Forum IV/6-12

Some Questions and Answers

(from interviews with people attending the conference on "The Role of Universities at the Threshold of the 21st Century")

Sir Anthony Epstein, Great Britain, General Section
What does participation at this conference in Prague mean for you?
First and foremost, I am deeply honoured by the invitation to today's conference and by the award of an honorary doctorate, especially on such a great occasion - marking 650 years of unending Czech academic history. I see the anniversary as very important for the whole academic world, not just in Europe.

What will your contribution at the symposium be about?
The only thing I might know something about is the training of medical students, and my contribution will relate to that. In my view there will soon be great changes in education as a whole, especially in information technology. There are many serious problems in today's curriculum, which affect university education as such, and we shall have to find practical solutions.

What can one individual do?One individual can't do anything. The whole institution must discuss matters and take action - I mean the whole university.

Prof. Kopp von Botho, Germany, Historical Section
What led you to come to the symposium today and what do you expect from it?
I studied in Prague, and several of my former colleagues are still here. Renewal of contacts is always useful and interesting for me, and that's why I accepted the invitation to the symposium.

Which historical period is your particular field of study?
It's complicated. Originally I was a Slavonic specialist, and also a teacher, and in the past I took part in a big project on education in history, and wrote the section on schooling before the Second World War. I am not a completely specialized historian.

Today's symposium concerns the role of universities in the future, What is your personal vision?
Now I am working on the Japanese university system, which I must admit is highly specific. There's a certain dispute over the direction universities should take, and not just universities in this country. Should they take the path of closed academic institutions, as the conservatives would like, or should they undergo fundamental transformation, which I myself favour personally.

You mention Japan. In that connection do you think Czech education is at a great disadvantage because of its lower level of technological equipment, or is it more a question of "brainpower"?
Brainpower definitely. I've visited many Japanese schools and I believe that it really is a question of brains, of how to teach. Not even the most modern technology is a substitute for that.

If financial considerations were not an issue, what academic project would you choose? What would you most like to work on?
At present I have a great many, very various academic projects ahead of me, for example to study globalization in the academic field. Young people from every country (including the most developed, like Japan) are going to study wherever the best universities are. In my view, this means that states will develop ever closer mutual links in this respect, and we must keep pace with this trend.

Prof. Dr. Jan Milic Lochman, D. D., Switzerland, General SectionDo you think that a university in a small country, however ancient its foundation, can have an influence on thinking in countries that are larger and have a larger university establishment?
I think that it can, and my own career is proof of it. When I was offered an appointment at the university of Basel, I accepted explicitly as a Czech theologian, and for the whole period that I worked there, I tried to apply the specific Czech legacy in the all-European intellectual context. The fact that I later became Rector of Basel University shows that this Czech voice was not regarded as something exotic and insignificant for the European mainstream, but as an essential part of the intellectual polyphony of Europe. Although I was not a Swiss citizen, and I was a member of what was numerically the smallest of the university faculties, I regarded this appointment as a chance to use the Czech inheritance in a truly European context. I am therefore quite convinced that this Czech country, despite all the reversals of its history and the various distortions of ideology, has been entrusted with something that is of great importance for a wider Europe as well.

Prof. Barbara Partee, USA, General Section
Your paper aroused a particularly warm response in the subsequent discussion. What was the problem that it addressed?
The core of my paper was reflection on how universities should react to their current tasks and the paths that they should take while searching for optimal strategies to secure the aims they set themselves. The outside world expects universities to solve a number of problems. Since internal and external conditions are continually changing, it's not possible to identify the best way of organizing universities once and for all. We need to find a form of internal organization flexible enough to allow both the preservation of traditional disciplines and the development of new fields, and at the same time to stimulate interdisciplinary perspectives and scholarship. For such a kind of organization, an important element will also be co-operation with other university centres at home and abroad, since this is both a source of inspiration and a means of self-preservation.

Dr. Michaela Zindelova
Dr. Karel Janku

Photo for Forum: CU Archives and Michaela Vlckova
Vol. IV, no. 12, 1998