Polish leaders clamp down on dissent in education's ivory towers

The front line of Poland's political struggle now stands at the university gate. Poland's leaders moved last week to purge the nation's academies of their opponents. Some 60 senior college staff members, including five rectors and several deans, were fired, and at least 13 other educators resigned, protesting what they see as the onset of a campaign to reintroduce Marxist orthodoxy into public life.

``Although education might seem like a marginal field of national life, its not marginal in political terms,'' said Professor Bronislaw Geremek during an interview in Warsaw last June. A free flow of ideas is ``the most important'' part of the opposition's strategy, he added.

Professor Geremek, a historian and an adviser to Lech Walesa, leader of the outlawed Solidarity trade union, was fired earlier this year from the Academy of Science.

In recent years, the government has succeeded in squelching most demonstrations and work stoppages. But intellectuals have a weapon which is harder for the government to challenge. People such as Geremek are trying to keep their fight alive by presenting different points of view on issues.

Polish universities long have played this role, as academics fought to safeguard Polish culture over the years.

Solidarity appealed to factory workers and academics. The present purge aims to break that coalition. When the government enacted a controversial education law last summer, which curtailed university autonomy and established a basis for linking hiring policies to political grounds, officials defended the changes as necessary to steer the universities away from politics.

At that time, Andrzej Stolarski, of the Ministry of Education, said ``some 60 percent of college students don't graduate on time'' and ``more discipline is needed.''

More discipline means reestablishing Communist Party control. Most of those educators fired last week are political independents or Solidarity sympathizers. Government spokesman Jerzy Urban explained that the universities had to uphold the principles of socialist education and that lecturers had to be measured against these principles.

Such principles may now be enforced even more strictly. Before their contracts can be considered for renewal, professors at some institutions will be required to obtain two political references. Rather than face this, many professors reportedly are contemplating giving up their jobs.

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