Top academics fall foul of Latvian language rules

Some of the most-qualified foreign academics at Latvian educational institutions face the prospect of losing their jobs due to their insufficient knowledge of the Latvian language.

The Latvian cabinet on January 24 chose not to endorse British academic Mel Kenny for the post of rector at the Riga Graduate School of Law (RGSL) because of his lack of Latvian, the LETA news service reported.

Kenny, who has previous academic experience lecturing at the Universities of Exeter, Leipzig, Bremen and Lucerne had until now taught in English as a visiting professor at the school since 2008.

RGSL offers study programs in English in international and EU Law. The RGSL Constitutional Assembly had unanimously selected Kenny as rector.

"To ensure an international focus and to attract students to study at RGSL, the next rector should be internationally recognized and acknowledged as well as possessing academic skills and the ability to provide good leadership. Appointing Professor Kenny as rector will contribute to RGSL goals in Latvia and beyond," RGSL had said in its nomination of Kenny

However, the government refused to back him until his Latvian had reached an acceptable level.

Instead, Ministers approved Jānis Ikstens as acting rector. Ikstens will serve until approval of a new rector. The previous rector, Professor George Ulrich, left his position on 20 March, 2016.

The LNT independent television channel reported that a similar fate had befallen long-time Stockholm School of Economics rector Anders Paalzow, who is Swedish. Paalzow has been at the institution since 1999. According to LNT, Latvian language skills were again the decisive factor.

SSE and RGSL have joint premises in Riga and are regarded as two of the most prestigious educational establishments in the country. Both attempt to attract large numbers of foreign students as well as Latvian students.

The moves may stymie the recruitment of other top academics unless they first master the Latvian language. 

In a separate development in the field of educational regulation, the LTV7 television channel has obtained a copy of a letter from the national schools inspectorate which appears to confirm that new "loyalty laws" introduced on January 1st that threaten teachers with dismissal if they are seemed "disloyal" to the state or constitution apply not only in the classroom but in teachers' private lives too.

The letter also outlines how inspectors will investigate by questioning other teachers, pupils and parents if a teacher is suspected of failing in the task of producing "patriotic" students.

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3 comments
Brigita Stroda
Mārissss, perhaps, but if someone is consistantly good, with proven ability to seek innovation and be up with the latest discoveries (ie, not just someone sitting on their tenure!), why artifically change?
Tom Schmit
This is a complex question. On a purely pragmatic level, it would be impossible for a rector of either school to participate in the full life of the institution without having adequate Latvian skills. The rectors job involves interacting with a variety of state and non-state institutions where LV would certainly be the language used. For the rector to be dependent on translation forever is handicapping. On the other hand the SSE rector has a sufficient practical LV level to do these things. Perhaps regulations should be changed to make them less dogmatic and more practical?
Mārisssss
SSE Riga has had same Rector since 1999? If that is true it is clearly time to change. Universities typically change leadership every 3-6 years!
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