Zeman Cancels Ceremony, Appoints Rectors in Absentia, Relationship with Academics Remains Turbulent

Prague, (CTK) – Czech President Milos Zeman today appointed 12 rectors of public universities and colleges, his spokesman Jiri Ovcacek said in a press release, but the usual ceremony will be held only Tuesday in the Karolinum hall without Zeman being present, the Education Ministry announced.


On Tuesday afternoon, the rectors will receive certificates on their appointment from Education Minister Robert Plaga at a ceremony held in Karolinum at Charles University in Prague.


Until now, the ceremony was usually held at Prague Castle, the presidential seat, and the president handed the certificates to rectors. Some of the rectors have heard of the change from the media, others received a call from the Education Ministry or the Presidential Office, they told CTK.


The newly appointed rectors include Tomas Zima (Charles University, UK), Jaroslav Miller (Palacky University in Olomouc), Petr Stepanek (Technical University in Brno, VUT) and Hana Machkova (Prague University of Economics, VSE), all of whom have been heading their universities since 2014 and were re-elected last year. The new rectors of the Czech Technical University (CVUT) in Prague and the Mendel University in Brno, Vojtech Petracek and Danuse Nerudova, were appointed as well.


All the rectors were elected by the academic senates of their universities, academies or colleges and then approved by the government. Their terms of office start on Thursday, February 1, except from Machkova who will occupy her post as of April 1.


Miller said he received the news that the ceremony would be held at Karolinum from the Education Ministry this afternoon. “The original information was that we would come to the Prague Castle,” he told CTK.


Miller said he did not mind that the ceremony would not take place at the Prague Castle. He said he did not like official ceremonies. He would prefer receiving the certificate by mail so that he would not have to make the nearly 300 km long trip to Prague, he added. The personality of the president plays no role in this, Miller said.


Zima did not want to speculate about the reasons for the untraditional step. He pointed to the statements made before the presidential runoff last week in which Zeman said he wants to remove barriers and problems and be the president of most of Czech citizens.


Nerudova said she was outraged by the president’s disrespect for the academic community. “We expected the situation to calm down and the relation with universities to improve after the election, but this step of the president is not indicative of this,” she told CTK.


Prague Academy of Fine Arts (AVU) Rector Tomas Vanek told CTK the reason for the change seemed to be either Zeman’s health condition or his reserved attitude to the rectors.


Petracek said the crucial thing is that the rectors would be appointed. If they would not have been, this would have created problems for the universities, he said.


The relations between Czech rectors and Zeman have been tense for several years. The rectors previously criticised the fact hat Zeman refused to sign the appointment of three university teachers nominated for professors. Two of the teachers, National Gallery head Jiri Fajt and physicist Ivan Ostadal, took the matter to court.


They also disliked it that Zeman did not invite two rectors to a traditional ceremonial event with bestowing state decorations over his personal disputes with them. Due to this, the rectors stopped participating in this event organised by the Presidential Office in 2014.


The two were Brno’s Masaryk University Rector Mikulas Bek and South Bohemian University former rector Libor Grubhoffer.


Some of the rectors expressed their disappointment that Zeman narrowly defeated academic Jiri Drahos in the presidential runoff this weekend and defended his post. They said the tension between the president and universities may further escalate.