The approaching end of the year has been busy for all of us at the University: writing and submitting (if possible before the deadline) grant applications, spending, if we have the money, funds which could not have been spent because the financial means for research arrived too late, updating the list of publication activities, evaluating, accounting, underlining and adding up. We have no time for anything and we curse the system which has been forcing us to act this way. The end of the year has also been traditionally, consciously or unconsciously, a period of expectations and, as a rule, good resolutions, aimed at making our next year better and more successful. It is without a doubt too early for the administration to balance and evaluate - preparation of the activity report for the CU Academic Senate has only just begun. In spite of this, or rather because of this, we should pause to think over some of the past events and realities as well as those which are awaiting us.
Two major steps have affected the University this year. The first has been to determine the basic conception of the development strategy and function of the University for the next period. This spring, the Nymburk session of the Academic Senate, Academic Board and administration created a framework in which to consider further steps in such fundamental questions as the increased emphasis on academic work, the habilitation and promotion procedure of professors, and the contents and message of the pending law on higher education. The November decision of the Academic Senate in these matters and the letter addressed to the Members of Czech Parliament have confirmed the commitment of the University to these issues.
The second major step concerns the subject of academic evaluations, which has often met with scepticism and suspicion as being an unnecessary intrusion on the faculties. However, already the first results and their discussion at the session at Zahradky in September 1995 demonstrated that the Deans and the University administration could, for the first time, consider the condition of Charles University as a whole, to compare and evaluate. Debates within the faculties, and the ensuing chair reports sent to the CU administration, show that this is an opportunity for self examination, contemplation of the development of the individual faculties, search for personal improvement, and discovery of means to improve the situation where necessary, drawing on strengths for further development. All of us also hope that the final university evaluation report, which will be submitted in the beginning of the new year to CU academic bodies and the broader public, will not only introduce our university as an important and substantial part of Czech higher education, but that it will once and for all disperse all doubts about our scientific level and responsibility. It is very clear how necessary this is in competing for recognition of the university and its mission in the development of science and education, not only in the Czech Republic, but also internationally.
I think the endeavors of the former administration have also been resumed successfully in the field of international relations, where a new phenomenon has clearly established itself - the university is no longer considered as an entity in need of assistance, but is now accepted as an equal partner. There are no doubts that this is connected with higher demands on our behavior, the level of our partnership and, of course, our financial means, which have to be invested in such contacts. In the field of international relations the University has made a substantial contribution towards dialogues of great significance for the future of the whole country and its place in Europe. What I have in mind are the Karolinum "Talks on Relations between Neighbouring Countries", as we have become used to calling the series of lectures by major Czech and German politicians and personalities, held since February 1995 in the Grand Hall of the Karolinum, with an unprecedented attention of the world public.
Charles University has become an appreciated mediator and thus has fulfilled its mission to serve the deepest national interests. We are already contemplating a follow-up in this direction. This time it will be the question connected with the future Europe and our relation towards the European Community.
The end of 1995 brings further questions: what is awaiting us in the new year, both at the University and outside it? It seems the major change will be brought by the new law on higher education, the governmental proposal of which is now being submitted to the Czech Parliament. It will no doubt have a difficult journey through the House of Representatives, and is already facing a number of objections and comments upon its wording on many levels. At times it seems to me that this is happening much too late, and I keep asking myself why the authors of some of the articles did not deal with the act and its problems at the time when its principles became known. There is no doubt that some of the stipulations bring and must bring hesitancy. This is not only the case of school fees, which has attracted the media to such a degree that other important problems have been obscured. There is, for example, the final shape and mission of the accreditation collegium which, as a Minister advisoral body without decision rights, can hardly be considered to guarantee the future standard of universities and colleges, especially in the case of the establishment of private universities. A change should be carried out also as concerns the present form of Academic Senates (e.g. the numerical representation of students), as well as the relationship between deans and the Rector. Although the necessary responsibility of the Rector to the Academic Senate is in no way disappearing, and there is no question of his having an autocratic position (he still can be called off by the Senate), his authority in dealing with deans will increase. Also the legal position of Professors and docents (or senior readers) will be shifted towards ensuring the legal certification of working contracts in correspondence with European tradition and promoting the interest in acquiring a younger teaching generation. In my opinion, this modification, however, does not belong to those which deserve condemnation. The critics of the modification often forget that concluding a working contract for an indeterminate period of time is absolutely common in other categories of employees and, moreover, in no way excludes canceling the contract from reasons contained in the Working Code. In addition, the new version enables concluding of working contracts of docents and professors for periods of 5 to 10 years.
It is, however, also the student position that will undergo a change, e.g. one will become a student of university only after paying the tuition fee and will no longer be a student if failing to pay! No matter what the fate of the law on university education, we should not only wish, but also do everything in our power, to ensure optimal conditions for those who will live, create and study according to it, i.e. students, university teachers and other workers of the University apparatus. The law should in no way become the object of the election fight because, to a substantial degree, it will set the path for the future development of education, science and culture in our Republic.
Next year will also mean domestic troubles. This year, the historical building for University graduations, celebrations and sessions will be closed, and we will have to do with a provisional solution, which poses numerous problems, both organizational and financial. I trust in your understanding. A substantial amount of courage was needed to agree with this reconstruction, but without it we would risk not only closing down the Karolinum in the event of breakdown of its technical facilities, but also entering the 1998 jubilee absolutely ungracefully. This investment into the future of the University will pay. The next generation will profit from it, certainly those who will celebrate the 700th anniversary in 2048!
Taking care of the Karolinum seems to be symbolic of what is, in my opinion, important for Charles University today - i.e. the sense of unity, the need for this unity and its preservation. And this is connected not only with the evaluation, university conception or comments on the new law, but also with the Rector elections, which are awaiting us in the new year.
The New Year is usually accompanied with optimism, which, however, is appropriate only if derived from certainties and confidence in the future. I am sure I have good reasons for optimism, even though all of us know what obstacles lay before us. Our certainty is not only in the good results of academic and pedagogical work, but also in the good will to collaborate and in mutual understanding, trust and support.