G. Česnakas: I think PMDF is becoming a brand

DSC_4289Vice dean Giedrius Česnakas went through all the stages of higher education at the Faculty of Political Science and Diplomacy from BA studies to PhD. He joined VMU in 2003, and since then a lot of improvements took place at the faculty.

Why did you choose politics in the first place?

I was really interested in history. Maybe I was a bit naïve, which is natural for young age, but I decided, if I want to do some positive changes then I have to focus on the field which is interesting for me and get to know its strengths and weaknesses, how everything works in order to make positive impact on society. I joined because of my idealistic assumptions.

What was your favorite subject as a student? 

Geopolitics and international relations.

What has changed at the faculty since you were a student?

At that time we had only one department, and now we have five of them, so the faculty has grown rapidly. Back then all the students studied only Political Science and Public Administration and after two years they could choose between those fields. In contrast, nowadays students can apply for a number of undergraduate programmes in Lithuanian or English, as well as separate programmes of Public Administration or Public Communication, so the number of programmes is growing. Now we have more lecturers. Some of them, just like me, graduated from PMDF, and after expanding their knowledge abroad, returned to teach here.  There are also professors from other universities, for example, from Vilnius we have such great professors as Mindaugas Jurkynas and Egdūnas Račius. We have also lecturers from other countries. At that time we didn’t have such opportunities. The quality of education has increased significantly, the possibilities are getting better, and the students are given more attention.

PMDF is relatively young, but at the same time it’s the biggest faculty at VMU. What is the major factor for such a dramatic increase? 

I think the main factor was a huge interest of students in Political Science and Public Administration, especially during the period 2000-2010, but it still remains. More than that, some new programmes were introduced, like Public Communication, which in the first years attracted enormous amount of students. 200 students applying for Public Communication was a staggering number, we didn’t expect that. Another reason was introduction of new programmes in English, which allowed us to accept students from abroad for full-time studies. In fact, we have the biggest number of students studying at VMU from abroad, comparing to other faculties. The names of well-known professors, who came to teach here, also attracted students to join the faculty.

In most of universities usually Media studies belong to Social Science faculty. Why does Journalism and Media Analysis programme belong to PMDF? 

Our faculty pays much attention to interdisciplinary studies. We think that students should be able to get basic knowledge in their field, as well as expand their knowledge in other fields. Maybe this contradicts with traditions at other universities, however, we don’t see this as a weakness, but as a strength, because we have more diverse community within the faculty. When academic staff gathers, we have broader, more interesting discussions and we are able to provide new ideas and insights. I assume that it would not occur if we followed the traditional path. Next year we will launch BA programme in Philosophy and Political Critique. I assume that in contemporary world to join Philosophy and Political Science is an interesting approach. We try to suggest something new. Moreover, we try to approach new things not only in our programmes, but as well in communication with our students. We are not really hierarchical institution, so this liberal approach, when we discuss topics as equals, I think, is beneficial for both students’ education and professors’ understanding of what is interesting for the young scholars.

What other novelties can we expect in the nearest future?   

We are trying to introduce new programmes in Vilnius, such as the programme for diplomats, where you can focus more on the diplomatic side of the international relations. I see vast field where we can focus on increasing quality, attracting international professors, increasing diversity of teachers. I think in the future we won’t focus on the introduction of new programmes, but maybe changing them and trying to increase their quality, satisfaction of students and maybe suggest something unexpected.

What is needed to prepare specialists, who are competitive at the labor market?

Personally, I am a bit skeptical about the idea that our faculty should prepare student for particular jobs or companies. We aren’t faculty of informatics or, let’s say, applied sciences. In those fields they can prepare student to work in particular place. In my perspective, we should do our best in using the advantage of Liberal Arts approach to give students the perspective not only in Politics or Communication or Public Administration, but also in culture, history, arts. We should focus more on creating personalities, giving possibilities, encouraging them to do more outside university, to be active citizens and participate in politics, civic society or business sector. This is a key to success in our field, in my perception.

Can you say that PMDF became an attractive brand for the employers?

I think it is becoming a brand. It takes time. We are quite young, we don’t have a lot of successful stories, but we have them. Our graduates now are quite successful politicians, some of them were advisors to the prime minister, some work in different ministries and municipalities. The number of students is active in private sector. Some work at NATO, in EU institutions and think tanks, media and public communication organizations, so I think, we are on the good path.

Do events like conflict between Ukraine and Russia, refugee crisis affect study programmes in the field of politics?

I like to work in this field, because each time when you go to the lecture, you have to take time to prepare for it. It isn’t like in Math or Physics, when you know general rules and they don’t significantly change with the time. However, when you teach foreign policy or international relations, each time you have to read, to update your information, to add or exclude something. It takes a lot of time actually, compared to some other fields, but, I think, we need to be dynamic to provide the newest insights, to explain the world, because we don’t have any general laws about how politics or international relations work. We have ideas, assumptions how they work, and they are tested every day, and we must be able to catch up to the latest news. That’s why every evening after work I watch and read about what happened in the world.

What sources do you trust?

Personally I watch CNN, BBC, Lithuanian news network. After that I just find some middle ground, let’s say, because I perfectly understand that media cannot be neutral. I also read different publications by think tanks, which provide information from reflective perspectives. I compare information from different kind of sources with different ideologies and then I can construct my own thinking, and suggest it to students.

If you had a possibility to invite any professionals/opinion leaders to hold a lecture at PMDF, who would they be?

I would like to invite Christiane Amanpour from CNN, Zbigniew Brzezinski or Henry Kissinger. It would be interesting to invite Angela Merkel, because she shows strength to make decisions, she is not afraid not to succeed. I’d like also to have discussion with Bill Clinton, Stephen Walt, John McCain.

Interview was taken by Anton Chernetskyi (student of the Faculty of Political science and Diplomacy).