Between us “Americans”

MINNESOTA, USA -- The scandal surrounding the educational documents of Minister of Justice Roman Zvarych is gaining even broader international resonance and naturally is tainting the global image of Ukraine as a democratic state. But let’s return to that issue a little later. First, I would like to try and clarify the deliberate or unintentional confusion regarding specific educational terms to which Zvarych has resorted.

I belong to those Ukrainians whom Mr. Zvarych addressed during his speech on May 10 with the following contemptuous words: “Can they with their college diplomas and degrees of candidate and doctor of sciences, be given even a teaching position in American high schools if not at American universities?”

I tried this and succeeded. With a candidate of physics and mathematics degree, over 60 published works and the academic title of associate professor in my portfolio, I left for the U.S. in 1994, where I’ve been working as a teacher for more than ten years in American higher learning institutions. Having extensive experience in teaching at Ukrainian and American institutions of higher education, helping students from my place of birth to set off on their studies in the U.S. and having a clear understanding of the definitions of the equivalents of Ukrainian and American educational terms, I believe I have a moral right to express my expert opinion regarding the education of Mr. Zvarych. Unfortunately, he has not shown to journalists or the Ukrainian public the documents verifying his education. Therefore, one can only pass judgment on him based on his rather disputable statements.

Let’s start from the fact that Zvarych graduated from high school. This term can be interpreted in Ukrainian as higher educational institution. Though, the equivalent of this term in Ukrainian is actually secondary school. According to Zvarych, he received his bachelor’s degree from Manhattan College. A bachelor degree means an additional four years of study after graduating from high school and, according to modern Ukrainian education terminology, it corresponds to Ukraine’s baccalaureate.

A four-year higher education in Ukraine was considered and is still considered incomplete higher education. Unfortunately, Mr. Zvarych is not saying what he majored in. Regardless of this, he does not have an education in law, since the college he graduated from does not offer courses in law on its curriculum.

Meanwhile, Zvarych’s statement that he “enrolled in one of the best higher educational institutions — Manhattan College” is also quite arguable. According to the information of Princeton Review, this educational institution is not on the list of the 357 best colleges in the U.S. The next place in Zvarych’s education was Columbia University, which is considered a truly prestigious educational institution.

According to Zvarych, the “education he received at Columbia University is the equivalent of a Master’s Degree”. But this is a false statement, to put it mildly. In fact, according to the prerequisites of the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, a student needs to earn 54 academic credits in order to be conferred a master’s degree, which corresponds to 12-15 courses. The courses that Zvarych attended amount to 30 credits at best. By the way, courses at the 4000-6000 level are considered graduate courses required for receiving a master’s degree, not the post-graduate level that Zvarych claims.

These are courses for earning a PhD, which is also known as a doctorate. But this seems to be a minor inaccuracy compared to other mistakes and slip-ups he has committed. But for some odd reason it seems as though Zvarych is committing errors in his favor. Just like a sales clerk in a Soviet shop weighing his fingers together with the candies to up the price and miscalculating the change owed. I think that the majority of Ukrainians would like to be confident in the complete honesty of the current minister of justice and that he does not “weigh his fingers on the scales of justice” in favor of his family interests.

Further in his speech, Zvarych asserts that “without having the recognition of the level of his knowledge equal to that of a master’s degree he would not have received a position at New York University, where students referred to him as professor”. Mr. Zvarych worked at New York University from September 1989 (and not from 1987 as he asserts) till May 1992 as a part-time adjunct lecturer. This is the lowest ranking position in higher learning institutions in the U.S. and which in the Ukrainian educational system is the equivalent of a part-time lecturer. Certain universities, including the one I’m working at, employ people with a bachelor’s degree in such positions taking into account financial expediency. Students may have really called Zvarych a professor, but it is not ethical for him to refer to himself that way without having a PhD and without holding the position of professor.

And there’s one more thing. Mr. Zvarych said that even without having a law education, “he feels like a lawyer”. But even an inexperienced lawyer knows that when giving an interview to any newspaper, a politician must demand from the journalist the final laid-out version for approval. Then, after the article is published, the author must read it once again and request that any erroneous or false information be retracted.

Everyone must review any document they sign, especially if it is a job application form so that in the future this person does not have to call a lie a mere mistake. As for me, all these facts cast doubt on Zvarych’s qualifications as a lawyer. At the same time, there are serious doubts that such a minister of justice is capable of fostering the process of introducing to Ukraine real, rather than declarative, accountability after providing false data on official forms. By the way, such accountability is common practice in many democratic states.

To sum it up, one can draw the conclusion that Mr. Zvarych either deliberately (if it really is deliberate, then it qualifies as fraud) or unintentionally (if this is the case then it is major legal illiteracy) has his terminology mixed up. Instead of saying that he has a bachelor’s degree from an American college, he uses the Ukrainian term “higher education”, which is practically not used in the U.S. In reality, he has an incomplete higher education.

Zvarych’s personal assessment of his knowledge, being equivalent to that of a doctorate or master’s degree, combined with statements that he considers himself an expert, have no legal effect and simply look unethical. Such statements can be made to enhance one’s image in family circles, but not at the level of official post in a country’s ministry.

I know many cases where students of U.S. universities for one reason or another abandon their master’s studies. None of them admitted that they quit their studies due to the inability of coping with their level of difficulty, but at the same time none of them referred to themselves as a master or professor. Indeed, for such a false statement one can be thrown in jail in America. As it turns out, in order to fulfill one’s ambitions and give oneself a pat on the back for having knowledge that doesn’t exist, it appears that one only needs to leave U.S. borders and travel to some poorly developed country.

And, finally, back to the issue of image. Can a person without a law education and with an incomplete higher education in a field that is far from law, occupy the post of the minister of justice? Especially if this person spreads false information about having a law education, a master’s and doctor’s degree and experience working as a professor before being appointed to such a high position. The answer is evidently yes. And needless to say, when the international mass media got hold of this information the rest of the world painted for itself a corresponding image of a country like Ukraine.

Not so long ago, the former president of Ukraine, Leonid Kuchma, impudently ignored the so-called “tape” scandal, which would have resulted in the resignation of any other politician in a democratic country. Kuchma managed to retain his presidential post for a couple of more years and tarnished the image of Ukraine, which for some time now has been described as a semi-dictatorial country of thieves and prostitutes, where the government kills journalists. Fortunately, the “orange” revolution laid the foundation for cardinal changes in the global perception of Ukraine.

The positive image of Ukraine is not just special receptions and honors during visits by the country’s government officials abroad, but also respect for the average Ukrainian citizen, for business and a guarantee of the attraction of major investments into the country’s economy. Naturally, it is for President Viktor Yushchenko to decide whether he should dismiss one of his allies, who unfortunately proved to be unworthy of those principles of honesty and openness proclaimed on Maidan Nezalezhnosti, or should he continue to refrain from commenting on the numerous publications in Ukrainian and international mass media about the country’s current Minister of Justice.

Mr. Zvarych does not have an education that corresponds to his post and is thereby sacrificing the image of the highest authority in Ukraine, the president, who is now laying a democratic path of development and bears responsibility before those who elected him and gave him victory.

Source: Kyiv Weekly

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