Tag: Vullnet Ameti

Camera’s eye: Blackwell photo exhibition to tell tale of Tetova

Fadil Sulejmani

Fadil Sulejmani

As Fadil Sulejmani greeted students and faculty of the new University of Tetova, he uttered words likely never spoken before – or since – to mark the inauguration of a school.

“We want pens and notebooks,” Sulejmani told the crowd, “not violence.”

Despite his pleas and his hopes, terrible unrest awaited the trailblazers of ethnic Albanian higher education in Macedonia, even on that day in 1995.

Local police decked out in riot gear tried to force their way into the classrooms. They did not succeed. Members of the local community courageously turned out en masse to form a human blockade.

Yet the government would continue to harass and intimidate Tetova for several years.

Sulejmani himself, a professor of Albanian at the University of Prishtina for 23 years before he helped to found Tetova with other Albanian intellectuals, eventually was arrested and sentenced to 30 months in prison, although he was released after one year.

His only crime? Daring to provide higher education to ethnic Albanians.

To Patrick Roberts, associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, the story of Tetova is too compelling – and too important – to ignore.

tetovo-poster“Ethnic Albanians are a minority, more or less marginalized with limited access to higher education,” says Roberts, who also serves as faculty director of the College of Education’s Blackwell History of Education Museum. “Their story is a very powerful lesson of how higher education should never be taken for granted.”

Fortunately, cameras caught it all.

Nearly 70 reproductions of photographs that depict the university’s tumultuous existence are coming to the Blackwell for a five-month exhibition

Vullnet Ameti, rector of the University of Tetova, will attend the grand opening from 3 to 4 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 14. Brief remarks from NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman and College of Education Dean Laurie Elish-Piper are planned for 3:15 p.m. Ameti is visiting DeKalb to receive an honorary NIU doctorate during the Dec. 16 Graduate School commencement ceremony.

All faculty and staff are encouraged to attend the opening of “The University of Tetova and the Struggle for Educational Equity in the Republic of Macedonia” if their schedules allow.

Museum visitors also can read first-person narratives written by four people who were involved in the founding or the early years of Tetova.

Roberts began thinking last December about bringing the images to DeKalb as he and others from NIU visited Tetova for an international conference at the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a joint venture between the two universities.

“The NIU folks who were there were taken to the University of Tetova’s museum, in the small building where the first classes were held,” he says. “In this small museum were many, many photographs taken over the years that told the story of the university’s founding and its status, in many respects, as an illegal university. It was not recognized by the government.”

Steve Builta, director of Technology Innovation and Learning Services for the College of Education, quickly bought into Roberts’ vision. Builta compares Tetova’s battle for educational rights to the U.S. struggles to desegregate its K-12 schools decades ago.

“It’s very compelling. It’s a fantastic story to tell about a place in the world that not many of our students know much about, and people will be fascinated,” Builta says. “It will be interesting for people to think about the fact that we don’t have to fight for our university education in the way they did.”

Vullnet Ameti

Vullnet Ameti

Rachelle Wilson-Loring, graduate assistant for the Blackwell, the Department of Anthropology and the Pick Museum of Anthropology, has helped to curate and install the Tetova exhibition.

Before beginning the curation process, she knew nothing about the University of Tetova and only a little about Macedonia.

“I remember the war, and the refugees, but I was too young to understand the nuances,” Wilson-Loring says. “This exhibition has really made me examine what was going on, and it’s a familiar story: the fight for education. I believe that education is a human right, and being able to tell this story for them – and to show their fight – is really empowering to me.”

An “anthropologist by nature,” she hopes that visitors to the exhibition adopt an international view of education, considering that what happens globally impact the United States, and then question themselves and others about finding the best paths to progress.

“Education shouldn’t be a stagnant thing, and we have been keeping it that way for too long,” she says. “I hope people understand why the ethnic Albanians were fighting for this – a university, teaching in the Albanian language, teaching Albanian history – and fighting for the survival of their culture.”

Students should take personal inspiration from the photographs, Roberts adds.

Patrick Roberts

Patrick Roberts

“This is a really relatable story, with lessons of how a group of committed students, with the help of their community and their professors, can really fight for this right to a quality life and education,” Roberts says.

“We hope to energize our own students to think of themselves as activists,” he adds, “and the roles they can play to be advocates or leaders in any social movement they feel impassioned about.”

Guided tours for faculty and students are planned for the spring semester, Wilson-Loring says. The exhibition closes May 11.

The Blackwell is located in the Learning Center on the lower level of Gabel Hall. For more information, call (815) 753-1236 or email blackwell@niu.edu.



NIU to give honorary doctorate to Tetovo’s ‘rector of the people’

Vullnet Ameti

Vullnet Ameti

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to Vullnet Ameti, a man who demonstrated his belief in education as a human right by helping to establish the only Albanian university in Macedonia.

The rector of the University of Tetovo will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 16, in the NIU Convocation Center.

Anthony Preston, director of Global Programs in the NIU College of Business, nominated Ameti on behalf of the university’s Division of International Affairs.

“Dr. Vullnet Ameti is one of the most charitable and courageous men I have ever met,” Preston said. “He is truly a man that cares about the people of his nation.”

He has proven his commitment many time over, Preston added.

“In the early ’90s, the government did not recognize Albanians living in Macedonia as equal citizens,” he said. “They were not allowed to vote, or use the same facilities, and were not granted the right to education.”

Change began in 1994.

“Rector Ameti, along with other Albanian intellectuals in Macedonia, led the protests in front of the rifle barrels of the Macedonian gendarmerie,” Preston said. “Until then, Albanians only dreamt about the possibility of earning a secondary degree in their home country.”

For Ameti, those dreams took him from his homeland to Yugoslavia, where he earned his bachelor’s (1985) and master’s (1989) degrees at the University of Pristina, and later to Bosnia and Herzegovina, where he completed his Ph.D. at the University of Tuzla in 2008.

But it was in Macedonia where Ameti would build his legacy.

ameti-vullnetWorking with his fellow ethnic Albanians, Ameti began to recruit teachers to open and staff a university. Students and teachers held classes in churches, mosques, restaurants and even private homes.

“On June 4, 1994, Rector Ameti and his family donated a small piece of farmland for the purpose of starting a university. This was the first, and as of today the only, Albanian university in Macedonia,” Preston said.

Ten years later, the national government finally recognized the University of Tetovo as a state university of higher education.

More than 27,000 students now are enrolled in pursuit of undergraduate and graduate degrees, including the Ph.D. level.

“He has taught thousands of students and continues to be a rector of the people,” Preston said. “He is never afraid to get his hands dirty. I have witnessed him on many occasions lay bricks for new buildings on campus, cut bushes and trees and feed the homeless.”

Acting NIU President Lisa Freeman visited the University of Tetovo in 2015 to dedicate the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, a joint venture with NIU meant to foster better social platforms for younger generations and a better society.

The center hosted its first international conference last December. Around 225 people, including a contingent of five from NIU, attended “The Impact of U.S. Policy in Promoting Democracy, Peace, State-Building, Economic Recovery and the Protection of National, Religious and Civic Values in the Countries of the Region.”

Freeman returned to Macedonia in May of this year to receive an honorary doctorate from the University of Tetovo.

Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman

Vullnet Ameti and NIU Acting President Lisa Freeman

“Rector Ameti always has impressed me with his bravery in the face of resistance and his determination to provide higher education to ethnic Albanians living in Macedonia. What he has done – what he continues to do – is remarkable, inspirational and humbling,” Freeman said. “I always look forward to our visits, as well as our conversations about access to education, and it will be my great privilege to present him with this honorary degree.”

Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, shares in the enthusiasm for Ameti’s NIU recognition.

Roberts helped to plan and lead last December’s international conference on democracy, and is spearheading a mostly photographic exhibition depicting the history of the University of Tetovo.

The exhibit, hosted in the Blackwell History of Education Museum in Gabel Hall, will open in December to coincide with Ameti’s visit to DeKalb.

Logo of the University of Tetovo“Under Professor Dr. Ameti’s leadership, UT has become a world-class institution that continues to be committed to educational access and equity, its founding vision. The story of UT is really a story of community and courage, and we’re excited to tell that story here at the College of Education’s Blackwell Museum,” Roberts said.

“Dr. Ameti has been wonderfully supportive of our efforts to pull the exhibition together, and that’s just one example of the many things he’s done to nurture the partnership between NIU and UT,” he added. “What’s so admirable is that he has established a forward-looking vision for UT’s future that remains firmly committed to the social justice issues that have animated its past. That’s inspiring.”



NIU professors explore peace, policy at Macedonia conference

conf-bond

Graduate School Dean Brad Bond (left)
and State University of Tetovo President Vullnet Ameti.

Still energized by the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication’s first-ever international conference, held in Macedonia, organizers already are gearing up for this fall’s second installment in DeKalb.

NIU and the State University of Tetovo are partners in the center, which was launched to foster “better social platforms for younger generations” and “a better society” in a country torn by nationalistic sentiments that stir hatred and war.

December’s gathering explored of “The Impact of U.S. Policy in Promoting Democracy, Peace, State-Building, Economic Recovery and the Protection of National, Religious and Civic Values in the Countries of the Region.”

Around 225 people, including presenters, professors, students and interested stakeholders of the region, attended.

Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says the conference facilitated “a sharing of ideas” and “stimulated an understanding, and a conversation, about what are some pretty difficult issues.”

It also provided a mirror of sorts for the NIU contingent.

Patrick Roberts

Patrick Roberts

“Being there really opened up for us a better understanding of the complexities of that region,” said Roberts, who served on the conference organizing committee. “Macedonia recently had an election, and they are still sorting through the issues, anxieties and concerns. They were just as anxious and unclear about the outcomes.”

Uncertainty is familiar ground for the University of Tetovo, which provides access to higher education to ethnic Albanians.

Tetovo is the only school in Macedonia where the language of instruction is Albanian rather than Macedonian, Roberts says. Its students, who are Muslim, also must deal with religious, ethnic and language tensions in their homeland.

“For a number of years, the university was not recognized by Macedonia. It was operating illegally. Over time, it grew – and became officially recognized,” he says. “That really speaks to the power of education. A lot of people in the world have had to struggle for access to higher education.”

Roberts delivered a keynote address on “Cultural Heritage Preservation as a Strategy of U.S.-Foreign Relations in the Balkan Region.”

Colleagues on the trip included Teresa Wasonga, presented on “Philanthropy in the U.S. and Education of Indigent in a Developing Country.”

conf-programAndrew Otieno, a professor in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, spoke on “The Role of NGOs in Sustainable Development: A Case Study of Engineers Without Borders Increasing Energy Capacity in a Rural School in Tanzania.”

Laura Heideman, an assistant professor in the NIU Department of Sociology, addressed “Tocqueville in Croatia: USAID and the Promotion of Associational Civil Society.”

Graduate School Dean Brad Bond delivered the conference’s opening remarks.

“It was important for us to meet as collaborators from the two universities to develop a common understanding of the purposes of the center, mutual responsibilities and mutual benefits,” says Wasonga, an associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

“Tetovo as a university has a very unique and difficult history, and its success – that we were only able to comprehend through experience visiting the various historical sites – is inspiring,” she adds. “This put into perspective the significance of this conference and the need for collaboration.”

Roberts left with a call to action.

“For me, the takeaway was that there’s a lot going on here, and that access to higher education is a pivotal point of addressing tensions – political, economic, linguistic, geographical,” he says. “It underlined the need for transcultural communication. In the United States, sometimes we can overlook the complexities of countries overseas.”

He is grateful for the collaboration – and the hospitality that made the NIU delegation comfortable.

conf-1

“Dr. Vullnet Ameti, the rector, was a gracious host. He truly believes in and values his university’s partnership with NIU. He delivered some welcoming remarks, and he presented both me and Brad Bond with a lovely token of appreciation,” Roberts says. “Artina Kamberi, who is the director of the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, did an extraordinary job of organizing the conference.”

Organizers of the October conference at NIU will choose a theme later this spring, he says. They also are exploring the possibility of exhibiting University of Tetovo artifacts at the Blackwell History of Education Museum in Gabel Hall.