Scandal-ridden university. A land issue may be at the heart of the conflict in the DNU
Donetsk — It all began in the summer of 2010 when Education Minister Dmytro Tabachnyk suddenly arrived in Donetsk with an offer to Donetsk National University Rector Volodymyr Shevchenko to submit its “voluntary” resignation. The noted academician was given the position of a department head at the Faculty of Mathematics as compensation. Petro Yehorov, dean of the Faculty of Accounting and Finances, was appointed rector pro tem.
This event did not go unnoticed, and Mr. Tabachnyk was forced to offer at least some comments. However, his explanations did little to clarify the situation: the decision to terminate the contract with Mr. Shevchenko, who headed the university in the past several decades, was dictated by “professional considerations.” Mr. Shevchenko is known in the Donetsk education circles as both an experienced administrator and a person who can find common language with any government. (Proof of this is the Hero of Ukraine title he was awarded in the politically mixed year 2006.) During the recent anti-Tabachnyk campaign which swept through many universities in Ukraine, the wary rector kept a neutral stance. Therefore, personal revenge is out of the question.
In the heat of the moment, Mr. Shevchenko announced that he would run for the office again at the election to be held by the university staff. He later admitted that many people tried to talk him out of it, starting from the regional administration to the national authorities in Kyiv. They did persuade him and prior to the 10 December 2010 vote, he withdrew from the race, thus leaving only two candidates to compete: Mr. Yehorov, whose candidacy was openly supported by the Ministry of Education, and Yurii Lysenko, head of the Department of Economic Cybernetics, believed by many to be a dummy candidate.
Castle in the air: a costly mistake
University wisecrackers now say that Mr. Yehorov’s election campaign was simply a case of overkill. As he made his pitch before the staff of the Faculty of Philology, he promised to replace, within two to three years, the first and oldest building of the university with a modern multistoried one to which their offices would be moved. He even showed a sketch of the future building. In it, the audience recognized, aghast, the business center already constructed in Donetsk by the MAKO corporation owned by Oleksandr Yanukovych, the older son of the Ukrainian president.
Nearly all representatives of the local authorities rushed to rescue the well-connected construction holding from a scandal. Donetsk City Mayor Oleksandr Lukianenko said: “Anything can be shown in an election campaign, but it is hard to realize. A 24-storied building means 1,000 square meters on every floor. An administrative academic building costs an average of USD1,200–1,400 per square meter. Let us multiply this by 24,000. How many millions is that? Where can so much money come from?”
Prior to the vote, the Education Ministry, as if having misgivings about its compromised candidate, dispatched Deputy Education Minister Yevhen Sulyma to Donetsk. He dropped a hint in passing that a criminal case was being initiated about abuse of office in DNU. It became clear later who was the target of this veiled warning. On the election day, following a stormy debate and discussion, the delegates cast their ballots. Mr. Yehorov received a mere 89 votes, while Mr. Lysenko 138. The creature of Mr. Tabachnyk clearly lost.
A case for the rector
This was just a beginning. The vote was held on a Friday, and early next week, Mr. Lysenko already went to the capital to have his papers duly processed and assume office. However, halfway between Donetsk and Kyiv, he was stopped by a phone message that the police broke into his apartment in Donetsk with an arrest warrant.
They were looking for official documents that belonged to his wife, Tetiana Lev. She worked as the chief accountant at the university, was fired by Mr. Yehorov, restored to her office by court, but eventually had to take a sick leave due to a nervous breakdown. The police failed to find anything significant, but Mr. Lutsenko’s trip was frustrated. On his return to Donetsk, this 65-year-old scholar of world renown learned that he had been fired. His application for a trip was not, it turned out, approved in a proper way (again, by Mr. Yehorov), and thus he was absent from work without good reason. This open pressure on the rector elect outraged the university staff, causing Mr. Yehorov to allegedly cancel his scandalous order.
However, two searches were carried out in Ms. Lev’s university office a day later. The next day, at night, she was brutally beaten by two “unidentified men” near the entrance to the building where she lives. She received a concussion of the brain and numerous bruises. The attackers said to her: “This is for your husband.” The police did not catch anyone but hinted they did not rule out that the beating had been faked (!) by the victim herself.
The most intriguing thing came next. The Administrative Court in Kyiv ruled that the election of the DNU rector was carried out with violations and so the Ministry of Education could not sign a contract with the Mr. Lysenko. The reason was a lawsuit filed by Oleksandr Korystin, doctor of law and teacher at the National Academy of Internal Affairs in Kyiv. He claimed he had submitted all necessary documents to be registered as a candidate in the DNU rector election but had been denied participation in violation of the Law “On Higher Education.”
Mr. Lysenko seems to be near the limit of his moral and physical strength. He recently began to largely refrain from contacts with the press and, moreover, ventured to make statements of dubious value: about his ardent desire to join the ruling Party of Regions and build a church of the Moscow Patriarchate in the territory of his university, etc. No doubt, this greatly reduced the number of his supporters among the liberal university staff. A few more steps along this line, and the university will find itself on the receiving end of a classic, tried and tested scheme of dealing with all Ukrainian universities: make them choose the lesser of the two evils.
It is still unclear why Mr. Shevchenko had to be dismissed in the first place. Many people connected in the current scandal believe it was a land issue. A university campus made up of a number of dormitories is located in the green area close to the city center. This territory holds out excellent prospects to elite developers. However, Mr. Shevchenko actively resisted the idea of yielding this land to construction companies and sued the impudent unauthorized builders. The price of this issue is high enough for an interested party to go for a loud scandal only to have the obstinate rector removed. Some mention in this context the “presidential” corporation, MAKO, which has been actively constructing objects in the most attractive parts of Donetsk.
Meanwhile, the staff of the DNU is in shock: the university is quickly losing its international connections that took years to build and respect among colleagues inside the country. Long-term scientific and education programs are also threatened.
Several months ago, the university experienced a no smaller scandal surrounding the initiative of Donetsk intellectuals to name the university after its famous graduate, poet Vasyl Stus. Local Ukrainophobes, in particular in the authorities, mounted such frenzied resistance to the idea that the university nearly ended up with the name of Volodymyr Dehtiariov, one-time secretary of the regional Communist Party committee. The defeated bitterly joked then that a new campaign should be launched, this time to return to the original name of the university — Stalin Pedagogical Institute.