trying to open the box


Looking at how academic institutions deal with applications by students – and with lecturers who support their endeavour – when it comes to applications there seems to be little hope: one meets ignorance, lack of respect and unqualified ways of handling procedures – I referred to this issue earlier.. I suppose part of the problem is also that we usually accept such misbehavior and move on, allowing ‘them’ to move on their way. Hopeless …

“HOPE is what makes us strong. It is why we are here. It is what we fight with when all else is lost.”
– Pandora’s last words

With this attitude I wrote the letter/mail to some completely ignorant universities: if asking for a reference that supports students to follow their path of curiosity, has any meaning, there are some institutions that themselves delve in complete lack of meaning.


Dear colleague, I am writing to you after overcoming some hesitation and also after reflecting if there is any point in it.

Still, for the sake of students and due to my commitment to academia and academic standards I feel obliged to follow up on the way your university is dealing with applications. If there is any claim on hour side to be an academic institution of reputable rank and with an international standing, at least revisiting the following is highly advisable – to say the least.
Lecturers today are encouraged to move, and some actually manage to be engaged by different universities and research institutes – for my part I can humbly state that I had been in the lucky situation of being involved in teaching and research in different countries, linked to various institutions, amongst them those with high international standing. However, this also means that e-mail addresses change. Apparently, so I had been informed, your institution requires students to submit contact details of lectures whom they nominate for their recommendation, valid at the time of teaching. In other words, I had been teaching students who asked me for a reference after I left the respective university – and still the students are asked to provide contact details from an outdated position. In this light, what is really outdated is the requirement you set. It shows that your institution does not reflect standards of todays academia, and instead follows somewhat ‘provincial’, ‘parochial’ ideas. – I may add, that historically at least in Europe, the mobility of academics had been the norm, the settled, academic the exception – settled in terms of space usually also meant settled in thinking, lacking openness to exchange and innovation.
Now, moving on to the next point: In several cases it is [was] possible for me to keep the e-mail address from an earlier position. One option to deal with this is to check different mail accounts. Sometimes it is possible to forward mails; and another option is to set an automatic reply, informing and asking the sender to use a different e-mail-address. I had to chose with one of the accounts the latter option. So, the request for a reference, sent by our university to the one ‘official’ mail address, was answered by such automatic reply, providing an alternative address. Although the mail from your institution was not sent by a completely automated system and replies had been received, the responsible department or person did not consider to react in an appropriate way. On the contrary, later a reminder was sent to the same, inactive, address. This behaviour from your institution shows in my opinion cum gram salis the same attitude as that mentioned previously. It is highly disrespectful, ignoring the serious interests of students and showing no collegiality to academics. It is even topped by the fact that I once set a mail to the relevant department of your institution, using the ‘dormant address’. The rely I received gave apt evidence of the fact that the mail I sent was not properly read.
I may then add: the standardised ‘questionnaires’, used to ask to assess students, are substandard. In general I think it is questionable to use multiple choice questions and similar for such assessment – it is about young personalities and not machines or fat-stock. Still, if such approach is used, the design requires a bit more reflection. If a student of mine, would submit such questionnaire which I had been asked to complete, as part of exams, that student would end, on a generous day, with a very low grade.
Again, the way your institution is currently handling – at least – this part of the application process is simply appalling and lacks any respect towards students and those lecturers who are in a position to support their curiosity about learning. This part of their learning experience provided by you is apt to undermine such curiosity, and teach that studies you offer may not deliver what they promise.
Sincerely disappointed
Peter Herrmann


Prof. Dr. Peter Herrmann
Max Planck Institute for Social Law and Social Policy/
Max-Planck-Institut für Sozialrecht und Sozialpolitik
[section social law]
– Research Fellow –
skype: …
QQ: …
University of Eastern Finland (UEF)
Department of Social Sciences
PL 1627
70211 Kuopio
—-Corvinus University
Institute of World Economy
Faculty of Social Sciences and International Relations
Fővám tér 8
1093 Budapest
Active Member of the European Academy of Science and Arts

Beginnings – Going Astray

It is the great time of the year again – at least I like it: the students are returning, or are just arriving at the university. For many a huge step, something like entering the ‘large world’, another step to adulthood.

The other day I had been standing with Michael and Paddy in the student centre, looking across campus where the freshers had been shown by their older mates   how to get around. Well, somewhat oldish terms – and there is surely much of this in the mind: the freshers feeling like making a step towards independence, being a bit unsure about what all this about, the requirements and just …, well for many it will be the first time that they really leave the lap of their parent’s home …; the mates being proud that they can show a bit of what they learned already, showing a bit of their supremacy, and perhaps also a bit of their power: the abilities they achieved. And there the three of us are standing, talking about the way they and we actually go. Are we looking at students out there: the young people we have to teach – we the supervisors, feeling ‘super-wise’ …; are we looking at young colleagues with whom we will collaborate on this huge project which enlightenment failed to establish: a better world – a world which actually cannot be ‘established’ as such; rather a better world will always have to be a process, a movement of people coming together to make a world a common property (process of relational appropriation, as I define it – still grateful to Denisa: I brought this definition forward in class, elaborated it and … forgot the wording. She, at the time one of my Hungarian students, had all the notes from the classes …). Or are we looking at the future competitor on a market on which skills are traded, in societies and regions that aim on being

most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economy in the world.

Although I am in general very much on the side of those who consider the glass being half-full, I am worried: I listened to last weeks negotiations in Kassel – the German Constitutional Court approving the ESM – in my opinion a decision strictly based on nationalist interests without offering any answer on the problem of Europe which faces the danger of falling apart; I listened to Barroso’s ‘State of the Union’ address at the same time, repeating shallow phrases from over the years, (leaving the bloomy phrases aside) calling for a stronger Europe – sure, I am not against a stronger Europe as such, though the question of the overall aims remains to be asked and answered; and I followed the elections in the Netherlands, the results of which came to many (and also to me) as a surprise, moving the country under the VVD towards a questionable Freedom and Democracy.

And I remember the other day colleagues talking about a high number of registrations for a course:

There are people out there who are interested. We just have to find a way to answer the demand ….

Well, there is definitely interest in education – and now I mean the education in the true sense: education as means of emancipation. And this is something we have to encourage, we have to fight for ways that allow this to happen: this kind of education and this kind of emancipation – not a matter of individuals’ demand but of societal necessity for which we have to create space.

For me, every new teaching period is such a challenge – not primarily a question of what to teach but more a question how we can learn together, how we can develop relevant research skills: brave openings.

May be I be it is an absurd idea. May be not.

Talking about absurdities: The other day a mail had been passed on to me, sent via the staff-exchange server – a former employee from UCC, now retired, talking about the fact needs must be met ‘even in retirement’ and offering the service of a Training and Development Company she set up. It is about More to Explore and Rethinking your Thinking. And courses are offered on the premises of UCC.

Well, it may be I should rethink my thinking, my optimism: A university that is claiming to be ‘Ireland’s first *****-university’, a university that leaves part of the work to be undertaken by retired staff, a university that is particularly proud of sports people as bearers of the academic torch, just recently Five sports people conferred with honorary doctorates. – Yes, well done lads.

I wish you all well in the current academic year!

Indeed – and I hope we can do better!!