Nova čitanja

Mentor on sentry duty

Rubina Čengić

03.11.2023

Foto: Ruach Chayim / Wikimedia Commons

It took me almost a month and a half to get access to and read a doctoral thesis. 

And finally here I am, sitting in the library of the International University of Travnik. In front of me is a bound dissertation entitled Application of the contingency model of leadership in Tuzla Canton’s organizations, defended in 2019. Across from me is the mentor of that thesis and the dean of the Faculty of Economics, Ph.D. Enes Huseinagić. Immediately before this, he practically threw out my Školegijum colleague, a Doctor of Sciences from the University of Sarajevo, shouting that he should leave because the decision on access to information applies only to me, and that he cannot stay to see the paper. If he wants to, he should send a request and it will be approved.

 To be fair, I'm not a part of the academic world, but it still seems unusual to me for a thesis mentor to attend the reading of a doctoral thesis that his candidate defended — where he acts like he's a security guard, not a dean … and like I'm some kind of criminal.

 Everything that preceded my entry into the library of the International University of Travnik also seemed odd to me. First, I sent a journalistic inquiry on behalf of Školegijum to the University asking whether Mr. Sevlid Hurtić received his doctorate from them and, if so, when and on what topic. If the answer to the first question is affirmative, I followed-up — who were the members of the committee before which he presented his doctoral thesis; is it possible to look at Mr. Sevlid Hurtić's doctoral thesis and, if so, where and when (I of course assumed it would be in the library). I also emphasized that I would be especially grateful if they could provide me with a copy — of course, only following payment of the necessary fees. I got a response quickly instructing me to reach out by mail, so I sent a letter by mail. I received two responses: one that my address is unreadable and another that they need my identity card, so I sent that too. 

After they didn’t respond further, I repeated the request and, in addition to requesting to view the doctoral thesis, I also asked for access to the committee’s report from the thesis defense. As well, I asked — if there is a fear that this would endanger personal data — that they conduct a public interest test and inform me of its results, i.e. which and whose personal interest are more important or greater than the public interest in such a case. After almost a month and a half, I finally received a decision via mail that allowed me to look at the thesis in the University's library. However, it also stated that the committee's report is a University document and that I cannot get it for inspection — and that I could appeal to the Senate. I sent a complaint to the Senate and a copy to the ombudsman, and I arranged a trip to Travnik with a colleague from Školegijum. Then I received another email asking when I was coming, because Professor Huseinagić wanted to be present. I announced the date and said that I would be coming with a colleague, to which I immediately received a warning that the decision on free access to information applies only to me.

I dare to say that, for myself, this process was humiliating. But I did not give up because, following all the correspondence, I was really interested to know why this mentor, also a dean and a professor, would try to prevent or postpone the reading of the doctoral thesis from his university.

Here's why I asked to see this particular doctoral thesis: Sevlid Hurtić is the Minister for Human Rights and Refugees in the Council of Ministers of Bosnia and Herzegovina. What I knew about him was that he was the owner of the Nam publishing house, which has the most approved textbooks for primary schools, and that some of those textbooks have a large number of errors that have never been corrected. I also know that a large number of cantonal education ministries buy those textbooks and distribute them to students for free. After the publication of Hurtić’s biography and his property record, I also learned that he is, apart from being one of the richest politicians in Bosnia and Herzegovina, also a Doctor of Economic Sciences, and that he received his doctorate in 2019 at the International University of Travnik. Školegijum’s editorial board was interested in whether that economics thesis would contain the experience of running a successful company in the textbook market or something similar. Through the process of public procurement, the company sold more than three million textbooks to Nam in 2022 alone!

Apart from the information about the members of Hurtić’s doctoral thesis defense committee (prof. Ph.D. sc. Ibrahim Jusufranić – president of the committee, prof. Ph.D. sc. Enes Huseinagić, mentor, and prof. Ph.D. sc. Asib Alihodžić, member of the committee), there are no other details about the thesis defense on the website of the International University of Travnik. Neither the title of the thesis in the decision on the selection of the committee, nor the date and time of the defense! The continuation of the search did not bear fruit; I did not find out when the defense was held, nor any record of it, nor the committee’s report, nor the thesis, nor its summary. Neither the National and University Library in Sarajevo, nor other scientific databases have a mandatory copy or PDF version!

In Travnik, therefore, I sat under the supervision of the mentor, who is also the Dean of the university, leafing through the paper... As a journalist, I read a lot, but this is a doctoral thesis — it should have some new ideas; I thought that maybe I wouldn’t understand some elements... Even without the cooperation of a colleague who was forbidden to enter, and under those strange circumstances of surveillance, the most I could do was to simply follow the formal elements of the work. As I took notes, I slowly realized that the focus of my planned article  moved to the person sitting across from me: why did the dean and mentor, Enes Huseinagić, appear openly hostile, posing as a security guard? Why did he decide to defend a private institution engaged in public activity — education — from the public, despite the fact that the University Statute states that ’the University answers to cantonal institutions, citizens, students and employees and that the University's activity is based, among other things, on openness to the public’?

At that point, I was even more interested in the reason for declaring the committee’s report an internal document. Also, why wouldn’t they allow me to copy parts of a scientific paper if copyright is clearly and precisely defined by law?

I decided to continue the story on what’s written in Sevlid Hurtić’s doctoral thesis, Application of the contingency model of leadership in Tuzla Canton organizations, some other time. Or maybe to entrust it to someone else. Meanwhile, I turned to the application of the Law on Freedom of Access to Information and the Publicity of the Work of Private Universities.

While I was flipping through this work, of about 190 pages, with a theoretical introduction of close to 150, time flew. Professor Huseinagić scrolled through his cell phone, looked a little at what I was doing, a little through the window, played with his keys — but one thing he didn’t do is get up from the chair across from me. The librarian started a conversation with the professor at some point, asking him if he wanted something to drink — if his throat was dry from being silent (she later asked me that too). That's how I found out that he worked in a school for 40 years — And also what a shame it is that he was there for too long, and that it would’ve been better if they had transferred him to some bad school to make it better. I also heard that his mother worked in a kindergarten all her working life... I slowly finished the review and notetaking, closed the book, said I was done and thanked him. (All this took maybe an hour, but I was ready to test this University’s sentry until the end of the library's working hours, maybe three more hours — I had two notebooks for notes, but I decided to leave the topic to someone who is more experienced in reading dissertations.)

“So, was it worth the effort and time,” Huseinagić asked me at the end, adding something about politics, and about dragging Hurtić and probably the University through the mud...

I answered that I didn’t understand his question and explained my motives and reasons for looking at the thesis, which I wrote at the beginning of this article. He said, shouting by the way, that he doesn't understand why we turned on Hurtić, that he doesn't defend him, that he knows that he got rich on textbooks, that he knows that the textbooks are bad — he himself was a reviewer for some of them. He knows that they’re outdated — his child uses them — but that he still doesn't understand why we are dealing with Hurtić, instead of asking for new textbooks or for education to be transferred to the jurisdiction of local authorities, because Bosnia and Herzegovina signed the charter on local self-government. Why, he wondered, didn't anyone deal with textbooks when they were sold on every corner. And finally, he concluded that he could clearly see what I’m doing based on my physiognomy. I asked him what he saw from my physiognomy, but I didn't get a clear answer. Just that I made it clear to him why I deal with Hurtić...

It stung my ears to hear that he was a textbook reviewer for Hurtić's publications... a Google search confirmed that he was Hurtić's reviewer — so he should indeed know what we're talking about!

I wrote in the library record card that I returned the borrowed book, then refused Professor Huseinagić's extended hand and left the University.

As I'm writing this, I'm waiting for a response to the appeal for inspection of the report of the committee for the defense of the doctoral thesis, I wrote to the Senate and the ombudsman. According to the FBiH Law on Freedom of Access to Information, I can also contact the inspection office. Maybe I’ll ask for copies again, this time only some pages of the work, maybe Školegijum will hire an expert in that field (now that we know what the doctorate is about in general) to carefully analyze the entire dissertation. For now, this remains only a story about the application of the Law on Freedom of Access to Information and the Publicity of the Work of Private Universities. How would it work if their field wasn’t based on openness to the public?

 

Note: after Čengić’s article was published, on October 24th, Školegijum received an official denial of the article signed by the rector of Travnik International University, prof. Ph.D. sc. Rajko Kasagić. View the denial in full here.

Školegijum’s editor-in-chief, Nenad Veličković, wrote a response to the denial that you can read in full here.

Below, we present a few excerpts from Veličković’s response:

Instead of stating the author’s incorrect claims in his letter and in return presenting correct ones that we would accept as such, publish and apologize for the mistakes, the rector comments and interprets the circumstances under which our article was created, even though he did not participate and was not an eyewitness to the events. Right at the beginning, he moves from the facts stated in the article to the author’s motives, trying to use that trick to divert attention from the main issue in the article: a lack of transparency in the work of the institution he heads. Rubina Čengić's article is not a personal attack, but a journalistic investigation in the public interest. Doctoral dissertations, and all procedures related to them, cannot be internal document — everyone who believes they’ll find something useful in them has the right to read them.

*

Rector: According to the Law on Higher Education of the Central Bosnian Canton ("Official Gazette of the Central Bosnian Canton, No. 4/2013) the University is not obliged to submit copies of the dissertation to the National and University Libraries in Sarajevo, nor to other databases.

Veličković: The Rector, or whoever advises him, should know that this obligation is found elsewhere — in the Law on Library Activities (Official Gazette of the RBiH, No. 37/95 and Official Gazette of the Federation of BiH, No. 37/95), where it is stated : "For the purpose of preserving all printed materials as cultural values ​​and enabling their study and use, every legal and physical person engaged in printing and duplicating printed materials is obliged to deliver 10 copies of each printed material to the Library of Bosnia and Herzegovina free of charge and at its own expense." (Source : https://nub.ba/usluge-za-izdavace/obavezni-primjerak )

*

Rector: According to the Rulebook for the III cycle of studies, it is stipulated that there should be an announcement on the website about the date and hours of the public defense of the doctoral dissertation, which was done. 

Veličković: Maybe so, but that post is no longer there, neither is any other defense-related information. If this is the practice — that the public cannot know who defended the dissertation, when, on what topic, before which committee and with what success — it would be interesting to hear what the reasons are for that kind of secrecy.

*

Rector: Reports on the evaluation of doctoral dissertations and documentation are of an internal character.

Veličković: Who decided that, when and why? What makes the work of the scientific committee behind a publicly defended dissertation an internal document? Shouldn't the mentor and other members be proud of the successfully completed research and shouldn't they, as responsible and honorable academic workers, make public their part in the process of someone's acquisition of the academic title of Doctor of Science?

*

In his letter, Rector Kasagić does not say anything about the reasons why the thesis supervisor and member of the secret committee was physically watching over a dissertation in the library. 

*

Rector: Ms. Čengić completed the reading of the doctoral dissertation alone and started a conversation about the motives of her examination...

Veličković: The truth is different. After the journalist finished her work, the conversation began with the mentor, prof. Ph.D. Enes Huseinagić, with his question, "Was it worth the effort and time," with comments about how "the journalist attacks the author of the dissertation because he entered the government and through him attacks the University..."

*

The rector ends his "denial" with a threat, after previously concluding that we published an article that "contains a lot of incorrect/untrue content" by which we "caused damage" to the institution, which is why IUT will "protect its rights" through legal means, because it will not "allow itself to be a place where private conflicts are resolved".

If readers and possible students of the International University in Travnik are comfortable with their works being unavailable outside the home library, with nothing being known about them on the University's website, with the committee's report and assessment being kept an internal secret, then our article is about a reputable institution — which should only bring good publicity — so it did it more good than harm. If, however, this does not suit the students, which we believe, then IUT could protect its reputation academically instead of through legal means. Finally, in his "denial," the rector did not dispute any of Rubina Čengić's key statements regarding transparency.

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