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Inauguration Speech of Professor Witold T. Bielecki, the Rector of our University

11.10.2018

We invite you to familiarize yourselves with the inauguration speach of Professor Bielecki, which he gave to commemorate the 25th anniversary of our University.

Distinguished guests,

Fellow academic teachers,

Dear students,

There is a slogan displayed on the electronic display units near the entrance to our university, saying: “A ship in harbour is safe — but that is not what ships are built for”.

It’s been 25 years since we boarded our ship, featured in our logo, sailing it through a stormy “sky blue” ocean, although the blue of this ocean is still somewhat vague.

As the ship’s captain, who took over the helm from Professor Andrzej Koźmiński a couple of years ago, I’d like to assure you that we are on course and know where we’re heading. We’re driven by a mission promoting care for the highest quality of education in the areas of business, management, and law through combining theory and practice, and contributing to the development of science through research.

I have used the plural intentionally because a ship is able to sail steadily through rough seas only thanks to a crew that makes an exceptionally good team. And this is where I wish to express my sincere thanks to all members of this crew – from “officers” to “sailors” alike. Without this team spirit, going the extra mile, originating from an excellent understanding of our common goals and from an acceptance of and belief in shared values, we would have probably ended up, at best, in some godforsaken bay.

Meanwhile, as most of you probably know, we’ve been top-listed for several years now in the “Financial Times” rankings of international business schools. This year we have been ranked 20th, which is an outstanding achievement.

But I’d like to remind all those who think that only rankings matter that the category of international business schools comprises about 13 thousand schools. Getting to the top one hundred is really an amazing feat (by the way, I’d like to congratulate the Warsaw School of Economics, who has made it to the top one hundred as well).

For years and in full awareness we have been undergoing evaluation procedures carried out by external committees and boards professionally examining what and how we teach and what research achievements we can boast. Let me remind you, false modesty aside, that our documents bear the logos of four most prestigious accreditation systems in the area of economic and business education – EQUIS, AACSB, AMBA, and CEEMAN, which is surely a global accomplishment. Our domestic academic environment has also recognised our university’s position, which is expressed in the Polish Accreditation Committee having assessed our administration, law, and management and finance programmes as outstanding.

Today, celebrating 25 years of existence of KU, I ask myself the following question: since we’ve achieved so much in only 25 years of our existence, what’s next? The Constitution for Science, in force since 1 October, offers an opportunity, as I believe, to create unique higher education institutions – to those who want to do so.  And we’ll have to do it if we want to not only survive but also develop. We have to because the students of today are different – they are post-Millennials, who don’t accept traditional ways of teaching, which we cultivate in stale university structures.

Ladies and Gentlemen, a robot passed the Turing test, which means it’s impossible to tell the difference between its intelligence and that of a human. The consequences of the technological advancement are felt already today: robots “surf” the web, pretending to be people.

This fact proves there is a need to consider “taming” robots by inviting them to join us not only in research activities but also in the process of teaching.

The question is then: what should a modern university be like?

I have no ready answer for this.

I think it should be a teal organisation (in Frederic Laolux’s terms). Let me remind you that teal is the colour of turquoise, a precious stone that is highly unique. It means that there are no two identical stones. Modern universities should be different from one another.

What are teal organisations about?

They are about no or a very flat organisational structure. They’re based on an assumption that most people – if treated with respect and trusted – are able to act both independently and responsibly.

It is standard to adopt a flexible approach to roles and functions, and to see them as interchangeable and substitutable thanks to knowledge and competence sharing. To let people develop their talents and predisposition. What matters is being happy with one’s job – drawing satisfaction from what one does.

Such a university would have no students-clients, a term often forced by marketing agencies, treating universities like businesses. There are only students-“charges”, co-participating in the process of teaching.

A modern university should be managed in an agile way.

Agile is a way of thinking, a life philosophy based on values such as: support, trust, openness, honesty, adaptability, but also – or perhaps most of all – on putting the success of a group before personal success. Being a good team-player is what matters here. In principle, an agile approach enables us to learn from our mistakes.

And, finally, a university should be enterprising (a thesis promoted in Poland by Professor Łukasz Sułkowski). I just came back from an international conference, where Professor Jiang Wein from  Zhejiang University spoke from the podium about the future of universities, arguing they should be: innovation-driven enterprises, talent incubators, and so on.

I am aware that this may sound disturbing to many of you because a further consequence of the adoption of the proposed ideas would be a revolution in the very hierarchic structure of today’s universities.

I think that this would be possible with the application of an evolutionary and well thought-out approach to the suggested changes.

I believe KU may soon become a precursor of such changes because as an organisation, we have a very stable position in all organisational aspects.

There are three key elements that ensure our stability: first – people, second – internationalisation, and third – finance discipline.

People, meaning our teachers, administration staff, and, of course, students.

We’ve toiled to form our own team of highly reputable academics and professional administrators. We offer them opportunities for scientific and professional development. We finance the development of our employees by sponsoring their participation in scientific conferences, improvement courses. We give them a chance to take part in research projects and help them obtain grants.

Students – our students are very different, mainly because they come from countries with different education systems. Following the teal organisation philosophy, we do our best, dear students, to be more than just a university to you. You are a big challenge to us because as I said earlier, you belong to the generation of post-Millennials, known also as the generation of digital natives. You are a generation raised on the Internet, with all the effects on your “otherness” resulting from it. You live in a world of gamification (some of you might not be aware of it yet) and electronic gadgets. This sets the bar for a university aiming to provide satisfying conditions for you to gain knowledge, skills, and competence really high. Someone made an ironic observation: “the older generation used to look for a job “for a lifetime”, and now young people look for a job all their lifetime”. And rightly so, as they look for new, ambitious challenges.

Professor Koźmiński and Professor Kołodko hold a discussion spanning several dozen pages of a book they wrote together on whether we live in the times of neoliberalism or neonationalism. Actually, from the point of view of the young generation, this debate is an abstract digression. This generation would say we live in an era of neotechnologism. Young people are fascinated by modern technological solutions, but not so much by the understanding of them as by the ability to use them in practice.

Please note: Do we have to force young kids to learn how to use a remote control, a smartphone or a computer? We often fail to notice when and how quickly they learn this skill, with literally no knowledge of how and why it all works.

One of the characteristics of the generation you represent is impatience. You like to gain knowledge quickly and effortlessly. You focus on what you find particularly interesting. And you ignore classes you consider unnecessary. But you’ll find it hard to tell what may prove useful to you sometime in the future. Trust those with more experience – your teachers. This way you’ll develop your own antifragility as defined by Nassim Nicholas Taleb.

We live and operate under conditions of VUCA, which stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity. In such environment, being antifragile will let you get through encounters with “black swans”, meaning very unpleasant situations and events that will occur unexpectedly in your lives and that you won’t be able to foresee, unscathed.

Internationalisation.

We realise that if we don’t offer young people the right conditions to study, they will give Polish higher education institutions a wide berth. The barriers and borders between languages, cultures, and countries are slowly disappearing. Going abroad to study is not a big challenge nowadays, and our universities may become depopulated. And this can be the “black swan” Polish universities may have to face.

This is where I’d like to thank Deputy Prime Minister Jarosław Gowin for considering my suggestion to make the ministry reimburse universities for expenses incurred in relation to applying for prestigious international accreditations. MSHE has developed a list of such accreditations. Representatives of several Polish economic universities, both state and private, interested in the IQA accreditation participated in the last CEEMAN conference, which took place three week ago. Today, a similar opportunity regarding the EQUIS accreditation awaits those who decide to take part in the EFMD conference being held at our university until Wednesday.

I’d like to take this opportunity, given the presence of MSHE authorities, to once again put forward a suggestion that the universities who are granted prestigious accreditations (i.e. from MSHE’s list) be exempt from our domestic PAC accreditation procedures. The Netherlands has already applied such a solution, and I know that other European countries will follow in its footsteps.

And lastly, finance discipline. As a private university we support ourselves on the tuition fees paid by our students, which is why we’re very careful with spending every single penny. Still, over these 25 years we’ve managed to create quite a decent campus here (despite the lack of any support from the local authorities). A campus developed a bit like Amish houses, on a step-by-step extension basis, which is why it doesn’t offer a fully logical functional structure (one it would feature if it had been built as a new facility from scratch).

Our financial condition is absolutely stable even though in May of this year we finished one of the largest infrastructural investment projects, the effects of which you can admire right behind the wall. This is where I’d like to once again thank all our employees and students, who bore the nuisance caused by the construction works. We managed to carry the project through without interrupting the teaching process or taking it someplace else.

I have to admit that as a great sports fan, I’d like to have a multipurpose sports hall built here, one similar to those found at big universities. This would be a great nod to our students, who are in for many different sports disciplines, win trophies, and endorse the name of the university also in sports. Let us remember that our university is the academic champion of non-state Polish higher education institutions. Let me emphasise that sport shapes qualities that are particularly useful to managers, e.g. persistence, the ability to make a significant effort to achieve a goal, risk propensity, tactics, strategy, etc.

We have made investments in science, research, and development all the time. We organise scientific events of great international rank, to mention only the International Business Ethics Congress, EURAM, CEEMAN, ISAGA conferences, the present EFMD conference, or debates featuring Polish prime ministers, spoken much of in different environments. Today we can say that we have specialised in organising major domestic and international conferences.

We have hosted outstanding world-renowned scholars, including winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics: Prof. Edmund Phelps, Prof. Robert Aumann, Prof. Robert Mundelle, Prof. Douglass North, and Prof. Edward Prescott, who’s here with us today.

Dear first year students,

You had different paths to follow: you could have gone for an unpaid education, you could have chosen another university, gone abroad or given up on further education whatsoever. And yet, you are all here. You’ll be able to tell in some time whether the choice was a good one.

Czesław Miłosz wrote: “together with many other pebbles you can change the course of an avalanche”. You are our precious pebbles and remember: noblesse oblige.

And remember that in the end, it is you as our graduates who will be our accreditation and our ranking – our common success.

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