Forum Digest III - Interview

Inauguration to be First Event in Restored Carolinum The Committee for Preparation of the Celebrations Marking the 650th Anniversary of the Founding of CU has been chaired, throughout the first year of its existence, by CU Rector Prof. JUDr. Karel Maly, DrSc. Shortly after his re-election as Rector (on the 1st of November 1996), Prof. Maly asked the CU Academic Senate to make a change in the Charles University Statutes: it had become necessary for the Rector to have a representative with statutory responsibility (and this means a Pro-Rector), to deal with a range of important day-to-day negotiations and organisational measures relating to the anniversary celebrations. The CU Academic Senate approved a change in the Statutes to create the office of a sixth Pro-Rector for the celebrations.

This is not, of course, the only problem that faces the CU Rector in the Christmas period. The following interview with CU Rector Prof. JUDr. Karel Maly, DrSc. is devoted to the celebrations and to other plans.


When did you first hear of the coming Charles University 650th anniversary jubilee?
I heard about it when I became a Pro-Rector (in 1990). At that point the former Rector, Prof. Radim Palous, and I got to know the individual phases of the overall reconstruction of the Carolinum that had been projected by the former leadership of the university. We had to reassess the whole existing plan and give it new dimensions. A Committee for the Celebrations had already been meeting here, but five years ago Prof. Palous and I set up a new committee. The preparations for the celebrations have been a long-term matter, but just now, of course, they are developing in intensity and content.

As Rector you have attended other academic ceremonies in European universities. Have you found any inspiration for our anniversary in your work meetings abroad?
Many of the oldest universities in Europe (for example German universities) have in recent decades lost their traditional rituals, partly as a result of the so-called "student revolution" in Germany in 1968. Professors at these universities envy us the fact that we have preserved so much of our university history in our ceremonies, gowns and chains. At out neighbouring university in Vienna these elements are also still in use. In his inaugural lecture the Rector there, Prof. Ebenbauer, emphasised the meaning and content of university customs and traditions. Academic ceremonies, he rightly said, are not just matters of spectacle but also symbolise the role of the university in the life of society, and the rights and liberties essential if the university is to fulfil its mission. This view of university rituals struck me as very important and inspiring. In my view Charles University, in contrast to so many other European universities, remains not just a symbol of culture and learning, but also of university continuity and tradition.

Recently you visited Bonn on the anniversary of the Coronation of Charles IV as King of the Romans - likewise a 650th anniversary, a kind of "presage" of our anniversary...
My visit to Bonn was in its way very interesting and stimulating, although the event perhaps meant less for us than for the German universities and German public. This is because in Germany, in the search for European identity, they have become very much aware of the important role of universities, both in a broad historical context and in contemporary Europe. The fact that Charles University still uses the seal that King Charles ordered for the university, and still uses buildings donated by Charles's son Wenceslas IV, is a testament to the force of tradition and continuity. In Bonn it was also clear that in addition to their relation to tradition, universities are making an important contribution to the unity of European thought and culture, and the intellectual union of the inhabitants of Europe. In my speech I therefore recalled the traditions of Charles University and its European significance.

At the press conference you spoke about European educational continuity...
This idea has been voiced many times and was very well understood by all those present. It also reflects the plans and guiding principles of the leadership of Charles University, which is directing preparations for the celebrations towards the future, the next century and the third millenium.

If we were using sports terminology, and taking the idea of the 1,500 metres, how far along the track is the Preparation Committee?
Usually the most important thing in this kind of race is not just to finish, but to finish among the first. The last stretch demands a sprint, and exceptional mental and physical engagement. But I'm speaking as a lawyer and not an expert on sport. I think that together we have "run" roughly 1,000 metres, and we are two thirds of the way through the jubilee preparations. We already know exactly what the celebrations will involve, and we even know where we shall be getting the money for the jubilee. In the last third of the track we will be trying to implement out plan so well that we shall have a chance of a medal.

The central and faculty celebrations require a setting. Do you feel the need to create another congress centre at an up-to-date technical level? Has the Preparation Committee been considering this apsect of the situation?
I know of no better conference centre than the historic Carolinum. After reconstruction it will have an even greater capacity, since the Cloister and precincts on the groundfloor of the historic building will be brought into use, and the area of the second floor in the historic building itself is being extended. As far as social events are concerned, these will be located in the cellar areas of the historic Carolinum building.

Does this mean that the Carolinum will be the centre of the celebrations?
I think so, except in cases of conferences with very large attendances. Not only the Carolinum but some of the faculties are already well prepared for larger events and celebrations. These include the Law Faculty with its reconstructed lecture and conference halls and the Aula of the Pedagogical Faculty. The faculty of Physical Education has excellent space in Vokovice, several lecture halls at the 1st Medical Faculty have been adapted, and the Residential complex in Troja (CU Maths and Physics Faculty) offers outstanding conference facilities. Our capacity is increasing...

How much will university numbers increase during the celebrations?
By several hundred, and perhaps by a thousand in the main week of the celebration. Czech organisations from the USA will attend (Association of Alumnae and Friends of CU), and there will be guests at the academic conferences...

As part of the celebrations are you considering issuing publications presenting important people from the indivisual faculties?
Such portraits would have to be conceived as a centrally organised series established on the initiative of the CU faculties. Several years ago I myself initiated a series recalling the great figures of Czech legal science especially of the 19th century. Other faculties are continuing such activities on the same lines. The Association of Alumnae and Friends of CU has started a very interesting project - it is holding memorial seminars in honour of great CU figures. I can well imagine that materials from these events could be put together for publication.

The award of commemorative medals willl be a part of the celebrations. How far have preparations progressed in this area?
The Preparation Committee has already received nominations from the faculties. We will be continuing to hold dialogues with the faculties on the subject of augmenting the list of names of people from academic life at home and abroad.

What are the tasks that you, personally, are facing in the next weeks and months?
There is no question of my giving up basic responsibility for the preparation of the celebrations. There is also the submission of proposals for the appointment of a new leadership - new pro-rectors - and a whole series of other tasks connected with my new appointment to my "old" office - preparations for my inauguration...

Will the inauguration be the first event in the restored Carolinum?
That is what is planned...

Michaela Zindelova, Alice Kupcekova

(Vol. III, No. 6, 1996)

The CU Rector Prof. Karel Maly in his office in December 1996

Photo Forum: Michaela Vlckova