Prof. Viktorija Skrupskelytė: We Are Not an Island

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Prof. Viktorija Skrupskelytė, lecturer at the VMU German and French Philology Dept., was awarded the regalia of Honorary Professor during the celebrations of the university’s 90th anniversary. The long-time lecturer of VMU shared her thoughts on the university’s first steps in the turbulent days soon after its re-establishment, reviewed the recently made progress and opined on what VMU would need the most in the future.

The professor said she was glad that we mark the university’s anniversary retracing a certain continuity in VMU’s history, opening a dialogue between different generations of the alumni, taking a deeper look at the university’s intellectual traditions. "I greet the occasion as a kind of rehearsal before the centennial: what should we know in 2022 about the old university, its openness to the world in addition to the care for the revived state, the joy and enthusiasm for science felt by the first students of the university? I would like to come into closer contact with that generation. You cannot get the future only from the present, I think that traditions and a look back are very important", said the researcher of French and Lithuanian Diaspora poetry, offering to draw experience from the pages of VMU’s honourable history.

Always on the Move, Always Improving

Former member of the VMU Senate echoed the thoughts of Prof. Rein Raud, who was also awarded honorary regalia during the celebrations this year: Prof. Skrupskelytė agreed that universities are probably the most important place for people to evolve intellectually and spiritually, they are the driving force of innovations, and VMU is curently going in the right direction. "Universities closest to me are those which successfully combine the old with the new traditions, the wide profile education with specialty subjects, the art with the intellect, the studies with the openness to the world. I am certain that VMU is well prepared to fulfil this mission, it is a very lively university, capable of improving faster than others", the professor complimented the university.

Looking at VMU’s activities in the context of the provisional capital, Prof. Skrupskelytė noted VMU opens its doors more and more to all residents of Kaunas, encourages citizenship and public consciousness in the city, the country and the world. "We are not an island. We understand that our mission does not end on this side of the threshold, we educate citizens and sociable people", the lecturer explained, noting that even though VMU has done a lot in this area, there can never be too much of this work or too many initiatives which show that we are citizens with ties to various communities.

VMU: More Than a Specialty

VMU’s communal spirit is hard to imagine without the one feature for which the university is perhaps best known today: the study system of liberal arts. We inquired the Professor, who was a member of the VMU Senate right from its resurgence in 1989 up until 2010, about the embryos of this feature in those first days. The literature scientist remembered that this wide-profile system of studies was implemented not long after re-establishment of VMU, achieved as a joint effort by the Diaspora scientists, Prof. Egidijus Aleksandravičius, Prof. Algirdas Avižienis and others. Right from the start the goal was to offer multidimensional, well-balanced wide-profile studies, which were based on the liberal studies model of Harvard University.

Thanks to this initiative, today VMU can enjoy the freedom of choice and a wealth of language courses and other subjects, the opportunity to learn non-specialty subjects, major in one specialty and minor in another, etc. This philosophy has been brought into the spotlight by the university’s new project, VMU: More Than a Specialty.

According to Prof. Skrupskelytė, the Collegium Artes Liberales association, which was reopened in 2010, seeks to bring together people interested in liberal studies, invite professors and students to lectures or joint discussions. This is how the concept of the artes liberales (liberal arts) studies is grown. "I wish that we had some kind of internal structure uniting the artes liberales at the university, or joined a European network of artes liberales universities. It is no less important to understand that artes liberales represents not just the components of the studies or their proportions but also the necessity to take interest in the actual process of teaching and learning", the VMU lecturer pinpointed the significance of the principles promoted by the association.

In Universities We Trust

The philology professor explained that the university would likely have to abandon these ideas if the oft-discussed recent plans for higher education reform were realised, leaving just one big university in the entire city of Kaunas. "I doubt that this would solve the supposed or actual problem of quality. Large higher education institutions, especially state-owned ones, are not a reform or experiment friendly medium: there is too much risk that a lot would be lost: e.g., VMU’s initiatives and experience in the promotion of liberal studies. I do not equate quality with size, or quality with centralized management", Prof. Skrupskelytė said, adding to the chorus of opinions already voiced by Rectors of Kaunas universities.

"Reforms can only come from the inside, from the universities themselves rather than government institutions. I wish there was more of trust in the universities, less of abstract schemes not based on solid, specific experience, and more opportunities for universities to freely create, reorganise, evaluate and improve study programmes, which would mean better-founded bottom-up initiatives. What I have in mind first and foremost here are the Bachelor’s degree studies", the literature scientist explained.

In response to the question about the changes she would offer the university to implement, Prof. Viktorija Skrupskelytė noted that there is enough space for improvement. "I hope the university wins billions in lotteries every year!", the VMU Honorary Professor said, commenting on the financial side of the matters. More funds would allow the university to build even larger libraries with more resources, the students would receive more scholarships, and the workflow for the lecturers would decrease, thus allowing them to focus more not on the information itself but rather on the student’s ability to use and manage it.

"Most of all I care about what is happening in the lecture rooms. Despite numerous and thorough reforms, I think that the system still has too much summarizing, condensed teaching, repetition and some kind of arbitrary transfer of knowledge from one person to another, like a relay race. I wish there was a different proportion between "I borrowed it" and "I thought of it myself", "I work independently". This is where I wish the university would further improve", Prof. Skrupskelytė offered the university a possible direction for the future.

On 14 February, during the celebration of the university’s 90th anniversary, Prof. Viktorija Skrupskelytė was awarded the regalia of VMU Honorary Professor. More information about the event can be found here.

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