one - but nevertheless, a very strong vision about the world and specifically about Russia's position in it.
Above: World-renown Norwegian Archeologist Thor Heyerdahl and his wife Jacqueline as special guests of Western University, 1999.
Personally, I can say that there were many positive aspects to the educational system. Consider Azerbaijan. We had the same ratio of students per 100,000 population that Russia did. Consequently, we achieved a very high literacy rate - about 98 percent of the population. This was even higher than literacy rates in some of the most developed nations.
But when we look more closely, we begin to see some of the flaws in the system. Although the educational system had its advantages, it was not ideal, as it was based on values that were not always good for Azerbaijan. Eventually the Soviet Union collapsed because it didn't embrace the values of freedom, honesty and human dignity. Instead, it tried to shape its people into something that did not conform to reality.
Those who were educated in Soviet Russia were encouraged to go into fields like engineering, rocket science and computer technology. Since the engineering universities in Russia served the military system, they were all very well equipped and employed highly qualified teachers who were paid top salaries.
The whole world knows the reputation of Soviet programmers, mathematicians and physicists. How is it that the Soviet Union could compete with other countries when it came to military science, but it couldn't compete in other areas? Even today, Russia's military complex is still growing; it's not stagnant like other sectors are.
These specialties were not so highly developed in other places throughout the Soviet Union, however. All of the republics were categorized on different levels of hierarchy in terms of their relationship with Russia. Ukraine and Belarus (then Byelorussia) enjoyed the closest relations with Moscow. The next level included Georgia and Armenia. Perhaps Moldova could be placed into this category as well.
The third level, characterized by more distant relationships, was reserved for the Baltic republics - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania-and Azerbaijan. In truth, it could even be argued that the other Central Asian republics - Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - were even closer to Russia than Azerbaijan because they were at an initial stage of their own development; this enabled them to better and easier adjust to the Soviet system than Azerbaijan, which had already developed its own set of national values.
Thus, in the Republics which were not favorites of Moscow, the universities were slightly different from those of Russia in terms of number of students, but they were not as well equipped and in general offered specialties far from high technology, giving priority to pedagogical, cultural and relevant studies. Naturally, this restricted the access of these Republics to modern technologies.
Of course, while we were part of the Soviet Union, they never blatantly said that Russians were primary and the other 14 Republics were secondary. But at the same time, everyone understood that all the Republics were not equal. Basically, it was the Russia's history, their life, their past and their present - not ours. We were just an appendage to them.
Prior to the Bolsheviks' descent on Baku in 1920 and the establishment of the Soviet government, Azerbaijan was on the verge of adopting European values and becoming a European nation. Representatives from our government - the Azerbaijan Democratic Republic - had begun to establish diplomatic links in Paris with Western countries. I think it's fair to say that our chances were equal to those of Bulgaria, Hungary or Slovakia - almost at the same level. We could have become part of Europe. Naturally, this posed a threat to Bolsheviks.
All of these historical realities played a role in shaping the type of educational opportunities that were available in Azerbaijan during the Soviet period.

Too Many Teachers
Therefore, instead of training specialists in subjects like physics, mathematics and computer programming, Azerbaijan's educational system was structured around preparing generalists: teachers, cultural specialists and pedagogues. Based on their formal education, Azerbaijanis did not receive adequate training to create their own social infrastructure when the Soviet Union collapsed. A society needs a certain number of physicists, chemists and engineers in a variety of industries, except for oil, and so on; in short, those specialties that would more adequately reflect the social structure of the society. But you should always be mindful of the real needs of society in order to create balanced development. But in Azerbaijan, this principle was not followed to the extent required.
Since local Azerbaijanis were not trained in certain fields, specialists had to be brought in from other parts of the Soviet Union to work, especially in Azerbaijan's section of the military industrial complex. Up until the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, we had specific towns in which 80 to 90 percent of the people were physicists, mathematicians and engineers who had graduated from Russian universities. One such place was Yeni Hovsani, a suburb of Baku.
Today we have too many teachers in Azerbaijan. Perhaps we need a lot of teachers, but I'm not so sure that we need quite as many as we have now. And today there aren't an adequate number of job opportunities available for them. For instance, in comparison with the U.S., in Azerbaijan the student /teacher ratio is lower, even though Azerbaijan is a much poorer country.
We also have too many cultural specialists and too many people trained in the social sciences. Most of our universities emphasize liberal arts and social sciences. Universities should not be preparing teachers for schools; they should be preparing their students for society. It's not the business of the university to send students to school and then just to keep them there.

Views of the West
During the Soviet era, to supplement my own education, I used to read hundreds of books - you might say, I "swallowed" them. These were books by authors like Washington Irving, William Faulkner, Lew Wallace, Erich Maria Remarque. Ernest Hemingway and Irwin Shaw had a great influence on me as did Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe and Robert Frost. I also enjoyed reading works by F. Scott Fitzgerald and J.D. Salinger and so many others. This was like a window to a colorful world as seen from a life in black and white.
All of these books had been translated into Russian. Actually, the Russian translations were always much better than the Azeri ones, which were often so simplistic that it was hard to figure out why the work was considered so famous in the first place. But the Russian translation was always good.
Those books were opening up something new, something thrilling, for me. They were influencing and changing me step by step. I could feel it. I began to perceive the world in different way. I began to understand what life could be.
At that time, I didn't have a realistic picture of the West in my mind. Those books gave us truthful, although not always realistic, pictures of the West. By that I mean that they were based upon values of integrity and truth.
Let's say there was an American writer who grew up in an American environment and expressed himself by writing for his fellow Americans. Very often, it was not just American values that he discussed, but rather universal human values. Since American, British, French and German writers were freer and had more rights, they could delve into the human soul and explore and write about it. For those of us who were living behind the Iron Curtain, their ideas came as a breath of fresh air. It was so unique to have access to such literature.
I had the chance to visit several foreign countries during those Soviet years. My first trip was in July 1976, when I traveled to Warsaw, Poland for ten days as the prize for the best student essay regarding the ethnology of the Sumerians.
Poland was like a Western country to me - it seemed like such a democratic place. It's funny now when I look back on it. It seemed so vivid and dynamic compared to the non-descript plainness and routine of Soviet life. I was so used to boring similarities: everything and everybody looking the same, wearing the same clothing, the same black and gray colors. For the first time, I saw Catholic cathedrals and churches. Later, I had the chance to visit the Czech Republic, Spain, Germany and other countries.
I was surprised to discover that the Romanians, Czechs, Slovaks and Germans all respected the Soviet Union - in fact, they seemed to have an inferiority complex when they compared themselves to us. At the time, I couldn't understand why, but now I do. I'm a representative of a small nation now - not a large country that stretched across 12 time zones. Today we have developed normal relations with those countries - just as it should be. But in the past, it was different. The Soviet Union created an aura for itself that was based on lies and false impressions.
I developed this image of Westerners as being responsible, open, honest, precise and detail-oriented. Later I understood that these qualities were the result of the Western system. It is a system that induces everyone to accept the rules; the majority follows the distinct principles and values that the Western society rests on. However, there are also many people in the West who, if there is a chance to get something and be opportunistic, apparently will. It's just that the system makes it more profitable for them to be honest and adhere to laws; otherwise, they will not survive in their own society. I think we should aim to create that same type of atmosphere here in Azerbaijan.

Disillusionment
During the Cold War, the struggle between the United States and the USSR was not just a contest between the leaderships of both systems. It was a struggle between two different educational systems and the values that were disseminated to the younger generations. For Russia, the Soviet educational system was very effective, but, in general, we can say that it lost its struggle against Western values. In the beginning of the 1980s, we sensed that something was going wrong with the Soviet system. In the middle of the 1980s, the trend was already becoming clear. By the end of the 1980s, we were sure that the end was near.
I was in my early 30s at the time and can still remember that liberating feeling of seeing the streets filled with anti-Soviet demonstrations. It wasn't a crisis for me; it was more like a calm gladness in my soul. Probably it was my reading of all those books that had prepared me.
In truth, the Soviet Union had disintegrated morally during the last half of the 1980s [Gorbachev's Perestroika]. Nobody was scared of the system anymore. And then Azerbaijan experienced the events of January 20, 1990, which made it clear that a double standard existed. [This tragedy is often referred to as "Black January" because hundreds of civilians were killed by Soviet troops].

Officially, the Soviet Union claimed to be based on the principle that all of its peoples and nationalities were equal. But by siding with Armenia over the Karabakh issue, by sending in tanks to kill demonstrators in Baku that January and by organizing various kinds of provocations, the Soviet government denied Azerbaijanis their dignity and rights. They openly flaunted the rules, demonstrating that they were not to be bound by the very laws they had created.
After Black January, we totally cleansed and rid our souls 100 percent from wanting to be part of the Soviet system. Many people burned their Communist Party cards that they had spent their lifetimes trying to achieve, despite the many privileges that carrying those cards entitled them to. The feelings of comradeship and brotherhood were gone. We no longer felt that we were brother nations living together under one big umbrella. People were trying to speak out but they were not being heard. Millions of people stopped caring about what would happen to them if they went out into the streets and protested.
Actually, the collapse of the Soviet Union didn't really happen in one single act. Fifty years from now, historians will probably write that it happened when Yeltsin and other leaders went to the forests of Belovejskaya Pusha in Belarus in December 1991 and signed the decree for its disintegration.
But the truth is that we sensed the arrival of our independence much earlier than that. To me, it really took place in November 1988, when continuous demonstrations were taking place in Lenin Square [now Azadlig Square, which means "Freedom"]. Essentially, the Soviet Union collapsed because the educational system as a tool of struggle was better developed in the Western world, with its emphasis on personal freedom, honesty and lack of restrictions.

Need for Training
In 1990, amidst this atmosphere of upheaval and uncertainty, a small group of us got together and founded the institution that would eventually become Western University. At that time, the Soviet Union still existed, so we had to come under the authority of the Institute of Youth, a small semi-government organization that offered educational and training programs.
We decided to offer basic business classes in subjects such as management, finance and entrepreneurship. Many Azerbaijanis were anxious to start their own businesses once they had the freedom to do so, but none of them had any idea where to begin. So there was a strong demand for specialized training.
In one- to three-month courses, we trained students how to register a company, how to get access to the world market and deal with foreign companies, how to get credit and manage money, how to sign contracts and how to organize transportation. This was more or less their first exposure to the Western understanding of how to do business.
These classes soon became tremendously popular. In the first year alone, we had more than 500 students who paid to enroll in business courses.
We used part of the income from these management classes to offer a second type of program: free seminars in political science. We wanted to provide our students with alternatives, to give them other ideas about social development, social rules, conflicts, the nature of power and forms of government.
Just like the business sector, the political science sector had been hidden from us during the Soviet era. Before, we had only been allowed to learn about scientific communism, which we had been taught was the most pure, correct and honest ideology. We were prisoners to this limited comprehension of the world, an artificially created ideology based on dogma and not related to reality.
Capitalism was a mystery to us. What sort of ideology was it? Was it the opposite of communism? When we looked deeper, we saw that capitalism contained a variety of ideologies. It was about freedom and struggle and the competition of ideologies. It was not the antithesis of Marxism; it was a many-sided, complex system. It was about the freedom to live and grow and compete.

Spirit of Optimism
As we focused on these two areas - management and political science - we soon realized that we needed to provide a more comprehensive academic program. Just having the seminars was not enough, as more and more young people who didn't have a higher education would want access to them. Without the fundamental knowledge that comes from a college education, these students wouldn't understand the principles of economics and finance. So we applied to the government for permission to offer training in the framework of an academic program.
Our first class, enrolled in September 1991, had 67 students - 30 in political sciences and 37 in management - plus 15 or 16 instructors. Three to four years later, we had grown to 500 to 600 students. For the past six years, we've limited the enrollment to around 1,000 students. We decided not to make the school larger. We employ about 150 teachers; about 50 to 55 of them are foreign teachers who spend from one to several weeks or months of teaching here, with some staying with us for several years due to the support of international organizations. Perhaps it would be more profitable to have more students, but Western is not primarily a commercial venture. An enrollment of about 1,000 students seems to be most manageable for us, and this enables us to maintain the required quality of education.
Actually, Khazar University and Western University were both established at about the same time, in mid-1991. Khazar got its decree in March 1991, but only had permission to teach preparatory classes. We received the decree from the Prime Minister's office two months later, but we were able to take on full-time students right away.
It was a very romantic time, back then in the early days of the university. For the first time, Azerbaijanis felt like they could determine their own fate. They had the opportunity to build their own lives, careers, families and their entire future.
Our idea to establish Western University was based on idealism as well. If we had known what great difficulties we were going to encounter, we probably never would have started. We were naïve, but we succeeded. We were just doing what the time and the circumstances were leading us to do. I consider myself to be a very fortunate man because at many points in my life I've been able to do things that other people had said were impossible to do.
Much of the enthusiasm that we experienced a decade ago has since been tempered by reality. For instance, many of the Azerbaijani business enterprises that were established between 1990 and 1994 have collapsed - including the small enterprises whose managers were trained by our university. We still have a lot to learn.

Looking West
At first we thought about calling ourselves "American University in Baku" since there was a network of such schools in various countries. But the American Embassy was busy with various sorts of issues and didn't respond to us about the name that we had proposed. It was difficult period. The country was very unstable at the time. Every six months, there was a new government. We were in the midst of war with Armenia. In addition a civil war almost broke out. The country was submerged in poverty. Baku was doom and gloom. Packs of threatening barking dogs (and I should add, biting dogs, too) filled the streets.
In the end, we settled on a different name - Western University. The plaque outside our entrance reads in Azeri and English: Garb Universiteti and Western University. At the end of 1992, we succeeded in getting our accreditation from the Ministry of Education. On February 8, 1993, we received the decree from the Ministry of Education.
Western University is not just a name - it's an ideology. As an institution, we openly declare that we want to emulate Western values through educational processes: democracy, respect for human rights, liberal economics, openness, transparency, integration into world processes and liberalism.
Actually, it's strange to think about it now, but before independence, we didn't have this kind of free choice. We didn't even have the right to decide whether or not to join the Communist Party. Let's say I wanted to endorse the political ideas of Max Weber. During that period, the only politically correct ideology was Marxist-Leninism. All others were considered to be bourgeois and based on lies and false assumptions.

Student-Teacher Dynamics
There are other aspects of our philosophy of education that make Western distinct. We believe that students should feel comfortable. I don't just mean having a comfortable desk to sit at, but comfortable in a spiritual and psychological sense as well. They have to feel like people who belong to a normal society, with their dignity intact. At Western, we try to cultivate an atmosphere of openness and honesty between students and teachers. For example, students should not feel threatened and afraid to disagree with their teachers.
In the Soviet educational system, teachers had total control over the students. Final exams were oral, face to face with the professor. The students were completely at the mercy of the teacher. It was risky for students to express their own opinions, especially during an exam.
One of the first things we did at Western was to change the examination system. To prepare for final exams, students are given 500 to 600 questions related to a certain subject. When they take the exam, they write their essays anonymously. Other teachers grade the essays, without knowing the identity of the students. Bribing a teacher in order to improve one's grade is out of the question.
We also expect our teachers to be passionate about their specialties. Some teachers have complained that their students don't show them respect. A teacher has to earn respect by showing enthusiasm and mastery for his subject, not from being assigned a certain administrative role or privileges. A teacher can't just show up at class, spend the day and return home and consider that he has fulfilled his duty.
From the beginning, Western University has paid its staff 10 to 15 times more than state universities do. Even now that the economic conditions have improved and the state universities have started paying relatively better salaries, Western University's pay rate is much higher. Our students pay tuition to attend, so from that point of view, we have the ability to pay our teachers better. But it's also a matter of principle. There has to be a relationship between quality of work and compensation. Of course, teachers have to make enough money to live on. In addition, this can be considered one of the factors that prevents corruption in the relationships between teachers and students at Western University.
In turn, the teachers who do the best work are paid more than the others. Unfortunately, this is still a new concept for our teachers and the rest of society. In the past, everyone was paid equally. Most of us still have this strange idea that fairness means equality. They think that no matter how hard a person works, he or she should be paid as much as everyone else. Once some students asked me, "Why are the foreign teachers paid more than local teachers?"
I told them that it was because of the market: "It's not possible to get a foreign teacher to come to Baku on the salary that we pay local teachers. On the other hand, the local market is full of teachers. Nevertheless we pay them much more than what they would receive. We pay more than the market requires so that you won't be forced to pay them for your grades." They seemed satisfied with my explanation.

Focus on English
Western University was one of the first in Azerbaijan to use English as the working language of the university. Depending on the class, English is used 40 percent, 60 percent or even 80 percent of the time. Today about 60 to 70 percent of our students are quite fluent in English. Many speak English on an advanced level.
Unlike other universities, we indicate on our diplomas whether or not the student is fluent in English. The students who don't pass the English examination still graduate. But the ones who do pass the exam receive diplomas that show they have a good grasp of English.
Another difference in our approach is that students are assigned to English classes according to a seven-tiered system. This is a new methodology for our country - to teach according to a student's level. In the Soviet system, everyone attended the same classes in terms of the year they were in school.
For example, in the Geography Department you might have 20 students enrolled in the same courses, but when it comes to English, one student might have excellent English, while another has no background at all. It's very difficult to teach such a wide range of abilities in the same class, so we changed the system. We separated English and the other foreign languages from the main subjects. Students are assigned to language classes depending on their ability, not the year they happen to be at the university.
Why do we want our students to learn English? To gain knowledge, to have access to the Internet, to read literature, to know what's happening in politics and to understand new terminology. The fabric of life these days is being woven in the English language.
Our English-language library is one of the largest in the country, with more than 25,000 volumes, 200 periodicals and 600 CD-ROMs - licensed copies, not $5 counterfeit versions from Moscow. The CDs contain information about English and American literature, American history, world history, ecology, design, management, accounting, finance, economics and geography.
The entire English-language library catalog may be accessed via the university's Web site at http://www.wu.aznet.org/catalog.htm. We're hoping to expand our collection in the areas of management, accounting, sociology, political sciences, anthropology, economics, finance and demography.

Strengthening Azeri
One of Western University's main goals is to help the Azeri language develop and to prepare our students to think in Azeri. We want to be involved in making this language more informative and more useful. Then, others will want to learn this language.
Why aren't there any universities teaching Azeri in America for example? Why are there no programs to learn the language [except at Indiana]? First, we need to ask ourselves, why should anyone there learn Azeri? We must create materials in Azeri that will be compelling - first of all, for us, and then for others.
Today a lot of people are concerned about the large number of students who are learning foreign languages. They think that these foreign languages will compete with the Azeri language. They don't comprehend that this will strengthen the Azeri language and help it to develop. It will allow Azerbaijanis to minimize the strong influence of Russian, which has been prevailing over Azeri in our country.
Learning languages doesn't mean that the Azerbaijani people will become British, American, French or German or Italian - those countries are far away. Azerbaijanis should have access to knowledge through foreign languages to make their own language stronger.
But our educational system is generally not oriented that way now. In fact, there is opposition to such thinking. It's not openly talked about, but very often people voice concern that we are Westernizing education. They wonder, "Is it good for us? Shouldn't we hold onto our own values?"
I always want to shout, "Show me those values. What values will be lost if we teach foreign languages?"
Again I say this is related to mentality. We try to save something, because otherwise we cannot say that we are a nation with a thousand years of history. But what enables a group of people to call themselves a nation? It's their values and traditions. Sometimes we need to remember that the Soviet Union has had a strong influence on our values.
Consider what the Russians did during the 18th and 19th centuries. They translated a number of works from French into Russian. After 50 to 60 years, this language - the language of people from the forests and steppes - became a major world language. As Russian writers like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky started to use Russian to express their thoughts, the Russian language grew stronger.
I'm not blaming Russians for publishing all of French poet Jean La Fontaine's [1621-1695] fables in Russian under the name of Krilov. They hardly changed any of the content. Russians were proud that Krilov had written such interesting tales. Curiously, I did not become suspicious of this fraud until I accidentally came across La Fontaine's works later on. "Wow, these are the Russian stories by Krilov. Let's see when they were first published." That's when I discovered that La Fontaine had published them long before Krilov was even born.
Here's another example. In Soviet schools, we learned that the first steam engine was invented by Cherepanov in Siberia, not by Robert Fulton in America or James Watt in the UK.
At the time, we thought to ourselves: "What a great nation we are!" This strategy was especially effective on the smaller republics within the Soviet Union. Russians were not just seen as warriors and traders, but talented writers, engineers and explorers as well. As a result, an image was created that persuaded the mass of people into believing in their own significance and ability to create a great history. That is the power of knowing foreign languages.

Emphasis on the Internet
A year and a half ago, Western University became the first university in the country to offer free Internet access to all of its students and staff. Soon our e-mail addresses will end with "wu.edu", just like with other universities like "indiana.edu" or "ucla.edu". We have about 100 computers, with high-speed connections. Some of these are located in computer centers; others are placed in the corridors so students can quickly access their e-mails at any time of day. This project was accomplished with the help of NATO, USAID and the U.S. Information Agency.
The Internet has become an everyday part of student life. An estimated 60 to 70 percent of our students use the Internet to write e-mails, write their theses and prepare homework for seminars. When I was a student, there were so many limitations, but today there are none. If you want to get the best education you can, just go and get it. The Internet offers access to anything, anywhere.
Information is no longer centralized and controlled. The Internet gives us a chance to express our thoughts, to get a closer view of the problems of society and to learn more about the modern world.

Updated Textbooks
Today it's hard to find decent textbooks for Azerbaijani students. Long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the major universities are still using textbooks that were published during or soon after the Soviet era. They don't necessarily mention Communism, but they were written through the lens of Communist ideology.
Take economics textbooks, for example. During the Soviet era, we had two textbooks: the political economics of socialism and the political economics of capitalism. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, all of the books about the political economics of socialism were thrown away. But the books about the political economics of capitalism were still being used.
These books view capitalism through the lens of Marxist-Leninism. Although the names of Marx and Engels do not appear on the pages, their ideas underlie the economic theory in these publications. There's a lot of discussion about a "class war" and the exploitation of human beings by others. It's impossible for the writers to create anything different from this because they have never been educated outside or had a chance to go to the West. Even if they have been out for a short time, it has simply created a crisis in their thinking, and the new ideas have not penetrated deeply enough to revolutionize their thinking. The same thing holds true for political textbooks.
From the first day, we started using economic books in English that had been published in the United States and the UK. Some have been translated into Azeri or Russian.

Western Degree System
During the Soviet era, most Azerbaijani universities offered a five-year specialist program. Western became the first university in Azerbaijan to offer two separate degrees: a four-year bachelor's degree and a two-year master's degree.
We think this system is more progressive. The bachelor's degree program gives you a chance to get a basic education, go work and find yourself. After you do that, you can come back to get more specialized knowledge in a master's degree program.
Plus, there's no age limit for returning to get a master's degree. We want to give students the opportunity to continue their education, not close doors to them. Under Soviet law, no one older than 35 was allowed to return to the university to get an education except through correspondence courses.

New Fields
We've added a number of new schools and departments in the past few years. We have a new School of Economics, which is growing very quickly. Through an exchange with Indiana University's School of Public and Environmental Affairs, we now offer master's degrees in public administration - international affairs and public administration - finance.
Our new journalism school is in its second year, with just 15 to 20 students. It aims to train students in English and computer skills so that they will have access to mainstream international information. Unfortunately, some of our local journalists don't yet share the same skills or ethics that most Western journalists do. We don't want our students to emulate those journalists, who follow our own domestic standards and are not necessarily accurate or unbiased.
We also have a School of Computer Sciences. It's still relatively small, with about 50 to 60 students, but it's getting to be more and more popular. It's very difficult for us to compete in the area of computer sciences, because many of the state universities offer free programs. However, we are better equipped and unlike them, we can offer our students 24-hour access to the Internet.
Our political science school is one of the best in the country. So is our business school. Of course, it doesn't compare with American business schools, but it is quite successful. Besides offering majors in banking, finance and management, we are perhaps the only university in the entire Caucasus region to offer a degree in Tourism and Hospitality Management. This program was established as a TACIS [Technical Assistance of the European Community to the CIS Countries] project in cooperation with Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh, Scotland, the Dublin Technological Institute and the Hague Hotel Business School.
We also offer degrees in graphic design, interior design and landscape design. One of the major differences between the former Soviet republics and Western countries is what you see with your eyes. Azerbaijan, especially Baku, is becoming more and more like the West, with cleaner streets and nicer buildings. So why did we establish this department? We want to have specialists who can tell us how to make improvements and change our environment to be more aesthetic.
We're not looking to develop areas that are already popular in this country. For example, law departments are very popular right now. In other countries, this might seem normal. But in our case, it seems like people are studying law because they see it as a chance to become part of the power structure. Azerbaijan is developing fairly rapidly toward democracy. But among the people, there is a strong belief that an affiliation to the power structure will make their lives more protected and safer. On the contrary, I believe that the safety of people must be guaranteed by the law, not by an affiliation to the power structure. I don't want to have people training with us for the wrong reasons, just to use this university as a step up into the power structure. That's why we haven't developed a law department, except for one project with Indiana University's School of Public Administration, which relates to international world law, transportation law, sea law and European law. These are entrepreneurial areas that can be used to help our country develop.

Lack of Initiative
I think that one of the most serious problems in our society today is that many people lack initiative. This attitude is part of the legacy of the former Soviet Union. Many of our people are very often waiting for something from somebody. This category of people is sometimes not willing to take care of themselves - their own fate, the fate of their nation, the fate of this city. They sit back and expect our government or somebody to provide the solutions for everything.
During the Soviet period, many of our people lost their own sense of will because they always had to follow the decisions of Moscow. Either they followed those orders, or they were punished. For three or four generations, everyone understood that taking initiative could be punishable by death. For not doing anything, you would not be punished so severely. But for doing something, you could be killed. It was more dangerous to do something than it was to be passive.
Most of our people got used to behaving in a certain way to get their bread, their education and their work. Now that we have to take care of ourselves, it's a big problem. Many people still want to come, sit, do something simple, return home and basically receive everything as a handout. They very often ask, "Why don't I have electricity?", without giving a thought to the fact that they are not entitled to having it if they don't pay for it. They don't even consider that someone must bear the costs of producing electricity.

Gene Drain
I notice that students are also becoming more individualistic, which can be negative. They are finding that they no longer have to take care of social values to survive. Today, it has become possible to be cut off from your own social environment and still survive. Before, this was not possible.
In previous generations, people felt responsible for the next generation. It doesn't mean that everyone was principled, but they did feel an obligation. They were representatives of their own generation. We see this individualistic tendency with the large number of Azerbaijanis who have chosen to leave the country and work abroad, where they hope to find more opportunities. Eventually they discover that the grass is not so green on the other side. Of course, the youth are more flexible, so they find it easier to adapt to a different country. I think that five to six years from now, this problem of Azerbaijan's "gene drain" will be resolved.

Looking Ahead
I'm no longer the Rector of Western University, but I still feel a certain responsibility for it, almost like a parent would. I care about the things that are going on there, and I feel like I should have some say about what should be done and how to do it. On the other hand, I also understand that the institution is more mature now. As is the case with my own sons, they don't always listen to everything that I tell them. The university has to be able to take on its own life, which may be different from what I might imagine.

Today I am the Honorary President of the University and the chairperson of the Political Sciences Department. Unfortunately, I don't have time to go the university on a regular basis now. But if I'm able to teach there once a week or once a month, I like to do that because it helps me systemize my thoughts and stay in touch with the feelings and reactions of young people.
Our goal for the future is for Western to become a normal university. Once economic conditions are better and Azerbaijan is 100 percent integrated into the rest of the world, we want the quality of education here to be on par with other universities around the world.
Education in general is improving steadily throughout the country. Even in state universities, it's getting better. Every year, every quarter, there are significant changes. Maybe it happens at a pace that is slower than we could wish, but there are visible changes taking place: libraries are being renovated, new computer centers are being opened, facilities are being cleaned up and rebuilt.
Ten years have passed since we started the university. Students are marrying each other, which goes to show that the university has become an integral part of their lives. Most of them will be able to make good careers for themselves. Some of them, we hope, will come back to teach and carry on our goals and dreams for the future.

From Azerbaijan International (9.4) Winter 2001.
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