Academics Protest Against Low Pay in Arts Faculties of Czech Universities

The protest began outside the Faculty of Arts of Charles University. Photo credit: Filozofická fakulta Univerzity Karlovy, via Facebook. 

Prague, March 29 (CTK) – Around 1,000 people took part in the “Hour of Truth” protest yesterday against low salaries for lecturers in humanities and social sciences at Czech universities. The protesters, who gathered outside the Faculty of Arts of Charles University (FF UK) in Prague, called on PM Petr Fiala to take action to address the situation.

At around 3.30pm, the university lecturers began marching from FF UK to the statue of the first president of Czechoslovakia, Tomas Garrigue Masaryk (1918-1935), in Hradcany square outside Prague Castle. The monument was chosen by the protesters as Masaryk was also a philosopher and devoted himself to social sciences.

The route of the march passed the Government Office, where the protesters stopped to read an open letter to Fiala (ODS), reminding him of his academic past. Before entering politics, Fiala was a professor in political science and served as the rector of Brno’s Masaryk University. He also headed the Czech Rectors Conference.

Representatives of Czech universities who joined the protest described the underfunding of public universities and low salaries of teachers in humanities and social sciences “a disgrace, a shame and a disaster”. The protesters are demanding more money for universities from the state budget and equal pay tariffs for lecturers across study fields. They stated that if their demands were not met, they would continue with their protests.

At the head of the march in Prague, the demonstrators were rolling a boulder, which they said referred to the mythological Sisyphus. They also carried banners reading “Without social sciences, we won’t understand each other” and “Excellent science for shameful salaries?”. 

Due to the protest, deans of some Charles University faculties declared a day off yesterday, according to Ondrej Svec, the chair of the FF UK Academic Senate. 

Instead, a series of lectures and debates on the importance of humanities and social sciences and their current underfunding were held at several faculties throughout the morning and early afternoon, open to both students and the public. Petra Johana Poncarova, from the group organising the protest, told CTK that hundreds of people came to the lectures at FF UK.

Charles University’s Protestant Theological Faculty, Faculty of Law, and Faculty of Education were also involved in the protest, according to their websites.

The academics’ demands are supported by the University Staff Trade Union (VOS), which declared a symbolic strike alert for today, said its chair Petr Baierl.

Similar protests were also staged in nine other Czech university towns yesterday.

The University of Pardubice supported the effort by staging a debate of academics and students, and the Janacek Academy of Performing Arts (JAMU) in Brno, the JE Purkyne University (UJEP) in Usti nad Labem, the Faculty of Arts of the University of Hradec Kralove, and the University of West Bohemia (ZCU) in Plzen also joined the protest.

Many academics from other towns then went to Prague to take part in the protest march in the afternoon.

Several hundred students and lecturers at the Faculty of Arts of Palacky University, Olomouc, also joined a warning strike, supported by colleagues from Masaryk University and the Silesian University in Opava.

Vaclav Stepanek from Masaryk University highlighted the role of arts faculties in society, and noted that exactly these faculties in Prague, Brno and Olomouc had organised the strikes in November 1989 which contributed to the collapse of Communist rule.

An anonymous survey conducted at JAMU on a sample of 128 people in December 2022 found that over 75% of them did not feel their salaries at the university corresponded to their education level and expertise.

The protest was held in support of the demands of the Czech Rectors Conference and the Association of Deans of Faculties of Arts. Rectors are demanding an increase in university funding to the OECD average, which would mean around CZK 10 billion more per year. According to the association, underfunded faculties should receive CZK 1.4 billion this year to stabilise the situation.

Education Minister Vladimir Balas (STAN) said the financing of universities had been neglected for a long time. He was due to meet Fiala informally yesterday to discuss a rise in the university budget for lecturers’ salaries. The government may discuss the issue at its meeting in Jesenik on Wednesday.

According to documents obtained by CTK, the university budget for this purpose could rise by an additional CZK 901 million this year.

Universities are to receive CZK 30.9 billion in 2023, CZK 2.3 billion more than a year ago. They also receive funding from subsidies for research and development, said Education Ministry spokeswoman Aneta Lednova.

On a visit to Moravia-Silesia, President Pavel said he agreed with the lecturers’ demands for higher salaries, and urged the Ministry of Education and universities to find a systemic solution together.

“I absolutely agree with the demands for a raise, because I do not think it is systemically right that lecturers at some faculties, namely of arts, be remunerated worse for the same work than their colleagues from other faculties,” Pavel said.

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