We spoke to the new rector of the University of West Bohemia Miroslav Lávička before the official beginning of his term in office. What does he want to achieve in the next four years, what is he looking forward to and what can’t he imagine his day without?
Are you a patient man? Because I think that patience should be one of the qualities of a rector.
I’m patient with some things, but not with others. If I have a plan that something should be done in a certain amount of time, I’m willing and able to patiently wait for it. But I need to see some progress as I wait. I don’t need to see results immediately, of course, but if the partial goals I have set up are not being met, I will admit I start to lose my patience. So my approach is one of planned patience.
This feels like a very mathematical approach: gradually getting closer to the correct result.
That’s possible, but I think this has more to do with my personality than mathematics. This is simply who I am, and if something doesn’t go the way I imagined, I’m trying to interfere impatiently. But I do agree with you that a rector should be patient. It would be very naïve to think that most of the planned steps can be accomplished immediately. In fact, Associate Professor Hammerbauer and I made patience part of our election manifesto in which we declared that we want to start a process of improvement and adopt certain changes that may see fruition perhaps ten years down the line.
What other characteristic should a rector have? Courage, perhaps?
First of all, I think a rector should be trustworthy. Members of the university community should be able to trust the rector that everything he or she does has the clear intention to benefit the university. Courage is necessarily a part of that, because when you take steps that are not easy, and are in fact often quite unpopular and unlikely to be met with applause, you need the courage to go through with them. A rector should be accountable and prepared to face the consequences of his or her actions. If something goes well, it’s great for the university as a whole, but if something fails because of the rector’s decision, the rector mustn’t blame others. Rectors should also be decisive, and definitely also deliberate. They should not do anything haphazardly and without preparation, but think everything through carefully. Play a little game of chess in their mind and think a few moves ahead. So another important quality I would add is undoubtedly foresight.
I think you’ve just told us that one of your hobbies is chess.
Of course I love chess. It’s a beautiful, royal game. But if you asked me if I was any good at chess, I would say I’m really not much of a chess player. I know that mathematicians are often expected to be good at chess, but I have to admit that my son started beating me already in his early teens (laughs).
It’s the end of January now, but the interview will be published in the second half of March. What do you think your first day as rector will be like? Do you have a morning ritual?
I can’t imagine starting my day without my morning coffee. I wake up early, but it takes me a while to get going. I start preparing some of my work still at home before I leave for the university. This is probably to capture all the ideas that crystallized in my head overnight. In other words, I want to make sure I don’t forget them on the way to work (laughs). And for that I need good coffee that relaxes me. I assume that my first day as rector will start this exact same way.
And how do you think it will continue once you get to the Rectorate?
At the pre-election debate, I said that I would start on 1 March by going to see Mrs Ida Císařová at the Economics Department to find out what is the current progress in the drafting of the budget. And that is probably still true, even though some of these activities have already started as part of the handover and I have already met Mrs Císařová and her department. I would also very much like to visit all the other departments of the Rectorate to greet their heads and staff, because I will be working with them very closely for the next four years. One of the reasons for my visit would also be to reassure them at least to some extent. Any change in leadership is naturally accompanied by certain concerns, in particular if the new leader promises some changes, and I would like to explain in person that everything we’re planning will be in the interest of the university, which means all of us. I would also like the respective Vice-Rectors to accompany me to specific departments. But this may be too naïve – it is possible that I will have so many meetings scheduled for 1 March that I won’t have the time to do this. But if it was all up to me, this is what I would do.
Let’s try a slightly harder question: What will your first year be like?
Let’s skip forward to 2024: it’s 1 March and we’re once again drafting the budget for the next year. At this stage, some of the steps taken during the first year should already bear fruit. The changes should bring some needed adjustments to the budget of the University of West Bohemia: for example, I would like to implement a change in the breakdown of the student allowance based on our contract as it is done on the state level; I would also like to see the first steps leading towards savings. I would be pleased if at this stage, the academic community already noticed the first results of our effort to reduce bureaucracy, simplify administration and make internal legislation clearer.
And let me add one more thing. I would also be very happy if we could make significant progress in our negotiations on cooperation with the city of Pilsen during the first year. I have already started to emphasise everywhere I go that this year, we’re celebrating 75 years since the beginning of higher education in Pilsen, which is connected with the UWB. I told the Mayor that I would like us to take this opportunity to write a strategic document, though not for the current anniversary of 75 years but rather for the hundredth. Together with the city representatives, we should clearly define what are our joint priorities; what does it exactly mean for Pilsen to be a university city and what would be our ideal form of collaboration around 2050. But I don’t want to focus just on Pilsen; we also need to extend our cooperation on the level of the Pilsen and Karlovy Vary regions, the neighbouring regions and of course also westward: Bavaria and further away. We need to turn the university into an internationally recognised jewel of our region.
As you say, these are long-term goals. If you were to pick one of your easily achievable objectives, which one would it be?
There will certainly be some short-term objectives, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. We want to present those with the team of vice-rectors during this year’s strategic interviews with the individual parts of the university. We have said what we wanted to achieve in our election manifesto, but many of these statements are rather general and need to be elaborated. I don’t want to pick one specific goal right now because that would sound too simplistic.
And which of the long-term objectives are the most important to you?
I want to place great emphasis on our efforts to promote our university’s position alongside the most important universities in the Czech Republic and to make it successful, known and respected internationally. If we achieve the other objective that we talk about often, i.e. increase the number of students, I will be very happy. Right now the university has about 11,000 students, but it was historically designed for up to 20,000. We obviously can’t reach this figure anymore, but we should really be trying to increase the number of students again. But while doing that, we must of course make sure that the quality of education is maintained, which is more important than increasing the number of students.
But let me circle back to the previous question about a quickly achievable goal. Because there is one that may not be easy to achieve, but is absolutely essential in the short-term horizon. I want the university to be a place of maximum trust. So that we don’t have to look for hidden meanings and ulterior motives behind anyone’s actions. On the one hand, we need absolute trust, and on the other clear awareness that no one in any position at the university can ever abuse this trust. Improving the healthy environment at the university should be a priority of us all from the very start.
Leaving aside your election manifesto for a moment, what are you looking forward to as rector?
Probably the most important thing to me is that I will be able to personally and directly defend the interests of the University of West Bohemia and contribute to its positive image and the respect that it deserves. I have already done this many times before, for example when I represented the university at the Board of the Council of Universities, but I believe that my words will carry more weight when I’m the rector. I want to politely yet firmly draw attention to important things for example at the ministry, such as legislative changes or matters related to budgeting or the assessment of creative activities. I have many ideas and this will be an opportunity and a chance to push them through.
And even though this may seem strange, I’m looking forward to learning more about the university as rector. When you’re active in just one part, you cannot really see the whole picture. I want to regularly visit the individual faculties and other parts of the university to better understand its heterogeneity and to see the issues that we have from multiple perspectives, and not just the one I’m used to.
It probably also helps that you are a graduate of the UWB and you know it from basement to attic, so to speak.
That's exactly right. I have tried many different roles and positions at the university. And as the poet Jan Neruda said: everything I was, I was happy to be. I don’t mean just teaching or doing science, but everything else related to it. For example when we were writing various evaluation reports; I found out what it’s like to prepare accreditations at our faculty and took part in the process. You understand things better when you’re involved in them. If I write down some guidelines, I should also try following them in practice. I think it’s also very useful that I spent some time in the Academic Senate, which is the body that the rector is accountable to. I was in the Academic Senate of our faculty and I had the honour of serving as vice-dean and dean. This helped me understand the difference in both roles and how the same thing may be viewed by a senator and a member of the leadership. It will be similar on the university level. When you try out the various university roles and understand them, you realise that what may to the outsider appear as an irreconcilable argument between two feuding parties, the leadership and the senators, is really just a strong exchange of opinions aiming to find the best solution for the university.
Everything you were, you were happy to be, so now you’ll be happy to be a rector.
“Everything I was, I was happy to be” is a statement about the past. But I will be happy if I’m able to say the same in four years. However I will be the happiest if our university community is also satisfied.
prof. RNDr. Miroslav Lávička, Ph.D.
- Born in 1971
- Graduate of the Faculty of Education at the UWB and the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics of Charles University
- Appointed Professor of Applied Mathematics in 2020
- Since 2002, he has been working in the Department of Mathematics at the Faculty of Applied Sciences at the UWB; before that, he worked at the Faculty of Education. In 2012–2014, he was the Vice-Dean for Creative Activities and External Relations, in 2014–2017 the Dean and in 2017–2020 the Vice-Dean for Strategy and Legislation at the Faculty of Applied Sciences
- Before becoming Rector, he led the Mathematical Modelling Department at the NTIS research centre.
- He will be the Rector of the UWB until the end of February 2027