What’s Happened in Kosovo and What Is Happening Here

In Kosovo, students had been clashing with police for weeks, with dozens of police and students reportedly injured in the process. The students were intent on removing not just the head of Pristina University, the small country’s major university, but also a number of the faculty, after it became apparent that their academic credentials were fraudulent—that not only were their vitas were padded by articles published in “dubious” online journals but also that the research reported in those articles was completely fabricated.

The head of the university, Ibrahim Gashi, had been installed in his position by the country’s ruling coalition, and he had appointed the faculty whose credentials were also suspect. The country’s political leadership claimed that the demonstrations had been fomented, if not orchestrated, by the main opposition party—that the demonstrations had a political and economic, rather than a purely academic, purpose.

Kosovo remains one of the poorest nations in Europe, and as much as 35% to 45% of the adult population is unemployed or very intermittently employed. So, there is a great deal of general dissatisfaction that is being expressed politically. That said, a university degree is one of the few means to any sort of economic security, either within Kosovo or outside of it, and thus, anything that undermines the value of a degree is a cause for serious concern.

So, although Gashi ultimately went on the radio to announce that he and the targeted faculty were resigning, the students have continued to demonstrate, demanding that the government establish a completely “independent” and qualified panel to review the credentials of the current and future administrators and faculty at Pristina University.

These demonstrations in a very small, somewhat isolated, and very recently created nation illustrate the reality that students are not just a university’s “customers”; they are, rather, its public conscience, to whom administrators, faculty, and political leaders are ultimately accountable.

In the United States, students groups, such as the Ohio Student Association in my own state, have been organizing to create pressure on universities and state governments to address not only issues such as the declines in state subsidies for public institutions and the consequent escalation in student indebtedness, but also some of the corollary consequences of the increasing corporatization of public higher education, such as the exploitation of contingent faculty. I believe that these groups can and will have a major impact—without having to resort to throwing rocks and red paint at police as the students in Kosovo did.

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