The ivory towers of academia


by Kret

Picture from website.

Once upon a time, I translated a text concerning a Wyższa Szkoła Logistyki. I was astounded to be informed by the translation agency that the client was most annoyed about my translation of the institution as ‘Higher School of Logistics’. I was told that in the opinion of the client, I had failed to adequately reflect the tertiary status of the said school and I should have written ‘University of Logistics’.

I replied that first, that only uniwersytet can be correctly translated as university and extending the same logic, wyższa szkoła can only be a higher school. I added that if further justification were required the client should consider that the defining criterion of a university is whether it provides a universal education. As his school, higher or otherwise, only provided education or training in logistics then clearly it could not be described as a university. The agency reported that the client had said the tertiary level needed to be emphasised. I agreed to describe the school as third rate.

Since then so-called universities have proliferated in Poland like mushrooms in a wet autumn. A typical case is that of the University of Wiewiórki Zad, aka the Beacon of Kurpie.

The village (originally known as Wiewiórki) changed owners due to a court upholding a fraudulent claim in the reign Sigismund III. The owner, forced to cede the village, granted it a town charter to diminish the rights of his successor. The very small town remained obscure until the 1950s when it was selected as the location of the Wysza Szkoła Hydrauliki Stosowanej (Sewer Construction and Plumbing Training School). Did the school rest on its laurels? Certainly not! Over the years new subjects were introduced: agro-chemistry, brick-laying, parquet manufacture and canon law.

A few years ago, the instructors were emboldened to claim the ermine gowns that they had seen elsewhere. The University of Wiewiórki Zad was proudly presented to the nation and the world, but do not try to find it on the WWW because the town is only due to be connected to the Internet in 2012.

Before readers become discouraged, I feel inclined to add that the universities of Kraków, Warsaw, Poznań, Wrocław and Toruń are certainly universities with international reputations. Perhaps a few others might also be added, yet one is dismayed when one comes across an Uniwersytet Ekonomiczny. Unhappily this solecism is displayed in several Polish cities. What are they economising on? If nothing else certainly on their knowledge of Polish. They are indeed very economic universities!


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