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Bareš: I want to focus on quality and move ahead of Charles University

Interview with Martin Bareš, new rector of Masaryk University.

Martin Bareš, a neurologist and the dean of the MU Faculty of Medicine, was elected the new rector of Masaryk University in early April after receiving an overwhelming majority of votes from the Academic Senate in the first round of the elections. He will take over from the current rector, Mikuláš Bek, in September this year. “I’ll start my term in office with the university in good shape and with a clear focus,” says Bareš. He is unequivocal about his ambition, which is for Masaryk University to become the most successful Czech university and an important institution at European and international level by 2030.

Interview was originally published at Universitas.cz

You were elected the rector of Masaryk University by the MU Academic Senate, with 36 out of 50 senators voting for you. Do you think this overwhelming support gives you a strong mandate?
Yes, I do; being elected in the first round always gives you a strong mandate. When you calculate the percentage, I received the vote of 72% of the electors, meaning that I won both in the staff and in the student chamber. I must admit I was moved when I first heard the results. While the Faculty of Medicine, where I currently serve as dean, is one of the four founding faculties of our university that first started teaching students 100 years ago, our position between the university, the university hospitals, and the whole healthcare system has sometimes made us stand a little apart from the rest of the university. This makes the support of the senators and the academic community across the whole university all the more valuable to me. I see it as a sign of immense trust, and no less immense obligation.

What are your thoughts on the fact that there were only two candidates in the rector elections, you and Jaromír Leichmann from the MU Faculty of Science? When the current rector, Mikuláš Bek, first ran for office he had four rivals.
I was surprised, especially as both of us hail from the “natural sciences” section of the university – even though I dislike this division; it is the personal qualities of the candidates that should matter, not their chosen discipline. However, I can merely speculate about the reasons. Perhaps the academic community is happy with where the university is going. I already have a proven track record from my work in the academic senate just after the revolution in 1989, as one of the vice-rectors, and currently as the dean of the largest faculty of Masaryk University.

You were long rumoured to be a serious candidate. I already asked you about it last year.
Yes, it would seem that many others were sure about my candidacy before I was (laughs). It is not that easy to resign as a dean mid-term when a number of significant changes are already under way. But you are right in that the academic community probably anticipated my candidacy.

Martin Bareš (50)

- rector-elect of Masaryk University, whose term in office will run from 1 September 2019 until August 2023
- elected by the MU Academic Senate in the first round, where he received 36 votes out of 50
- has been serving as the dean of the MU Faculty of Medicine since last year; his successor will be chosen soon
- served as the MU vice-rector for development since 2011 and then as the MU vice-rector for academic affairs
- awarded his habilitation degree in 2005 and became a full professor four years later
- specialises in neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson’s, and neurophysiology
- worked as a postdoc at the University of Minnesota in the US
- married with three children and is an avid ice hockey and baseball fan

What are the plans for finding your successor as the dean of the Faculty of Medicine, where you entered office last February?
The elections for dean will be announced once we have a full academic senate; right now, we need to fill some seats in the student chamber. The new faculty management must be in place as soon as possible to make sure that everything, including the student admission process, runs smoothly, and certainly no later than by September.

Before you can assume the office of rector, you must be officially appointed by President Miloš Zeman. Under Mikuláš Bek, the relations between MU and the president were less than ideal – are you expecting any “hiccups” in the process? /Martin Bareš was appointed by President Miloš Zeman in July, the interview was done before the appointment - editor's note/
I would like to point out that the president of the Czech Republic appoints – and dismisses – the rectors of public universities as suggested by the academic senate of the university in question. As the elections went smoothly and I received a large majority of the votes, I really do not expect any issues. And if President Zeman decides to present me with the letter of appointment in person, I would be very happy to use that opportunity to share my views on the role and position of Masaryk University in Czech society.

What would you like to tell him? What are your top three priorities for your time in office?
Number one is to make sure that MU continues to improve in all respects and achieves higher quality in education, research, and human resources. Masaryk University has made huge investments in the campus and other faculties and departments to make sure they have all the up-to-date facilities they need. Our biggest job is to focus on the people. We must continue developing the potential of our academic community, whether they are staff or students. We are only as good as they are.

And your number two priority?
I would call this breaking through the mindset of mistrust prevalent in Czech society. As an example, even though it might be too simplistic: I experienced this in the US, where I worked as a post-doc at the time when the internet was still in its infancy. My apartment had just been vacated by a colleague who was returning home, and he gave me a couple of phone numbers and told me to call them to put the utilities in my name, transfer the payments and so on. It was Saturday morning and I was really unsure they would even believe me if I just called them like this, on a weekend and in what was then my less-than-perfect English. And, of course, they did. This would not happen here, and this fundamental mistrust permeates the whole of Czech society. We just don’t trust each other enough, and this is something I would like to change. It might sound like a lofty goal, but this is something that could change things such as cooperation between the faculties and the internal process of milestone setting, which underlies the annual budget negotiations – for example, some faculties could focus more on “scoring” ERC grants and patents and some would be more focused on teaching and our role in society, which are both just as important.

And your third priority?
My third priority is for Masaryk University to become more involved in civil society. I would like the university to be much more aware of current social needs and context and integrate them into the curriculum. I have close ties with the Anglo-American system, where universities boast about which president or other personality graduated from their programme and publish their position papers on pension reform or healthcare. In our case, it could be an economic and sociological study of the proposed relocation of the train station in Brno. This is very important. We are an apolitical institution, but also a public one, and we have both the responsibility and the necessary expertise. Our goal is clear: we want to be an excellent and socially responsible institution.