Testing time for Poland's academic reforms

Only two elected rectors will don their robes for the inauguration of the new academic year in Poland's nine state universities.

The other seven fell victim to the ''remodeling'' of education that has been part of the normalization process under the military regime imposed on the nation nine months ago.

Only the rectors of the Lodz and Krakow (the famous Jagiellonian) universities survived. Those at Warsaw, Poznan, Wroclaw, Katowice, Gdansk, Torun (Copernicus), and Lublin all failed to pass the scrutiny of martial law.

They were ''recalled,'' to be replaced by a vice-rector or other academic approved by a new czar of higher education, Benon Miskiewicz. Some of the 12 polytechnica - as Poland calls its university-level technical institutions - were similarly affected.

Grounds for dismissals varied from outright support of Solidarity and the independent student union movement to too-liberal endorsement of the whole reform process, including an autonomy for university teaching never before contemplated in the communist world.

Typical was the case of Prof. Henryk Samsonowicz, head of Warsaw's university and the first rector to be democratically elected under last year's educational reforms.

He gave up his membership in the Communist Party when he ''resigned'' his university post in April. He was the most notable of many senior academics who sought to resist the threatened return to old restrictions and a major whittling away of the new autonomy.

Professor Samsonowicz had displeased party dogmatists not only because of his defense of student interests, but also for his strong advocacy of more open teaching of Poland's history, especially its relations with Russia both before and during the Soviet era.

The university shakeup raised fears that something akin to the purge applied to education in Czechoslovakia in 1969 might be afoot.

Academics, teachers, journalists, and students - many of them party members - were prominent in the ''Prague spring'' as their counterparts were here in the ''Polish August.'' Tens of thousands of Czechoslovak teachers succumbed to the post-Dubcek leadership's ''loyalty''tests. The news media were purged in the same harsh manner.

Here in Poland martial law removed hundreds of journalists who backed reform. Teachers came under growing pressure when an official ''teachers' charter'' promised better conditions but also set new guidelines overriding last year's reform patterns. Teachers were told, in effect, they had ''to believe in socialism'' or go.

But it seems to have stopped there. There has been no Czechoslovak-style educational witch hunt. It is hard to come by examples of figures, but the lower academic or ordinary teaching levels seem not to have been much affected.

The schools are already back for the winter term. The modified education law still looks quite liberal on paper. When the universities reopen shortly, it will begin to be seen how liberally it is to be applied.

There are many uncertainties. Under the law no further top academic changes can be made for three years. But while martial law continues, the military council has power to set aside any law, or part of it, supposedly in the interest of ''national salvation.''

Executive orders from the education minister are needed in various areas to give the law full effect. It is up to him to set up the supposedly ''independent'' Main Council, which is to be responsible for all educational programming, and to authorize the election by universities and colleges themselves of rectors, deans, and other senior officials.

In each instance, the minister has supervisory or confirmatory powers that amount to a veto. But the council is in theory, at least, a court of last appeal in which any veto might be challenged.

There appear to be uncertainties about the whole future of higher education here. The basic period for earning a college degree is being extended from four to five years. At the same time, substantial increases have been proposed in the number of hours students must spend in classroom lectures and lessons each week.

This move, which will reduce their time for study and reading, is controversial. Some critics say it is likely to increase the tendency to cram, which has always been a feature here.

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