Many academics unhappy with the outcome of “Putnagate”
At a traditional ceremony in Prague on Tuesday, President Miloš Zeman elevated 58 academics to the esteemed position of university professor. The notable absence of literary critic Martin C. Putna, upon whom the president refused to confer the title in person, caused an uproar among Czech academics and even led some nominees to boycott the ceremony.
After first refusing to confirm the professorial nomination of Martin C. Putna, who is an active gay rights advocate, President Zeman seemingly gave in to the public outcry and agreed on a compromise with the Education Minister Petr Fiala. The president said he would sign Mr. Putna’s decree, but will not personally confer the title upon him. He also asked to be stripped of the prerogative to confirm and name professors:
“Either you want the president to name new professors, and then you have to respect his right to turn down some of the nominations, or if you don’t want him to have that right, then change the law.”
The Education Ministry is now in the midst of revising the law on higher education, so that the president’s traditional role of appointing professors would be abolished. The president had suggested that the Education Minister himself could take over this responsibility, but the change may not get enough political support. Here what the chairwoman of the education committee of the lower house of parliament, Anna Putnová, had to say:
“A minister is a political figure, and the nomination and confirmation of professors should be done by someone without party affiliation.”
Even the Justice Minister Pavel Blažek does not approve of amending a law because of a single incident.
Many academics are also not happy with the possible change. Most feel that if professorial titles were conferred by the education minister instead of the president it would be a degradation of the academic position rather than an abolition of an outdated tradition, as President Zeman defined it.