The past two years have been stormy at the Faculty of Law of the University of West Bohemia (ZČU) in Plzeň. The scandal surrounding the law school began when it was discovered that an indeterminate number of people were studying there under less than standard conditions and probably with the management’s assistance.
Suspicion was thrown on several theses and the system of assigning students to examinations. Currenlty, the faculty is trying to free itself of its past problems. However, a question remains as to how intensive and successful its endeavors are.
After recent elections to the academic senate in which the reform team put together by Jiří Pospíšil (Civic Democrats, ODS), the minister of justice and sometime dean of the faculty, was unsuccessful, several disgruntled lectures announced they would be quitting the establishment. Bohumil Havel, an expert in company and bankruptcy law is one of the first. Karel Eliáš, a respected professor, has revealed a similar intention in an interview for Czech Position. Next year, the faculty’s accreditation to offer bachelor’s and master’s degree programs runs out. A decision will be made over the next few months on renewing it.
Almost half of the lawyers questioned in the Voice of the Elite poll carried out by Czech Position said they believe that the Faculty of Law in Plzeň should continue despite its past problems. They offered various reasons, though the general consensus seems to be that the many conscientious students and lecturers do not deserve to be tainted by problems that they had nothing to do with.
“Many top-quality lawyers studied at the Plzeň faculty, and there are many excellent lecturers who have taught there and continue to teach there. I see no reason why they should terminate their activities,” one lawyer said. ‘In my professional life I have met many outstanding graduates of the faculty and I know several very good lecturers.’
Another respondent offered a similar opinion. “I am not acquainted in detail with the day-to-day events at the Plzeň Faculty of Law. However, in my professional life I have met many outstanding graduates of the faculty, and I know several very good lecturers. The scandal involving a few dozen prominent students is negatively and unfairly impacting on the honest work of most students and lecturers. For this reason, I believe that thoughts of closing down the faculty are way off mark.”
The following lawyer offers a different solution. “It would be right and proper to withdraw the faculty’s accreditation to offer master’s degrees and doctorates and permit it only to offer bachelor’s degrees. Higher qualifications are not needed to be a legal assistant in the public administration. But what about the majority of students whose studies are fair and above board?”
Another two positive responses are brief. “The faculty does not need to be reformed but standardized.” ‘It would be right and proper to withdraw the faculty’s accreditation to offer master’s degrees and doctorates.’
“Several of the frauds were not terribly serious, and it is difficult to see how they could be repeated.”
The next lawyer found it difficult to decide. “The issue of whether the Plzeň Faculty of Law should continue is not directly related to the resignation of Professor Eliáš or JUDr. Havel. Although they are unquestionably top experts in their field and their departure will weaken the faculty, the issue of the continued existence of the study of law at Plzeň is more a question of the overall level of teaching at the faculty, and this is a matter for the accreditation commission to address.
“The view from outside the faculty might be a bit simplistic, and this is borne out by mention of the reform team put together by Jiří Pospíšil, if, as internal reports claim, it was he who lobbied against the election of Professor Eliáš in the lead up to the latest elections for dean. However, the accreditation commission should not restrict itself to the Plzeň law faculty but also examine the level of private universities providing an education in law. The level of teaching and the method by which an education is acquired in these establishments is often reminiscent of the discredited practices of the Plzeň faculty,” this lawyer concluded.
A rigourous evaluation is needed
Another three replies were negative: “Although this is a local matter impacting on the prestige of the University of West Bohemia — I have no idea how many lawyers the faculty turned out every year — the fact is that we have more than enough lawyers right now. ‘We have more than enough lawyers right nowThere are more and more law graduates, who despite the soundness of their education are finding it difficult to get a job. If they were to produce fewer graduates this would have no detrimental consequences. There are many universities which are similar to or even worse than that in Plzeň, whose students have studied obscure, impractical subjects which cannot be applied in practice,” the first said.
“The faculty should have been closed down long ago, as soon as the scandal erupted. This is simply damaging its reputation. Everyone is suddenly convinced that it takes no effort to become a lawyer and they make this abundantly clear to us. ‘The faculty should have been closed down long ago, as soon as the scandal erupted.’Withdrawal of the license would clear the air and could provide a healthy impulse to the entire Czech tertiary education system, though this does not apply to master’s degrees. There is no great demand for the services of lawyers, and the remaining universities would unquestionably meet such demand as there is. In addition, the good lecturers from Plzeň would move to other jobs, and this would raise the level of the remaining universities. The poor lecturers would sink without trace, which would be all to the good,” the second pointed out.
“Students deserve better lecturers than those who voted against change [in elections to the academic senate]. When I look at the conduct of those lecturers who remained, I have the feeling — and I don’t say this lightly — that it would be better if students had the chance of completing their studies at a university where the lecturers are at the very least as responsible as their students. Under the current circumstances it would perhaps be better if the faculty were to be closed down,” the third lawyer claimed.
The next lawyer offered a personal take on the situation: “If the faculty meets the accreditation conditions, then let it continue: if not, then close it down. My knowledge of several of the figures involved in this case makes me skeptical that the university would stand much of a chance of meeting the accreditation conditions if subjected to a rigorously objective evaluation.”