In recent years in Europe we have observed a new trend – focus on the development of the young and talented whose scientific activity may contribute to the creation of an economy based on knowledge. Wrocław, as the first city in the Central and Eastern Europe decided to face the new challenges by initiating the Academy of Young Scholars and Artists. We talk to one of its founders, Prof. Tadeusz Luty, about its surprising beginnings, phenomenon and mission.

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The Academy is going to be a very exclusive group since science requires exclusivity – says Prof.  Luty

 

Alicja Turek: What is the Academy of Young Scholars and Artists supposed to be? Prof. Tadeusz Luty: I will start a bit like a student during an exam (laughter). The “Academy” is an initiative which came from the Wrocław Academic Centre. Let me explain what WAC is – it is also a kind of initiative, since it is not an organisation, nor a society whose tasks include supporting the academic circles.

Hence I should have rather asked where did the idea for such an undertaking come from? (laughter) Let me explain. In my opinion it came from the fact that the mayor of the city of Wrocław, Mr Rafał Dutkiewicz, from the beginning of his mission, even though he has never admitted it, has considered Wrocław to be an academic city. He has once said that as the city mayor he derives great satisfaction from the fact that he has the privilege to govern such a strong academic and scientific centre. He understands it very well as a person who has worked at the university. Once he has noticed that development of Wrocław might take place through the development of its academic and scientific circles, it was even adopted in the Wrocław development strategy for 2006, he has followed this path in a very consistent way. In the past there were many such initiatives in the form of spontaneous talks with the mayor or the city council and at a certain point it became clear that somebody had to coordinate all these initiatives. On 1 October 2008 the mayor created in his department an Office for Cooperation with Universities. Mr Maciej Litwin became the head of this office and asked me to work with him. Then, finishing my rector’s term of office, I considered it to be a very important challenge, noble support for the circles and this is how I became the mayor’s advisor for academic and scientific maters. The superior goal of my work was to gather in a possible coherent way all these existing loose initiatives. And then with the Office for Cooperation with Universities and WAC we have come up with an initiative to create the Academy of Young Scholars and Artists. This proposal resulted in a way from what was the basis for all these ideas of the city or the city council but the academic circles in the first place. We had to do all that was possible to keep the young and intelligent people in our academic circles.

In Western Europe, for example, in Berlin or Amsterdam, such projects have been successfully completed for a few years now. Will the Wrocław project try to follow some of the models and standards that are already there or will it create a new quality? This is a very important issue. I would say that chronologically it was like this: we thought we were offering something very original. However, thanks to my visits in Europe I realised that in many places around the world such initiatives were being thought about and even ready projects were being discussed. I had, for example a very interesting talk with the ex rector of the Free University of Berlin, who told me that in Berlin such an Academy had already been created and this made me realise that this proposal had a chance and secondly that it would be a part of the all-Europe network of Young Academies. Hence, we have obtained a confirmation that we were going in the right direction. At the moment in Europe there are already three or four such initiatives.

 

Yes, for example the Academy of the Young in Dusseldorf… Precisely. These are very good local initiatives. We are undoubtedly first such an initiative in the Central and Eastern European countries! Not long ago, in September, thanks to the effort of a few professors, e.g. Prof. Ratajczak but also our EIT Plus, a conference was organised aimed at showing how in this part of Europe we perceive the development of research, etc. And during this conference one of the representatives of the European Commission stated that the path for the development of initiatives, within the so-called European Scientific Area, will be for example the creation of the Young Academies. Before that I have also heard such a statement from the Secretary General of the Swedish Academy of Sciences. During a meeting in Brussels entitled “European Research Council,” he has listed in his presentation the creation of the Academies of Young Scholars as an important initiative which should be seen in Europe as promotion of anything related to the development of science. All this praise for the initiative coming from me might sound a bit immodest but this is not the point. I just want to show you that we are keeping up and maybe more modestly, we keep up with due humility with the tendencies and trends which appear in Europe.

What will, however, make the Academy truly unique – what is to distinguish it from student research circles or discussion clubs? This is a very good question. So far we have been influenced by the stereotype that if a young person is interested in science during their studies then they can deepen their interest in student research circles. And if they are still interested in the exchange thought they can become active in scientific associations. The Academy is to be something completely different. First of all I would not associate the concept of the Academy’s activity with research circles, the latter are a form of scientific kindergarten to make one interested in science, to make somebody catch the bug. Scientific associations on the other hand are undergoing a kind of crisis in Poland. The crisis is caused by many things, e.g. that the pace of scientific life is too fast, the need to acquire grants caused that the discussion is less important while applications and grants much more. Hence we can observe the erosion of scientific life. And the Academy’s role? First of all we would like it to be a group of a several dozens, but not more than thirty young persons, active in different scientific fields who will discuss and debate on various matters together.

So it is going to be an exclusive group not based on mass participation? Very exclusive, science requires exclusivity. This is in fact inscribed in its mission. If somebody wants to dedicate themselves to science they have to accept all the good and less pleasant rules of being a part of an exclusive company. Egalitarianism, as proven by history, failed, we have to understand that among us there are good and the very good, and the latter need better conditions for development. In Poland we have the Polish Academy of Science which connects many representatives of general science and the Polish Academy of Skills which associates scholars and artists. We, however, after numerous talks have decided to name our initiative the Academy of Young Scholars and Artists since from English it sounds very nice. And as in the concept of every academy, the one created by us should be a corporation, i.e. voluntary association of people who, due to their interests, missions and world perspective, want to talk, discuss and suggest new things. On the other hand the role of initiators, the city in particular, is to create for these young persons the best conditions possible. I want to emphasise here that the Academy is not going to become a legal person, with REGON and few other things, God forbid! This is to be a corporation but of young persons, not person in their seventies. This may sound simple but in fact is an unprecedented undertaking in the Polish academic circles. This is to be a group that people will aspire to, it will mean prestige and this prestige at the beginning will be guaranteed by the Chapter.

Who will be able to apply for membership in the Academy? There is one condition – members have to be young and outstanding in some field of knowledge. At the same time there is no such measure as outstanding, I am against measuring creativity with for example number of publications. The number of publications is a measure necessary for officers not scientists. A scholar knows that the content is most important, sometimes in one publication you can write something outstanding and sometimes for 50 years a scholar publishes only five publications but all outstanding. I would like to emphasise, however, that there is no better measure of an outstanding character of something than that other people think it should be called that. The members of the Academy will be selected by scientists from the scientific circles, this has to be the same circle and it has to reach the decision and say “we want to propose.”

How does the recruitment process look like – the Chapter proposes membership to a person in the Academy or rather the members submit their candidatures themselves? At the beginning we want to do it this way, maybe later it will be changed somehow by the Academy, but at the beginning the mayor appointed the Chapter which is very prestigious, as you said earlier yourself, on the request of the members of the Chapter, the mayor became its chairman and now the Chapter will select first members from the submitted candidatures. Later we will also make the members decide and if they want to invite more persons, they will be able to decide on some other criteria. At the moment we are at the beginning of the road, we have asked the scientific councils of scientific institutes, universities, faculty councils etc. and quite a large group of professors for well justified recommendations. At the movement we have approx. 30 candidates at the Office for Cooperation with Universities where these recommendations are sent. The mayor, as the chairman of the Chapter, asked for the submission of candidatures. From among these 30 candidates, probably soon, the Chapter will select new members. I suppose that not all the candidates will be accepted, it is hard to predict the final number of the accepted persons but knowing the Chapter members the threshold will be quite high. Thanks to that these young persons that we have invited to the Academy will receive great authority and trust.

Once you go successfully through the entire recruitment process what tasks will await the Academy members? They will receive ideal conditions, i.e. we give them a meeting place i.e. Kamieniczna 13 in the centre at the Wrocław Academic Centre where they can meet any time they want. I will tell them to direct their thoughts, problems and intentions in such a way as to create an intellectual centre so Wrocław becomes a place that attracts young people.

Hence these are going to be rather general guidelines and the rest depends on them? Precisely, as the guardian of the Wrocław Academic Centre with the help form the mayor I will try to support them, also financially. I will start to encourage financial magnates to invest in these new minds because we know it is the best investment.

Right, since you’ve mentioned it, how will the Academy be financed? The Academy will not need such big financial resources. Its activity in part will be financed within the city’s budget but we will also look for sponsors, we will contact both local and national actors. First we will look for sponsors among banks but also companies, I am thinking especially about KGHM.

What will the members of the Academy gain? On different levels of course. The membership in the Academy means prestige, and believe me in our circles, this is highly appreciated. This initiative, because it is supported by such an outstanding Chapter, is already known in Poland and now such a Young Scholar, supported by the membership in the Academy, when applying for grants, let’s face it, will have a much easier task. The Academy, through discussions may initiate interdisciplinary programmes in the circle. Through its actions it may also radiate and support the development of the young already in the initial phase, in junior high and high schools.

And what will our city gain thanks to the Academy? It already has. Firstly, it is a manifestation of the city’s self-government. Secondly, Wrocław will be a part of the global group of metropolises whose academic circles operate on a really high level. And thirdly, the very fact that the Commissioner of the European Union speaks and knows more about Wrocław than Warsaw is a great achievement and honour.

Thank you.