Former professors at the American University in Bosnia and Herzegovina are unanimous in accusing the university of a lack of ethics and academic integrity.
But several students interviewed by the Watertown Daily Times had mixed reactions toward AUBiH.
Dajana Celebic, who is a senior in the law and diplomacy program, wrote in an email that the university demonstrated what could be “different and better” about higher education in Bosnia.
Nadira Islamovic, a scholarship student who started in 2009, said in an email that AUBiH was “one of the best things ever happened to me in a country in a transition stage.”
If students had complaints, they were often directed toward SUNY Canton, which for a time raised tuition rates and then announced it was quitting its partnership with AUBiH.
Kenan Idrizovic, 40, was a campus leader who headed the student union at AUBiH. Before going to AUBiH, Mr. Idrizovic spent a decade and a half working for American defense contractors in Iraq and Africa.
He said SUNY Canton treated students like they were “a cancer,” but AUBiH officials provided a quality education.
“If ever I felt it was a scam, I wouldn’t have been there,” Mr. Idrizovic said. “To say that it is a scam would mean my diploma is invalid.”
Mr. Idrizovic is now studying law in Budapest, Hungary. When he graduates, he would like to help the next generation of Bosnians have the same opportunity that he had, the opportunity that he forged from the rubble of war, by virtue of America’s presence.
“People here like Americans. That’s just the way it is,” he said. However, he said, “What happened at SUNY, they’re not very happy about.”
Mirela Turkic, a finance, legal studies and information technology student who signed her emails to the Times “desperate Bosnian student,” was unsparing in her criticism of SUNY Canton.
“I think they do not care about us, after all we are just a Bosnian minority of their students, 5000 miles away and forgotten by everyone,” Ms. Turkic wrote. “I hope you can help us change this.”
In a July email she wrote: “(W)hat I realize is that SUNY does not care about education it provides for Bosnian students — I can learn as much by reading on my own — far as I am concerned the only thing they want is to get paid and do not care about what they give in return.”
CHILDREN OF WAR
Other students were critical of AUBiH, and outlined the difficulties students in that part of the world have to overcome just to enroll in classes.
Asmir Hamidovic said he was 7 months old in May 1992 when Serb forces surrounded his native village, Zaklopaca, in eastern Bosnia.
According to a witness account submitted to the United Nations International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, Serb forces killed about 40 percent of the villagers, including Mr. Hamidovic’s father and several other family members.
Mr. Hamidovic’s mother hid with him in a basement when it became clear that the Serb forces weren’t killing just men.
The survivors of Mr. Hamidovic’s family escaped to Srebrenica, a United Nations “safe zone.” But they had to move again as Serb forces began to surround Srebrenica as well. Mr. Hamidovic and his family were on one of the last convoys out of the city to Muslim territory before Serb forces overran the United Nations peacekeeping mission there, killing an estimated 7,000 refugees left behind.
After the war, his family was granted asylum, and he moved with his mother to Jacksonville, Fla., in 2001. A few years later, by the time he was a junior in high school, he sought to reconnect with Bosnia. The American University in Bosnia and Herzegovina seemed to be a good fit, considering his dual language skills and his desire to one day work at an American embassy.
When he went on a prospecting trip to the university, he saw plenty of American professors. But by the time he arrived as a student to study international law and diplomacy, many of the professors had quit.
Neither AUBiH nor SUNY Canton was responsive to his concerns, he said.
“It’s pretty much, ‘Give me your money and get lost,’” Mr. Hamidovic said. “And I didn’t appreciate that.”
When tuition rates were increased in November 2011, Mr. Hamidovic was in more of a bind than most.
“The worst part about it was, I moved from one continent to another hoping this was going to be something extraordinary,” he said. “But it all went down the drain, honestly, man.”
He’s back in Jacksonville now. Recently, he started working toward his SUNY Canton degree online, paying the out-of-state tuition rate. He’s given up on the Bosnian degree and his efforts to get back the money he paid in advance for the year at AUBiH.
Twice a refugee and once a spurned student, he has a special perspective on those concepts.
He sums up his views on conflict with a single aphorism: “Soldiers don’t start wars. Politicians do.”
Another student, Amina Krvavac, also was a child when her family fled to Croatia when the war broke out in 1992. But when the Bosniak-Croat alliance broke down in 1993, the family went back to Bugojno, the Bosnian village they had come from.
Within the first week, the airstrikes started.
“That was probably one of the scariest experiences of my life. I will never forget the sound of the planes and explosions that were following,” said Ms. Krvavac, who by then was 11. “I remember that I felt like entire city was about to crush on our heads.”
For two years, until the war ended, the family went without electricity or running water. Food was scarce. But when the war was over, a semblance of normalcy took hold; nobody in the family had died, and the two years of war seem to have forged a steely resolve in Ms. Krvavac.
She started at AUBiH in fall 2008 after reading some promotional literature. She was impressed that it had American professors.
In the beginning of her second year, she decided to transfer from the Tuzla campus to the Sarajevo campus. She had been asking questions about whether the university was properly registered, and after her transfer, the questions became more pressing. Bosnia’s government is known for its thickets of bureaucracy that are a product of dissipated power among three ethnic groups and powerful state-like entities.
She started asking whether the university could confer degrees that would allow students to practice law in Bosnia, as it promised
Ms. Krvavac started asking questions about day-to-day affairs, too. Why, for example, did the students have to buy books through the university, at a higher price than they could be purchased online? Why were the books affixed with stickers that said, “Not for sale”? Why were AUBiH officials offering students assistance during their SUNY-required English language exams? And why wouldn’t the university show her documents that proved it was properly registered?
She never got answers to her questions, but her situation was resolved all the same one day in March 2010.
She said AUBiH President Denis Prcic entered a classroom and threatened to expel her for raising questions about the university’s registration.
Ms. Krvavac decided to leave the university and transferred to another college in Sarajevo, she said. She said that several students have filed a joint lawsuit against AUBiH and that many of her credits didn’t transfer.
She added that she was recognized as one of the top students at AUBiH, and received an award on high-quality paper with ornate lettering. It read: “Certificate of Exeptional Academic Performance.”
“It made me laugh a lot!” she said of the spelling error.