with the SARS-COV-2 vaccinations progressing, it is becoming increasingly likely that we will return to the actual and fully functioning university for the new academic year. Starting tomorrow, we will begin registering students willing to receive the vaccine through the university. Soon we will also lift some restrictions and change the risk level from ‘red’ to ‘orange’. If the number of infections keeps declining, we will bring back some of the on-site classes. For the first time in many months, regaining the functionality of the University seems almost certain. Until then, let’s take good care of ourselves so that we can safely witness this moment. Thank you for all the work you have done under these difficult and unprecedented conditions. Not only for educating our students, but also for continuing your research and publishing your results in increasingly prestigious places. Thank you to all employees of the University of Silesia who support science and education, making it possible in the first place.
The time of pandemic gave us, apart from the fear of infection and grief over the suffering and passing of many people, also a reason to reflect on the functioning of public institutions in our country, and on social relations during a global crisis. The same reflection should apply to the University, especially given the fact that the pandemic coincided with the first year of the university’s operation after the changes introduced by the Higher Education Act 2.0 and our own internal reforms. Thus, we did not have enough time to get accustomed to them, let alone to make the most of them, as well as to discuss possible adjustments and implement them.
The separation caused by the pandemic distanced us from each other, and from the University. The distance from which we observe ourselves and our university, for more than a year now, gives us the chance to see more than just our faculty, institute, team, year, group, department, or office. This situation forces us to try to imagine our University, to reminisce and fantasise about it. I wonder what the Imagined University of Silesia looks like during the pandemic, and what part of these fantasies we could carry out together when the pandemic is over? I would like to invite all members of our community to reflect and discuss the following question in formal and casual groups:
What kind of university would we like to return to?
If you feel that the outcome of these reflections and conversations should also be shared with those of us who govern the University, please feel welcome to do so.
The University does exist
We are working hard to provide to ourselves and to you the evidence of our university’s existence and to envision its future. Here are three of many such activities:
- We are working to complete the necessary renovations on all four campuses. We will soon provide 40 classrooms across the University with modern equipment. We are actively trying to acquire funds for the construction of new premises for biology and chemistry. We began working on urban layout for changes in the Katowice Campus. Soon we will begin doing the same with regards to the Chorzów Campus.
- On the initiative of the University of Silesia and the city of Katowice, we have started making efforts to obtain the title of the European Capital of Science for the city of Katowice in 2024, which is awarded by the EuroScience organisation to cities with a particularly impressive role in the development of science. We have already had the first discussions with the President of EuroScience, Prof. Michael Matlosz, and we have been invited to the next stage of negotiations.
- For four years we have been presenting Silesian universities to the local community and the whole Poland during the Silesian Science Festival KATOWICE. Despite only a few editions, the Festival was awarded the EUPRIO (European Association of Communication Professionals in Higher Education) prize and a distinction for the best science communication team in Poland.
This year’s edition of the Festival seemed to be at risk from the very beginning. Eventually, we decided to hold it outdoors, along the banks of the Rawa River. In this way, we are beginning the discussion and subsequent work to revitalise these parts of the city, which hopefully will result in creation of the “Academic Boulevard” together with the City Hall, as part of the key part of the Science Zone. Together with the Culture Zone, it will give this part of the city a new character.
A precious and rare public good
The time of the pandemic showcased a particular role of universities as public institutions which defend democratic communities from the effects of populism, propaganda, plain falsehood, and the rapid commercialisation of all things. Faced with the erosion or even destruction of the public sphere, I would like to see in our university a model of a proper and good, personal and professional community, and an example of an institution, which serves the public, but also protects and practices values such as freedom of research and teaching, rationality, respect for knowledge, and equality of all members of our community. The university is a never-ending “work in progress”, as is the status of the knowledge it creates, questions, changes, and expands.
As the Rector during the time of the pandemic, who eagerly awaits the return of employees, students, and doctoral students, I base my work on a persistent search for an answer to the question: what do we, together and individually, need to do to make our research, our teaching, and every other work done in the University better than ever before?
This question is addressed also to You.
Prof. Ryszard Koziołek, Rector of the University of Silesia in Katowice / photo by Julia Agnieszka Szymala, Media Communication Centre of the University of Silesia