We shall celebrate our diversity…
We shall overcome all adversity…”
That’s how “An Ode to AAU” starts: Idealistic and proud, celebrating university spirit and students’ pride.
“University spirit is an energy which comes from the excitement of wanting to participate in school and its activities and the pleasure or satisfaction that participation brings,” said Daniel Padolsky, AAU Faculty Senate Secretary. “It’s always really apparent with the new students because they are the most excited to start university and you can actually see the university spirit glow from within them.”
The song, written by Padolsky himself, might become the university anthem if not for one issue: People might not be spirited enough to sing it.
Only 20 percent of the degree-seeking students feel a sense of community at AAU; 30 percent think there’s a distinct experience that makes AAU unique, while more than a half of the student body have no comment, according to an AAU Marketing survey in Spring 2017. Some students think there’s university spirit at AAU, but only within a small group of students who gets involved in extracurricular activities.
“I think it’s important for AAU to see us as more than figures in its bank account, and because a sense of belonging, or spirit, transfers to everything you do,” said Andres Felipe Bermudez, a third-year student from the School of Journalism. “It would make the whole experience of going to university more enjoyable, from studying to just hanging out there.”
Among various reasons, the large number of exchange and CEA students is believed to be a big contributor to the lack of spirit at AAU. According to AAU 2016 Faculty Satisfaction Survey, up to 41 percent of teachers think that these students aren’t motivated to learn; one in three teachers thinks they behave inappropriately in class.
“[Exchange and CEA students] disrupt the class, browse their internet, and plan travelling Europe rather than being interested in serious study,” said an AAU lecturer.
Cultural differences could also be a contributing factor to the missing sense of community at AAU. On one hand, most AAU students enjoy their university most for its diverse international student body coming from 70 countries. On the other hand, some students notice a few apparent cliques of students from the same country or culture, hesitating to socialize with the rest of the school.
“The point is that most Russians, Kazakhs and Ukrainians want to stick together because they feel more connected through the same language,” said Ekaterina Lopanitcyna, a Russian student who came to AAU via the Erasmus Programme. “Because of that, they hang out only with each other. They don’t want to go out of their comfort zone and discover new cultures. There are exceptions, of course, but when I came to AAU, some people wanted to be friends only because I spoke their language, not because of my personality.”
Other students think the large proportion of adjunct teachers also weakens college spirit. Adjunct lecturers comprise 80 percent of AAU’s faculty body; many of whom students think aren’t as committed to teaching as full-time ones. Perhaps job insecurity and low pay pressures them to balance multiple employments at the same time, which takes away the time and energy they could have otherwise devoted to AAU. An adjunct teacher at AAU earns 42,000 Kc for each course they teach a semester. That’s $426 per month, while permanent lecturers receive about 20-25,000 Kc, or $1000, after tax every month.
“Even if you’re only supporting yourself, it’s hard to get by on less than 30,000 Kc a month in Prague,” said an adjunct teacher. “And there’s obviously no way you could support a family, unless your partner is also working. Good teachers do this because they love to teach, not because of any financial incentive. But you’re really inviting burnout. I have to admit that as much as I love teaching and working with students, I found it hard to be a writing coach for 18 students.”
AAU adjunct teachers come and leave every semester, hardly engaging with the school or its students, making it challenging to build a university community. The majority of people at AAU believe that the attitude of the faculty towards the institution influences that of the students. For instance, by suggesting them school activities or events that might be interesting, the teachers build a stronger relationship with their students and among the students themselves.
“School spirit can only benefit,” said Jonathan Little, the vice president of the Hiking Club. Little once struggled for five years to balance his life with a full time job, full time study, and a social life. He then realized the value of the college life, determining that his career and relationship can wait until after he graduated. “When I came to AAU, I decided to focus on studying and experiencing through college.”
Most students agree with Little. They think having university spirit plays an essential role in the college experience, giving them a sense of belonging and motivation to be on campus not just for classes, but for the people and the atmosphere.
Little suggests that AAU shortens its lectures to increase the number of classes per day. Students could then use break time to hang around the school and participate in activities on campus. Other students like the idea of informal discussions with teachers outside of class, ones like Professors in the Pub or Movie Nights, and wish for more similar events. Some suggest creating more studying spaces, dormitories, and athletic clubs.
“AAU feels a lot like a high school, with small class size and attendance check,” said Nicholas Fontana, a student from Italy, suggesting that AAU could benefit from more autonomic and flexible rules. “I would say university spirit should be of independence and freedom, where you’re being controlled less and have to take responsibility more.”
However, better integration among students from different cultures, better salary for the faculty, and better facilities wouldn’t be enough to create a sense of community at AAU if the students’ attitude remains unchanged.
“I don’t think there’s one party or person who can be blamed entirely for the failed implementation of AAU spirit,” said Adi Hadzic, the president of the Student Council, who thinks that AAU has been trying to boost university spirit in the recent years with little success. “From the students’ side, I think the lack of participation has a lot to do with it. We usually have 100-150 same faces showing up for all our events. What’s going on with the rest of the 500-600 people at our school? It seems that the majority of students don’t want to give the school a chance in terms of events.”
Melisa Permansu, the vice president of the Diplomatic Club, agrees with Hadzic. Permansu says she always encourages people to join clubs and come to the events hosted by the university. She thinks everyone shares the successes and failures of AAU, thus should work together to make it a better place.
“I would like to get the students more involved in AAU´s events and activities not only in terms of participation but also in organization,” said Iveta Morávková, the Student Life and Career Center Specialist. “Bring me your ideas and let’s make them happen together. Don’t forget to fill out the Student Satisfaction Survey to improve services at AAU.”
Perhaps if the students are willing to step out of their comfort zones, try out new activities, and take more initiatives to participate and make changes, AAU has great potential to become a strong community, living up to its utopian goal.
“We will stand together indivisibly…
We shall elevate our community…
Anglo-American University, home for you and me…”