112 International publishes the interview with George Pinchuk, Ukrainian origin professor of Missisipi University for Women. The scientist briefly described the system of higher education in America and expressed his opinion on the crucial issues concerning Ukraine.
- Please briefly describe the educational system of America. In Ukraine, we now have the reform of higher education, and the US experience is often referred to.
The US universities are very diverse. There are private and there are state-run universities. All of them, without exception, charge tuition fees. The sum of money depends on the university, but the education is never free. My university, a small state-run institution, charges $2,800 per year for our state residents and $7,600 per year for out-of-state residents. And this is considered very low! In highly ranking, famous universities tuition may be up to $40,000 - $50,000 per year. Our students are welcome to apply for scholarships from a number of sources, but, still, many students go into debt. Housing is also pricey, and so are textbooks.
In the US, there is no centralized, universal program of university education. Each university offers its own program and curriculum. Students are not organized into groups; rather, they sign up for courses individually (so several students who attend a certain lecture or laboratory course on the same day and hour may not know each other, and this course may well be the only time and place where they meet together). The size of classes depends on the size of the university. My university is small (enrollment about 2,000 students), so most of our lecture classes include not more than 30-40 students. Laboratory class size never exceeds 24 students, considering the availability of space and equipment. At large universities, lecture classes may be much bigger. In 1998, I lectured to a biology class (as an adjunct), which included more than 300 students.
We have a certain “core curriculum,” meaning classes that are mandatory for all students, regardless of their focus and future profession. These include classes in literature, history, geography, foreign language, history of fine arts etc. The core also includes classes aimed at strengthening our students’ health (fitness walking, beginners’ tennis, yoga, Pilates etc.) Other classes are mandatory for certain majors. For example, biology majors must take two semesters of biology and two semesters of inorganic chemistry, followed by specialized, content-rich classes in genetics, cellular and molecular biology, ecology and evolutionary biology. There are also “electives.” For example, a biology major may choose four subjects out of a list of 15, depending on where does this particular student plans to after graduation.
Of course, we always have a rather large group of international students. I have had two very good students from Ukraine. One of them was a young woman from Kharkiv; she is now living and working in the UK. The other was from Ternopil; he graduated with honors, defended his Ph.D. thesis in microbiology, and worked at our university for two years as an adjunct. He is in Ukraine now, working in the field of industrial microbiology. I also had a number of students from Belarus and Georgia. One of my Belarusian students scored extremely high on his exit exam. He fitted into the top 2% of all the US students who took this exam. He graduated with honors and is now working as a physician (cardiologist) in Boston.
- What is your opinion regarding reforms in education, performed after the Euromaidan?
I am not sure whether I have one. Many of my online Ukrainian friends complain that the Ukrainian education remains overly bureaucratized. Teachers are required to do a lot of paperwork. Here in the US, we do very little paperwork. I have to submit an annual report every year, but it is rather short and not difficult to write. Based our reports, we are evaluated by our department chairs. One really serious, important criterion in our evaluation is how do students characterize our classes and personalities. We have a highly confidential system of gathering this information from students.
- How do you feel about the reforms in Ukraine in general? International community pays much attention to the issues of fight against corruption and modernization of the law enforcement services. What is your opinion on this regard?
I am very pleased by the news from Ukraine about the new faces in the Ukrainian government (Saakashvili, Yaresko and others), and about the new Ukrainian police force.
- Issues of equality and discrimination, including the gender problem, have become the serious stumbling blocks within the Ukrainian political system. Can you say that xenophobia, homophobia etc. interrupt Ukrainian path to Europe?
Most definitely. But it looks like some progress has been made. I am very pleased that the parliament of Ukraine voted in favor of certain “anti-discriminatory” amendments.
- Are there some reasons to say that the West, including the US, is bored of Ukraine? What our country should do to win more sympathy abroad?
I think it would be an exaggeration to say that the West is “bored” of Ukraine. Rather, I have noticed that today, the American people, with all their keen interest and warm sympathy towards Ukraine, are somewhat afraid that at some point the US armed forces will be deployed to fight the war in Ukraine. Americans are tired of “foreign wars.” Many of them have this feeling that wherever the US interferes militarily, many lives are being lost, and things go from bad to even worse.