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Interview with Senator Dana Matějovská

Doc. Dana Matějovská, Ph.D., has been a member of the Senate for eleven years (2008–2014, 2017–2022), has been a member of the University Senate for eight years (2014–), and is its Vice-Chair (2017–). She is a graduate of the FA CTU (1982), Ph.D. (2015), she also habilitated at the faculty (2022). She has been designing for a long time (1982–2006), also in her office Atelier FM (1993–2006). At the faculty, she heads the Department (formerly Cabinet-MOLAB) of Architectural Modelling (2006–).

The Faculty is preparing for the elections to the Academic Senate. Sometimes this academic institution is compared with a bit of exaggeration to the parliament. As a senator, could you explain its functions?

The Academic Senate of the Faculty is a key institution of the School: it is responsible for controlling the fundamental agenda of the Faculty. The documents are prepared and submitted to the Senate by the school's management. These are mainly internal faculty regulations or the methodology for the distribution of faculty funds; of course there is the school budget, and the senators also elect the dean. The weight of the senate's position, or which documents the senators approve and which they only comment on, is determined very precisely, i.e. clearly, by law, namely the Higher Education Act. The Senate is a counterweight to the management – and when you mentioned the Parliament, which controls the government of the country, we senators function just like members of parliament as a controlling institution of the school management; the Senate votes on its resolutions. The institution of the senate is also an important platform for debate, where any school issues of interest to both teachers and students are publicly raised.

The Senate therefore anticipates an exchange of views among its members, both teachers and students. Before we move on to the essential tasks of the Senate – I am wondering: is not a student in the role of senator a bit dependent on his or her senate colleague, the teacher After all, he or she gets grades from him or her. Might such a debate between the teacher and the student senator be unbalanced after all?

The Senate represents an institution through which members, including students, participate formally and effectively in the process of public school governance. I am a little concerned that your question underestimates our students. In my experience, our faculty is quite self-conscious. And students – know that the weight of responsibility rests on them and that they have the same role in the Academic Senate as the teachers.

Approval Agenda

Could you recall some of the important senate approvals in the first academic year of the new dean's term?

First of all, I will mention the election of this new dean. Another important moment in the life of the Senate was the approval of the school budget for the next school year. Specifically, this is the process whereby the Ministry of Education sends the university administration funds that are divided according to the teaching and scientific/artistic performance of the eight CTU faculties and institutes. First, a part of the funds is separated for the needs of the Rector's Office according to the approved methodology. This includes support for all-school parts - e.g. library, publishing, VIC computer centre, Institute of Physical Education, etc. Faculties and institutes will receive the remaining majority of the funding. The faculty management prepares a budget where the funds are divided into a normative part for the departments and cabinets according to the approved methodology for distribution of funds and a non-normative part according to the operational requirements of the school and individual departments. For example, the normative budgets are the budgets of the individual departments and the non-normative budgets are the budgets of the Dean's Office, the individual Vice-Deans, the operation of the building, and also, for example, the operation of the training centre in the Circle. The Faculty Senate therefore controls the entire structure of this internal school redistribution.

What was the debate over the budget about?

I will precede that the Senate agenda is not usually discussed immediately in the full Senate. But first in the special committees. The budget is the responsibility of the economic committee. There we went over certain items in the budget table, and we had the management explain them more precisely. Then our opinion was discussed in a meeting with all the senators.

Could you give a specific example?

For example, the Artistic Activities Fund. The ministry allocates these funds to art faculties for the development of artistic activities of the school according to many criteria – according to the number of students in art disciplines or, for example, according to the results of artistic activities of teachers or students. Last academic year, the rules for the use of this fund were not worked out in the most precise way. This year, the new dean, together with the vice-dean for Science and Research, has made the rules clearer and stricter. There is a competition where those interested in applying for the allocated funds can submit their project. Besides, the rules can be found on the faculty website...

You say that this agenda was not presented in the most precise way... And how did the Senate comment on it at the time?

The truth is that we did not leave its execution without criticism.

We also talked about agendas that do not require a binding approval process; but the Senate only comments on some documents. Could you give an example again?

The Senate commented, for example, on the concept of a charter for an ombudsman.

Great and Small Senate

You sit as a Senator in both Senates... How would you describe their relationship?

In the great senate of CTU the basic idea of our technical university is discussed. Where it should go, on the basis of what priorities, etc. Otherwise, of course, the process of the functioning of the Great Senate is similar to the functioning of the Small Senate. The CTU Grand Senate is a partner of the CTU management. It decides the rules for pedagogical, school affairs as well as student affairs, rules for science and research, as well as rules for some facilities, e.g. computer center, dormitories, canteens, construction...

For instance?

I would mention, for example, the organisation of the Service Facilities Administration. Student dormitories, canteens, which are common for all faculties and are managed by the Rector's Office.

Is there any debate between the senators of the small senate and the great senate?

I will precede that in the great senate, eight faculties are represented by five senators, always three academic staff and two students. I think that the student senators in particular have quite intense communication with each other. As an example, in this current term, new rules for the election process for student senators were being drafted. And as a result, for the first time, new senators will be elected for the student section of the at-large senate with only a two-year term. Originally, all senators were elected for three-year terms... So in this initial term, some of the student senators will be elected for one-year terms and some will be elected for two-year terms. Half will be elected in even years, half will be elected in odd years... So they will be elected every year. This is new. The student senators of the great senate came up with this solution and then informed their colleagues of the small senate...

One more thing about form: Does that mean that this change was subject to the approval process in both senates? Or was it just a statement?

The Faculty Senate agreed to changes to the election rules for the Great Senate in April two years ago, and the election rules for the AS CTU were subsequently approved in June.

What do you think motivated this change?

A three-year mandate can be handled by an academic without any problem, of course, but for a student, three years during studies is a long time if they are not sure if they will study again, if they will go on Erasmus, etc. Otherwise, I hope the system will work. After all, other universities also have good experience with it... Summing up the process, the change has succeeded thanks to the activity of student senators in the great senate, which has made its way into the small senates. I would add that in the great senate you defend the brand of CTU, but you also express yourself on the topic as a representative of the faculty. And I will mention one more achievement of our senate: the preparation of electronic elections was discussed. Finally, the process of electing the Senate has been fully computerized. Both senates, to be precise. In other words, we are leaving the system of physical presence and paper ballots. This change has been in the works for quite some time and very intensively this summer. And it is the result of cooperation between the great and the small senate. So, thanks to this software and to the modification of the rules, other different groupings such as the composition of the Scientific and Artistic Council or the members of the Internal Evaluation Council etc. can now also be elected electronically. The last so-called senate elections were already conducted electronically

About Covid

Europe, but in fact the whole world, has recently been affected by phenomena that were previously hard to believe during the post-war development. One of them is the pandemic. It is therefore impossible not to be touched by this natural disaster... How do you see – in hindsight – this event, which could not fail to affect our education system? How has it been reflected in the Senate debates?

When we first heard about it in the media, we knew that a pandemic was imminent. – And this was also discussed in the Senate. And we were waiting for instructions from the Ministry. CTU was the first to go online. I think the teachers and students dealt with this serious new situation quite well. Everybody was quite helpful, the virtual teaching took off very well and everybody, at least in those first weeks, really tried hard. Of course, we are not alone in this game and cannot as a school oppose the Ministry's regulation. But what was up to the faculty leadership, we discussed, we were informed as a senate what was going on. It was a matter of figuring out the ministerial positions: how do they translate into the operation of the school: are we going to operate on campus? On the other hand, are we going to close all the dormitories, are we going to send students home, but they have internet at home so they can study, etc.?

The epidemic has disappeared from much of Europe... If I were to ask in general: is there such a thing as a lesson to be learned from covid? A kind of reflection on the school of those two years?

Of course, we all suffered a bit. It is not easy being behind a screen all the time. But a lot of things have gotten easier since then. If you cannot come because of illness or distance – you are abroad, we have MS TEAMS here... For example, today we had a debate on Ph.D. theses and one of the Ph.D. students called in sick. He joined online and everything was managed. But it is also about broader possibilities – we have the EuroTeq project where six foreign schools are participating. The students of the six universities can choose the courses offered abroad according to their choice or their major. The EuroTeq project is another chance for students to study at foreign schools, alongside Erasmus exchanges... This is also, let's say, a product of the pandemic that we have become accustomed to.

There was controversy in the backstage about the so-called streaming of lectures. Some advocate physical presence, others defend freedom and modern technology... I assume these debates have also passed through the Senate. Perhaps they still do?

Even in the Senate there was debate. The current status is that the lectures are being recorded and will be available during the exam period. That is what the dean and the vice dean have promised. Regarding the recording of lectures, students would like to have freedom, the teachers would really prefer to have students in the desks.

What was the outcome of the discussion?

This topic is still being discussed, but the faculty leadership is strict.

Can the main aspect of the debate not be the social element? For example, students can debate with each other during or after a lecture at school...

I am personally in favor of using the record in cases of illness or distance, as we talked about, just when there is a problem. But otherwise, I would prefer the school to be full of students. And among the senators, the teachers were mostly of the same opinion. However, it is nice if we can clarify those opinions on the senate floor.

War

The rise of the elements in the form of an epidemic follows Putin's war against Ukraine. Our faculty stands behind Ukraine and also helps Ukrainian students, as shown, among other things, by faculty media. What does the senate have to say on the subject?

The Senate, of course, supports all the faculty activities that have occurred here. It was about helping Ukrainian students or mothers with children, etc.

Is there any topic for discussion – especially between the management and the Senate?

I can think of one point, and that is to what extent to support students from Russia and Belarus. According to the European Union, their citizens and, at this point, our students should or should not study certain sensitive subjects. There is a similar directive from our Ministry of Education. So we have been commenting on this idea in the Senate as well. That is, to what extent and what the citizens of these countries who are studying in our country can and cannot do.

Ombudsman and Research Centre

I would also like to ask about the creation of a new ombudsman – as you know, there has been a presentation of candidates for the position of ombudsman. Please describe the debate in the Senate.

There are senators who support this new function and those who do not. In general, this is a big debate at schools. And it actually came to us in part from the great senate, where student senators brought up the issue, and then it was debated in the small senate. I think that is a good thing.

What did the opponents base their arguments on?

I guess they do not consider this function to be the most important and they think that these personal problems can be handled without an ombudsman. And that there were and are no cases for an ombudsman at our school. But the opposing voices argued that there are no cases here because they are not known...

So the floor of the Senate became the main place of debate...

This lively topic was also discussed among the students and, of course, debated at the Dean's Council.

Finally, I would like to ask a question about the senators' debate on the topic of the faculty science centre, which is not talked about much...

I think the centre exists at the moment, but more virtually. If the scientific centre of the Faculty of Architecture were to continue to exist, there should be a thorough debate about its form and content. It is true that this idea has been discussed in previous years. It was considered that it would be good to have a science centre at the Faculty of Architecture to support science. But we have not agreed on how to support it. Or the operational arrangements. Whether there should be a project manager to support the writing of projects... or whether the centre should bring together the school's scientific potential, which could be better developed through this...

Has the Senate taken a position on this issue?

There is no single final position. According to the last report this spring, the Science Centre did not receive a budget contribution. However, it still exists in the faculty budget structure.

A distant or closer part of this topic is also the topic of RUV and RIV, which became, among other things, the topic of your doctoral thesis and which you helped to invent since 2009...

Actually, it is a system of support for artistic activities in faculties with an artistic focus. And I am glad that artistic outputs have been added to scientific performances. It is still not comparable, because CTU is a scientific university, and in addition to the support for scientific performance, the support for artistic output has not yet reached comparable parameters.

Which also applies to funding: what is the principle of this system?

Probably the fact that schools receive money for the development of their scientific activities, mainly from the Government Office, and art schools receive funds for artistic activities through the Ministry of Education. As far as science is concerned, it is about research projects, publications, patents and industrial designs... And in terms of the arts, it is rewarding when a teacher is also an active artist. It is important for art schools and for their teachers to be able to pass on their experience of artistic practice to their students.

Specifically?

We have a number of architects, designers and artists teaching at our faculty who have their architectural or design studies and have shown significant achievements in the arts. Of course, we have the largest number of architectural achievements, with other numerous outputs in design. Our school presents the most excellent architectural results among architecture schools in the country. Teachers record their artistic achievements – a completed work, an award-winning competition design, an exhibited work, etc. – in the RUV [Register of Artistic Achievements - ed. note] database. After the certification process, points are assigned to each artistic output in the database, which also represents the funding the school receives. The school then distributes these funds according to rules that are also approved by the Senate. It is then decided at the faculty level how much of the RUV, i.e., the ministry, is allocated directly to the institute where the award-winning teacher works, and how much goes to support the faculty's artistic activities, for example.

The interview was conducted by Jiří Horský, and published in the Bulletin Alfa 3/2022. Czech version of the bulletin is available here

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