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A new university to train the conservative elites of Central and Eastern Europe

Reading Time: 7 minutes

An exclusive interview with Tymoteusz Zych, rector (chancellor) of the new private university Collegium Intermarium.

Inaugurated at the end of May, Collegium Intermarium has a first success to its credit: several left-wing media have violently attacked it, giving it a degree of attention that is already a form of recognition. As stated on the university’s website, “Collegium Intermarium was established as an answer to the crisis of academic life. At a time when the sense of order, purpose, and meaning is fading away, our university has a fixed point of reference – unchanging ideas of Truth, Good, and Beauty.

Dr. Tymoteusz Zych is also an attorney in law, a university lecturer, vice-president of the Ordo Iuris Institute for Legal Culture, and vice-president of the Confederation of Non-Governmental Initiatives of the Republic of Poland.

Olivier Bault interviewed him on June 9.

Olivier Bault: What is this Collegium Intermarium, whose inaugural conference took place on May 28? Why the name?

Tymoteusz Zych: It is a new university intended to bring together the elites of Central Europe, the region of the “inter-sea”, Intermarium in Latin, that is, the area between the Baltic Sea, the Adriatic Sea and the Black Sea. This university must be a space of free debate, a space of serious academic work for all those who feel close to the world of classical values.

Today, unfortunately, these people are increasingly being pushed out of universities in Western Europe or the United States, and the phenomenon of ideological censorship, “cancel culture”, is growing.

Collegium Intermarium returns to the classical and original idea of the university, rooted in the Middle Ages, which is based on transcendentals, on the beautiful, the good, and the truth, and on what is constant. Our project presupposes the possibility of a free and open debate on how to pursue these transcendentals, that is, on how to search for the truth.

At the same time, we are building a university that responds to the crisis in the quality of higher education in our part of the world. We want to return to the direct relationship between teacher and student. We want this university to be based on a tutorial system, i.e. direct cooperation between the teacher and the student. This approach is absolutely central to us. Our university will have a high standard of education, and it will teach rhetoric and eristic in a classical manner.

Today, Collegium Intermarium is already one of the most internationalized universities in Central Europe. We have invited people from our region, but also from Western Europe and other continents, to join us. We want our university to be a place for international conferences on the key issues of civilization. We are also planning summer courses with leading thinkers from around the world.

Olivier Bault: Will it be a traditional university with face-to-face classes and lectures?

Tymoteusz Zych: Undergraduate and graduate courses will be taught primarily in person. This form of teaching is the best, as everyone can see in the times of Covid, and we see how it is lacking. We miss face-to-face meetings.

For obvious practical reasons, postgraduate courses, including international courses, will be delivered partially in a distance learning format. The face-to-face part will take place in Warsaw, as it is a city with good international connections. As far as air links are concerned, I think it is an ideal place for this type of studies. On-site courses also have one essential advantage. They allow you to create a network of contacts and acquaintances that goes beyond the borders of your country. Such networking is not possible with distance learning courses. And a major objective of our university would not be met.

That is why we try to make sure that even in the international courses – we have three of them in addition to the national and postgraduate courses – at least part of the course is face-to-face, so that people can get to know each other. As for our three courses for international students, first of all we have the Master of Laws (LLM) course on human rights.

It is probably the first course of its kind in Central Europe that refers to the classical concept of human rights, and not to the strange social engineering that is being implemented today,

which is wrapped up in the false language of human rights. Our language on human rights must be a language that goes back to the source, to what is in the binding agreements, to what is in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and not necessarily focus on what is incidental and what is ideological. I am talking about the so-called human rights that are being created today by certain international bodies.

Our LLM program is also aimed at civil servants, diplomats and legal practitioners, as our basic and fundamental objective is to prepare informed people with practical skills. Those postgraduate studies can usually be undertaken by anyone who has already completed other studies, including at undergraduate level, particularly lawyers, but also people with other backgrounds.

The most prominent contemporary thinkers in the field of human rights, such as Grégor Puppinck, Princess Ingrid Detter de Frankopan, András Lanczi, and Andreas Kinneging, will give lectures as part of the course. They are exceptional people who have an important world-class scientific background. We have a lot to boast of in this regard. Kinneging is one of the most prominent Dutch conservative thinkers; Chantal Delsol, who collaborates on our curriculum, is probably the most prominent French thinker on the conservative side. Princess de Frankopan, in the context of the law of nations and international law, is also an absolutely exceptional figure.

But this is not our only program. This one starts in October, but recruitment for two other international courses will start soon.

There will be a non-governmental organization management course for anyone who wants to study that subject and plans to run international organizations themselves, not just depend on big foreign grants like those funded by George Soros or other rich financiers.

It is about creating a certain culture of fundraising and a culture of managing these organizations. That course will be conducted in English.

And there will also be a classical education curriculum for teachers, politicians, etc. Classical rhetoric and oratory skills will be taught. It will also be an English language curriculum for civil society leaders. We are also planning, at a later stage, to set up a unique Europe-wide course for people involved in the home education of children.

There are also the summer school programs that start next year. Recruitment will be announced this fall for a summer school, the first of its kind, with leading thinkers. We expect it to be a subsidized course for students from all over the world, including European students, in order to form a network and make them ambassadors of the Intermarium in other parts of the world.

In addition, Collegium Intermarium will be a place where research programs will be carried out that concern, for example, European integration, including the economic rationality and legality of ongoing integration processes.

These are questions that no one is seriously exploring at the moment, and they are very problematic at their core. There will also be research on family and demography. All this with the participation of eminent scientists from different countries.

Olivier Bault: What are the reasons behind the attacks from certain left-wing circles, according to you? I myself have read long articles in the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza trying to discredit this Collegium Intermarium which is being established. Among other things, it is accused of having been founded by the Ordo Iuris Institute, which is “ultra-conservative” in their eyes, since it brings together lawyers with pro-family and pro-life opinions. How do you explain such aggressiveness when your university has not even yet started classes?

Tymoteusz Zych: Those attacks are due to the fact that our university is creating a crack in the system, in a positive sense. We want to address the problem of censorship in public debate. Our university will be a free forum for genuine debate and exchange of ideas between leading academics from across Europe. This may be seen as a threat by those who would censor this debate.

If the censorship cracks in one place, if more serious research can be done, then cracks will naturally appear in other places as well.

It will then no longer be possible to effectively defend the current system. It seems to me that it is difficult to overestimate the importance of a university, not only as a particular institution, but also as a place of inspiration and influence. The criticism of us is hysterical and does not address the substance. In fact, no reasonable, measured accusations or objections have been made against our university or any of its faculty. In any case, I have not encountered any such objection or accusation to date.

Olivier Bault: How is Collegium Intermarium financed? Will students have to pay fees? Will you live on public subsidies, or will it be mainly financed by the Ordo Iuris Institute? Where do you expect to find the money?

Tymoteusz Zych: The funding of Collegium Intermarium is varied. It was a private endowment that provided the seed money for this new university. Our donor is Paweł Witaszek, who participated in our founding conference, but he is not the owner of Collegium Intermarium. The Collegium is owned by a foundation with a public purpose, of which I am the president. We are already being approached by new donors wishing to fund scholarships for top students. These are scholarships from the Polish American community, scholarships from the Polish-American Foundation for Education and Economic Development. There are also Polish donors who want to give their names to scholarships. We are talking about a certain organizational culture that mimics the structures of American universities, which are also supported by private donors and thus finance the studies of the best students while allowing other students to pursue fee-paying studies.

The foundation that runs the university has also received a support grant, precisely for the development of fundraising, from the National Institute of Freedom, the Narodowy Instytut Wolności, which is a public institution. As a higher education institution, Collegium Intermarium is open to public funding, unlike the Ordo Iuris Institute, which bases all its activities exclusively on private funding.

What we do not want is for public funds to be our main source of revenue. It is important to us that the core capital of our university comes from private donors, in order to make it independent of political developments.

Olivier Bault: With regard to the current political situation, can we say that the foundation of Collegium Intermarium is in line with the announcements of the Minister of Education, Przemysław Czarnek, regarding his desire to carry out a counter-revolution in education? Do you think that Poland wants to encourage other countries in the region to join such a counter-revolution in education and that, in the current political configuration, Collegium Intermarium could become a tool for this strategy?

Tymoteusz Zych: In terms of its spirit, Collegium Intermarium corresponds to the thinking of Professor Czarnek. In fact, he himself supported our project from the very beginning, and one could even say that he participated in its creation. He was one of the original teachers planned for our university – before he became minister – when we applied for registration with the previous minister. Of course, we agree with these statements and Minister Czarnek is close to our project. He is a person who correctly and accurately identifies the problems of higher education. We hope that many actions will follow. We are already seeing the development of very concrete projects that will implement his announcements.

However, I want to emphasize that our initiative is non-governmental. This is not a party initiative, it is not an initiative limited to one political group, quite the contrary. From the outset, we want our initiative to be open to different horizons. And you can see from our inaugural conference that we are opening ourselves up to all those circles that are in some way rooted in the traditional world of values, in the traditional understanding of the university, in the traditional understanding of public debate.