Twenty-five per cent enrollment drop, faculty’s concerns about their job security and the direction university is heading, weak marketing efforts, and a controversial severance package for Alan Krautstengl, the former president, were the central topics at the open faculty meeting at 13th of April.
It all started when Andrew Giarelli, the Senior Lecturer at the School of Humanities & Social Sciences and School of Journalism, made a motion at the spring HCC/Journalism faculty meeting. The motion concerned having the budget shown to the faculty and the faculty members picked it up and organized a petition concerning their dissatisfaction about the lack of influence, low wages, and no job security.
AAU Leadership responded by organising the meeting intended to address all of these issues, but during the two hour session, other problems crucial to the university,’s future, its faculty and students emerged and took a big part of the discussion, starting with the decreasing enrolment being a serious issue considering tuition accounts for 98% of the total revenue.
“The drop in enrollment was most likely caused by the increase in tuition,”
said David Lipka, the Vice-President for Student Affairs. “Yet the problem of AAU is not that it is too expensive. The problem may be that it is perceived as expensive in many traditional market segments we have been serving.”
“We believe that for the right type of students who can appreciate the comprehensive learning experience in an international environment in the heart of Prague we are a bargain,” Lipka adds.
Due to AAU gaining the prestigious American WASC accreditation, the full tuition has been raised by 90 000 CZK. The accreditation opens the door to the US for the AAU Students and has not been awarded to any other European institutions, increasing AAU’s reputation. However, blaming the tuition is “over simplistic and unrealistic” according to Mark Wiedorn, the Senior Lecturer from the School of Business and Administration said. He suggested the governance should look at the “weak marketing efforts in the last few years.”
“I think that the drop in enrollment a few years ago was caused by these main aspects: war in Ukraine, depreciation of ruble, increase of tuition, ineffective promotion,” Miroslav Svoboda, the Vice-President for Faculty & Student Affairs said. Having said that, Svoboda doesn’t want to draw a final conclusion on the low enrolment as he believes not enough persuasive date has been collected.
“It’s not only the question of marketing,” said Petr Jan Pajas, the AAU president.
“Does the faculty make enough effort to show AAU is a worthy goal?”
The lecturers may struggle with staying motivated and engaged in promoting AAU, knowing that their salary is on average lower than the salary of a tram driver in the Czech Republic and the job security remains a big question. “The job security concern is absolutely valid,” Björn Steinz, an adjunct lecturer in the School of Humanities & Social Sciences said. “It’s very difficult for us to get anything with those limited contracts for just one semester, as for example a mortgage or loan because we can not prove for the banks and other institutions any future income.”
“I get a new contract every semester, there is absolutely no security,” Steinz adds. “I’ve had it for 5 or 6 years now since I started teaching here. And we have colleagues that have it like this for 10 or 15 years.”
An example is Mark Andrew Brandon, who has been teaching at AAU for 15 years, taught over 90 courses, and collected the necessary amount of points needed for a promotion but has still not received a title of a Senior Lecturer. “ We are never entirely sure if we get a contract next semester,” Brandon said. “I am happy that people have hired me all these years. But I think the frightening thing for people is the lack of security.”
When asked about the situation, Tony Ozuna, The Dean of School of Journalism and School of Humanities & Social Sciences said, “Brandon will get the promotion that he deserves, hopefully, at the next meeting of Academic Council, next Friday.”
While the article was being written, Brandon has been promoted and moved two ranks up to Senior Lecturer II.
Svoboda, responsible for faculty affairs explained that once he was informed about certain instructors not being promoted in time, he asked the deans to review service points and prepare promotion proposals which the Academic Council is going to access now. “After the semester is over, I will make sure that all instructors are informed about their standing and can provide a feedback to their deans,” Svoboda said. “I believe that the system will work smoothly from now on.”
Currently, AAU’s goal is to gain more students and the university has made strategic plans on how to rapidly increase this number by creating a new brand, strengthening partnerships with high schools, providing accommodation, opening up for partnership with new countries, and focusing on improving the student and alumni life.
“We do not compete with either Czech private or public universities,” said Lipka. “We are not the mainstream machine like a university that mass produces graduates. Neither are we an over-coddling private school. We provide study opportunities for internationally minded, active, maybe somewhat adventurous, but definitely mature and balanced students who understand and appreciate the benefits of the liberal arts tradition, the challenge we are facing now is to communicate this clearly and with force.”
And before the marketing strategies have effects and increase the AAU revenue, the university has to work with a lessened budget, which is why a Golden Handshake [payment given to an individual who retires early] worth 2 556 720 CZK and awarded to the former president, Alan Krautstengl in 2016/2017 is seen as controversial.
“Back then, the golden handshake was presented to me as something that followed from the work contract of the president,” Svoboda said. “I didn’t share the positive opinion with this regards and I criticised it at that time.” All the other faculty and administration members asked about the Golden Handshake had no comment.