Back


Happy Birthday CEP
 

Back


From the Civic Education Project Newsletter, Volume 2, Number 1, Fall 1995

Five years ago, as a young graduate student in Prague in search of a dissertation topic, I happened to meet with several Czech university professors. As newly appointed professors of political science and economics, they were intrigued to find an American social scientist in their midst and invited me to teach at the university.

From those conversations emerged the idea for a "civic education project" that would send Western-trained scholars to teach at, and assist in reforming institutions of higher education in Central and Eastern Europe.

Then, as now, the belief motivating our endeavor was that the long-term sustainability of the political and economic transitions underway in these countries hinged upon developing an informed democratic citizenry.

For me personally it is hard to believe that in less than five years the Civic Education Project has grown from a small, startup organization run by a handful of graduate students to a highly professional, international educational organization with operations in sixteen countries.

In 1991 CEP sent fifteen lecturers to teach at eight universities in Czechoslovakia; this academic year CEP has 125 lecturers teaching at 70 universities in 53 cities throughout Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. To date more than 20,000 students have taken at least one course from one of our lecturers.

Clearly, CEP is playing an important role in helping educate the region's next generation of leaders even as we assist in the restructuring of local institutions of higher education--including helping our local university colleagues rewrite curricula, retrain faculty, develop new academic programs, and obtain up-to-date teaching materials.

Before looking ahead to our next five years, I think it is important to reflect on the reasons why CEP has been so successful.

The first and foremost of these reasons is our lecturers. Because of the unique nature of its mission, our project has been fortunate to attract as volunteers many exceptional scholars who, despite sometimes difficult living conditions, have demonstrated extraordinary dedication to our mission.

Next in order of importance is the grass roots nature of our project. CEP lecturers spend anywhere from one to three years living and working at particular university departments. Unlike Westerners who come to the region on short-term exchanges, our lecturers are effective agents of change because they understand intimately the universities at which they teach and have the trust of their local colleagues.

Finally, CEP has succeeded because it is a partnership. Our lecturers are sent at the request of local university departments, to teach courses that they identify as necessary to their new curricula.

As CEP enters its fifth year of teaching, our project faces three principal challenges. First, we must increase support for our lecturers' many and varied projects outside the classroom--everything from organizing regional faculty seminars to helping found local civic organizations.

Second, we must continue to address more systematically, in conjunction with other educational organizations active in the region, the major structural impediments to educational reform. The Regional Needs Assessment Project that CEP is conducting this year (see page 5), with the financial support of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and in cooperation with the Institute for Human Studies in Vienna, is a vital step forward in this effort.

Third, we must continue to work hard at developing local capacity. CEP's ultimate aim is to put itself out of business by helping to build top-rate educational institutions capable of producing informed citizens and world class scholars. The Local Faculty Fellows Program inaugurated by CEP this year, which is sponsoring 13 talented, Western-trained East European scholars to return to teach in their native countries, represents an important step toward this goal. For the 1996-97 program year we hope to increase the number of Local Faculty Fellows to 25, a figure that would represent one-fifth of our total number of lecturers.

Of course, all of these efforts would not have been possible without the generous support we have received over the years from the Higher Education Support Program of the Open Society Institute, the Eurasia Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and many others. To all our supporters we extend yet again our most heartfelt thanks.

I hope that you will join us in our efforts over the next five years and that you will join me in saying, "Happy Birthday CEP!"

Stephen R. Grand, Chairman of the Board