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￭ Epistle of a millennial
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2014-02-26 | |
„If you want to have food for one year,
If you want to have food for several years,
If you want to always have food
Send your children to school”
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
If a hierarchy of the countries in the world were to be made up, depending on the population’s welfare, one could notice that the rank is related to the number of university education graduates per one thousand inhabitants. A learned man can work better, is capable of enduring more, knows how to better educate his children and how to better respect his peers.
In the developed countries - especially those having a traditional private university education – there is a custom and an honour, at the same time, for the graduates from certain universities to contribute further to their countries’ development, by providing financial support, so that their descendants might benefit from the countries’ support, under much better conditions. The more the standard of the university they graduated from stays the same or rises, the greater the chances for the graduates’ children to attend the same university become. Thus, in the great universities, there were long “series of families” where - throughout generations - children attended the same university like their parents, to the benefit of the both parties. I directly participated in putting that idea into practice in an American university. They were opening the works of a new building, where they were to extend the computer technology department – which was permanently developing - in accordance with the ever-increasing demand of specialists in the field. That was a real celebration! Very many people, students, professors, parents, graduates, representatives of the interested companies and officials and press representatives gathered for the festive event that was taking place; the rector read a list of all sponsors, beginning with the companies, which had contributed by huge amounts of money, up to the personal contributions. At the end of the festivity, the state governor, who had been attending all the ceremony, read the message of the President Ronald Reagan, written especially for that occasion. In the evening, a great party followed, to better mark the moment.
No wonder that this kind of approach finally leads to such an extent of influence on the society, that the graduates from such universities can easily find a job, or they even follow some predestined ways, which are not accessible for all graduates.
In our country, the number of graduates from universities who have professional activities in agreement to their training is low; the number of students attending university at present, is low, as well. It is easy to understand, since education is supported by a very limited budget. What one cannot understand is why - during a time when more and more frequently, the young agree with the idea: “What’s the use of studying, when you may earn more money with no university education?” - a real crusade against the private university education has started. I suppose we are living a historic era when, no matter where the money comes from for the education support, if somebody wants to study and, in addition, they pay in convertible currency, they must be allowed to do that, as this way their contribution to the development of society will surely increase! Lenin is not popular anymore, but I think we could paraphrase our statesman, Mihail Kogălniceanu: “Learn anything, my brothers, just learn!”
During the last decades, a policy to encourage the technical university education has been applied in Romania, in accordance with the political objectives which the leaders of the country aimed at, in a dictatorial manner, during those times. That encouragement was directly put into practice, first of all through the number of students enrolled by the technical faculties, to the detriment of the other disciplines. That action was to adversely influence the Romanian intellectual class structure, generally, and the social functionality, particularly. Since 1989, the Romanian society has functioned according to the demand and offer rules, a great shortage of economists, jurists, translators and others has been met - even if not everybody agrees to this idea.
For a good while, the great majority of the leading students in high schools went to the polytechnic institutes - both due to the fact that, as for the number, they provided the greatest offer, but also because they offered the possibility that, after graduation, engineers could carry out their activities in a town, considering that almost all the new extensively built industrial objectives were in towns. Those people are now grown-ups, and able to work, but they fight with the every day problems caused by a stationary economy which cannot employ the high number of engineers produced by the previous regime. We might say that, in Romania, due to that bad orientation of the university-educated manpower, it is that part of the population - who were the best high school graduates twenty-five - thirty years ago - who are not participating in the society management nowadays. Knowing very well the Romanian reality before and after 1989, a French teacher noticed that in the communist Romania, the best high school girl graduates and the weakest boy graduates chose economic professions. The correlation of that phenomenon with the fact that our country was managed by men-economists, only, and the absence of women from almost all the management institutions, after December, 1989, made the French teacher draw the conclusion that after 1989, Romania was led by the weakest representatives of the people who graduated high school during the times when Ceauşescu was leading the country. That is how he explained the absence of economic performance in Romania during the respective period.
Very many engineers found other jobs, in fields which were completely different from those they had been educated for. In Romania there are many teachers, retailers, journalists who studied engineering. In a conversation I had with Mr. Mircea Dinescu, the poet and manager of the humorous magazine – “Academia Caţavencu”, he said that many of the humorists with whom he co-operated in editing the magazine had studied engineering, as well as most of the members of the humorous group Divertis, a satire group that has been very popular since 1989. In his autobiography, “Fish in the Water”, Mario Vargas Llosa - one of the greatest Spanish language writers - notices a similar situation in Peru. Having being politically involved for some years, when he ran for president and failed, he said that, in his attempt to turn Peru into a modern country, he had been extremely impressed by the participation of the engineers in that action, whom he had met and understood too little before.
Anyway, from now on, in the university education as well, the same demand and offer law will have to govern, for the approximate correlation of the number of graduates with the society needs in each field, considering, however, the ever-growing number of graduates who leave the country for ever.
In an open world - like the one I dare to hope Romania is heading to now – the brain polarization seems imminent, consisting of the flow of a good part of specialists - educated with great financial efforts by the less developed countries - towards the highly industrialized countries. We don’t necessarily have to look at that phenomenon from the perspective of that negative aspect, only. Most of the times, that is the only way the less developed countries can – through their representatives - access different fields, to the top world level. During an interview on television, Professor George-Emil Palade - the first specialist of Romanian origin to receive a Nobel prize – has recently said that in order to get remarkable results in the present scientific research – and not only, I would dare to add – it is absolutely necessary to always approach the great problems the world is facing today and to aim at the highest position available. In other words, considering the permanent difference between desire and reality, we might say that, for achieving ordinary goals we must aim at extraordinary goals, for achieving extraordinary goals we must aim at great goals and for achieving great goals, God must aim at us and choose us for doing it.
How could an emerging country have money to invest in research, to solve the most important problems of the present, when her own resources are not enough for supporting a normal process of the health and education activities, at least?! There is just one solution, and that is opening ourselves to the outside, participating in the international interchange of values and information, which should protect us from the risk of supporting some expenses “for the re-invention of the wheel”! To stay in the cellular philosophy area – whose outstanding representative was Professor Palade - we are to take it as reference, and to remember that it is the permeability of the cell walls and membranes that has a great role in the functionality of the living organism, even though they are entities having mainly a separation role.
If, during the primary, secondary and high school, the meeting of exceptional teachers happens, most of the time, due to the chance - especially in villages or in little towns, where students cannot choose - in the university education, professors are, or should be, one of the arguments able to convince the future students, when it comes to choosing their professional career, which choice is extremely important, as most of the time it decides their way for the rest of their lives.
For Alexandru, there were several steps in choosing the faculty he was to attend. He was not very concerned about the difficulty of the admission exam, as he could appreciate very well his value as a student in high school, though we couldn’t say that he was not nervous at all, when thinking about it. His great concern was whether his condition would allow him to attend university, considering that his health worsened again, just before the admission exam.
He had already made his first choice between sciences and medicine, to which choice had contributed the fact that for medicine he had to take an undesirable Chemistry exam. Now, he was to decide whether he should become a teacher or an engineer. The thought of being a teacher and coming back home some day, forced by circumstances, made him give up the idea. But apart from that, he felt more attracted by the applied than the theoretic side of engineering. Of all the engineering professions, he felt more attracted by the electric one as, in his mind he considered it a field of the future, where there was still much to say, but also because he thought it was more suitable for his physical ability, for the activity he was to carry out after graduation. Of the electric faculties he chose the electrotechnical one, as it was the most modern of the classical and the most classical of the modern sciences. Also, he was influenced by his brother, Ionel, both directly - as the latter was being a student of that faculty - and indirectly - as from his brother, Alexandru found out about the scientific papers and position of some famous professors like Remus Răduleţ, Gheorghe Hortopan, Constantin Mocanu - whose fame had fascinated him and who were giving lectures at that faculty, at the time.
Later, while speaking within a close circle of friends – who knew Alexandru very well and could not accuse him of not being modest – he would say that it was the destiny that decided to give him all the titles that he had had in his mind since he was a child, of which he would have had to choose – and those titles were professor and doctor and engineer, as well.
He left the sanatorium to take the admission exam, and called on home, as he needed a lot of documents which were to be issued by the village mayor’s office for registration, among other things. When leaving home, his mother wished him “come back as late as possible”. That was her wish for such cases. The exam consisted both of a written and an oral test, and the first was eliminatory. The great majority of the children in the village who went to take such exams came back soon, after the written test, which meant that they had failed. The later they came back, the better, and his mother’s apparently unusual wish was actually a good luck wish. As a matter of fact, his mother had a thinking that was according to the proverb “no news is good news”, which had been helping her during all her miserable life, as she had been carrying her children with her, from her house to her mother’s house and back, enduring the permanent scandal incessantly generated by her husband at home.
When he registered for the admission exam, it didn’t take too long to the medical commission to notice Alexandru’s problem, as he used some crutches while walking, and that commission had to issue an approval for each candidate to be allowed to take the exam. He was sent to the University Hospital, to doctor Bocăneţ – a nice old man, who gave Alexandru approval based on his word of honour that later, he wouldn’t bother the doctor, to repeatedly get sick leaves. Alexandru did not understand the doctor’s meaning, but there was something that the doctor knew. Doctor Bocăneţ was known to be the father of the famous television man - Alexandru Bocăneţ - who was to die later, during the earthquake of 1977.
As expected, Alexandru passed the exam without incidents, and then he went back to Mangalia for the treatment, hoping that he would be in good condition at the beginning of the lectures, in autumn. Doctor Zia encouraged him not to worry, saying that he was going to treat Alexandru in summers, so that the treatment given should work for all the year. Joking, he said that Alexandru’s bone disease was a childhood disease and he had not gotten rid of it because he was still a child!
The first day of the academic year came! All his future colleagues gathered in the courtyard of the old building of the Polytechnic Institute, near the North Station. Before coming in the amphitheatre, they were talking, trying to get to know one another, as soon as possible. Alexandru was the only one who, when asked the most frequent question: “Where did you attend high school?”, had to give an answer containing two names, Mangalia and Găieşti; and he was, at the same time, very surprised to find out that some of his future colleagues, coming from Bucharest, hadn’t heard of Găieşti, yet, though only a seventy kilometre distance was between the little town and the capital city! That happened before Romania started manufacturing fridges, which was to happen in Găieşti, later on. Today, perhaps that ignorance would be interpreted as another sign that we have already started entering Europe, where estrangement from those living beside us is such a pronounced phenomenon that neighbours or professors teaching at the same faculty do not know each another! But at that time, Romania was more concerned about getting out of Europe than entering it!
The first lecture was given by Professor Matei Roşculeţ, with whom Alexandru’s class was to have the seminar, too. A very hard task for that class! The professor had the air of a senior, a well-read man, who had had a good life and came from a wealthy family that had had the privilege of being proprietors before World War Two, when the Romanian economy had flourished. We could see that he enjoyed the activity he was carrying out and the life he was living. He had written a lot of books which students all over the country were studying, so those who had the great pleasure to be given lectures by him were simply favoured and obliged, at the same time. He was austere, but joking. He used to find a joke in all situations.
Alexandru’s generation was the so-called “MOV generation”, deriving from the initials of the words “muieri-ologi-veterani” – the Romanian for women, disabled, and veterans. It was the first generation who “benefited” from a reform of the Romanian education of that time – it seems that it is forever undergoing a reform – which had as consequence the fact that boys served their army term before starting the studies and the girls’ serving was introduced, as well. The girls served in parallel with their university lectures, once per week, for the first three years. As a result, during the first university year, most of the students were girls – which was something unique in the Polytechnic Institute tradition, for that faculty, as the only boys students were those who had sick notes and therefore, were not able to serve the army, or the older ones, who had served before.
Many of the jokes made by the professor referred to that situation. From the very beginning, he insisted on showing satisfaction about the boys’ serving before studies, saying that army strengthens character, “the good become better, and the stupid become completely stupid”, which made things clear much sooner. During a seminar, he asked a girl having a slow nature – who had been given the nickname of Colombina by her colleagues – to come to the blackboard.
– Come quickly, you had breakfast in the morning, didn’t you? Are you, the girls, serving now?
– Yes, Sir.
– And what is your rank?
– Well, we haven’t been given any ranks yet, as we have just started. It is at the end of the year that we are to be given ranks.
– And which are the ranks you are to be given at the end of the year?
– Well, we are to be given a rank per year, gradually.
– In that case, you have all chances to become a general until you graduate from university, if you keep studying like this!
Afterwards, the excitement passed and things followed the usual way, as the professor made available a printed lecture, as well as a series of collections of problems. When the students found something that they could not understand from the beginning - like all the hardworking students - they looked into his books and everything was clear, finally. All the students are hardworking, during the first semester of the first university year!
Unfortunately, Alexandru did not have the chance to enjoy that pleasant feeling of full-right student, as after three weeks from the beginning of the university year, his foot began to hurt. So aggressive was the pain that he could hardly walk; and he had the same symptoms which he had experienced when he had had to be operated with no anaesthesia, on New Year’s Day. He had to immediately go back to Mangalia, but for doing that, he needed a physician’s referral from the University Hospital. That was the rule. He was somehow reserved about going to that hospital, due to the promise he had made to doctor Bocăneţ, but it couldn’t be helped! He wasn’t even familiar with the place! He entered the building, knocked on more doors on the ground floor, with the intention of finding somebody to provide him with some information. Somebody advised him to go to the first floor. There, he could hear a strange noise for a hospital. He opened a door and some vociferation and a thick layer of cigarette smoke rushed from the inside into the hall, as if he had been into a pub. Later he was to understand what was going on: inside, there were the “patients” who “had to” be put in hospital for a while, for proving that they were ill, so that they could repeat the university year for medical reasons, which entitled them to unlimitedly repeat the university year, and benefit from the scholarship, at the same time. Much later, he reached an office, where a woman doctor promised him that she would issue the physician’s referral, but advised him to wait, as she had a job to do at the moment. He noticed that the job the doctor had to do was polishing nails. That was one of the very few moments in his life when he lost his temper. He shouted so loud, that the doctor got purely scared, found the necessary forms at once, wrote the physician’s referral by herself – as if she hadn’t had a nurse to do it – went for getting it stamped, so everything was done within minutes. While leaving, he passed by the door of the “pub-ward” again, where the smoke coming out of the smokers’ mouths exceeded that coming out of the ward, rolling through the wide open door.
He went straight to the station, carrying a few things he had taken with him in the morning, when he had left the student hostel, and the necessary books for the winter session exams, which were Analytics and Mechanics.
He was disappointed. His relationship with Vera was over. In spite of it, something inside him made him survive. That something could arrange his life episodes, like the bricks in a wall, giving him the necessary energy to move on and, at the same time, showing him how to find the next bricks for finishing the building. He was nothing but a teenager who had spent all his childhood among strangers, on his own, congratulating himself for his success and blaming himself for his failures, but had acquired much strength in the approach of the fight with life. For him, life was not a crap, which had to be abandoned when he threw dice in a losing combination. Life had to go on, pushed by his frail forces, only, by his bare hands and diseased feet, having a dry soul, as if he had accomplished a religious ritual, whose end he hadn’t reached yet.
His mother got desperate when she found out from Nina and Ionel that he had left for Mangalia again.
As he arrived at the sanatorium, he was operated in an emergency regime by the doctor on duty, this time benefiting from all the necessary things, so that he did not have to be operated with no anaesthesia. While he was staying there, he was intensively using the available time, studying for the two exams he was to take during the first exam session which - first of all - he hoped to arrive at. He did it, coming back to Bucharest just a week before the exam session.
The first exam he took was the Mechanics, where professor Voiculescu didn’t care very much about Alexandru’s long absence, as the assistant professor had previously explained the situation to him. He took a nine in writing and the oral test was not necessary anymore. For the Analytics - on the contrary - professor Roşculeţ had a completely different attitude. So, after the written test - where Alexandru had got a nine - when normally he shouldn’t have taken the oral test anymore, except in case he wanted to get a better mark, the professor forced him to take it, accusing him of having cheated during the written test. During the oral test, the professor tested all Alexandru’s knowledge, giving him several sets of subjects, but finally the student got the same nine, which placed him on the third position in class during a semester when he, actually, had attended the lectures for less than a month. The extra effort that Alexandru had been subjected to by professor Roşculeţ was the tribute paid to his credibility, as the professor created and strengthened a position which the student hadn’t had the necessary time to build.
The incident had an effect that was similar to that when he was able to catch up with the seventh class, within just a month and a half. He had become one of the “important” students of that year and stayed like that until he graduated.
For the next summer session exam, professor Roşculeţ didn’t even have a look at his paper, and he got a ten. He had worked enough for that credit. But, again, during the next semester, he had to go again through his medical troubles. That time, it was even worse since, if he had missed other classes beside those he had missed during the first semester, he would have risked - according to the legal regulations - repeating the university year, for medical reasons, which would have led to the cancellation of all the efforts he had made so far. It was absolutely necessary for him to find a solution to be given the treatment in Bucharest. He went to the University Hospital again since wherever he may have gone, he still needed a physician’s referral from the hospital. The same doctor, who had understood his attitude when they had met the previous time and had forgiven him, in her heart, directed him to the Foişorul de Foc Hospital where – he was to discover, later – he was lucky, for the first time in his life. It happened that on the day he reached that hospital, a woman doctor, Cleopatra Drăgulinescu, was on duty. Seeing her, he was not really satisfied in his heart, as he didn’t quite trust women’s professional capacity.
Without saying too many words, the doctor gave him a short examination and made an X-ray, and finally told him that his case was not so serious but what was serious was the fact that he had missed so many years of his life in hospitals, and he had been given the wrong treatment. He would have expected anything but that, although he was not quite sure of the truth of the doctor’s words. He needed to see the facts! On his request that she should try to find an ambulatory treatment solution for him, so that he would not have to miss the lectures, she found a compromise, prescribing for him a treatment to keep him in good condition until the following summer after which, he was to go to hospital to get operated.
He was given the treatment, finished the university year with good results and made his appearance at the hospital, according to the understanding with Doctor Cleopatra Drăgulinescu. The problem was that the hospital manager himself was on duty; after he had been explained the case, he asked Alexandru whether he was in pain at that very moment, as one of the basic principles of medicine is that you should not be given any treatment, unless there is a pain. He was recommended to take a helio-marine cure, at most, for which a few weeks spent in Mangalia hospital was, in the doctor’s opinion, what Alexandru needed. To have an argument about it seemed useless, as Alexandru could not have changed the hospital rules, especially since he was talking to the manager.
He left for Mangalia feeling that he broke up with the disease, forever. After three weeks spent on the beach, he went home where, right before the start of the new academic year, he was in pain again and was forced to go back to hospital where, this time, he did what he should have done in summer namely he went to hospital on a day when doctor Drăgulinescu was on duty. After blaming him for the situation, she found a spare bed in one of the wards she was responsible for, and checked him in.
For five weeks he had to bear the most painful but also efficient treatment which he had been given during the almost eight years he had spent in hospital. It was only in the two wards that doctor Drăgulinescu was responsible for that they applied that kind of treatment - and the treatment was called intra-osseous infiltrations and consisted in hammering some heavy hollow pins into the bones, until they reached the infected bone zone. Then, for several days, he was injected a medicine by means of some ordinary needles, which were introduced through those pins, until it was certain that the infection had been eliminated from that zone. Then, the pin was hammered in a different zone, until all the infection was eliminated. They usually applied the treatment until they had removed the infection from the deep zones of the bones, then they operated the surface zones. Fortunately, for Alexandru, that new kind of treatment had such good results, that a surgery wasn’t needed anymore. The pains were awful, since he had his bones drilled without anaesthesia. He trusted that treatment. He had the feeling that what was happening was something new. He trusted the way doctor Drăgulinescu’s team were doing their job, and when she had to be absent from hospital for a week – as she suffered from a kidney disease – she gave them full instructions on the phone, and they worked as if she had been there with them. Then she kept wondering why the other doctors did not apply the same treatment to their patients who had been in hospital for years, as they were giving the same treatment as the one he had received at Mangalia, for years. The doctors may have been afraid of the method!
After five weeks he left the hospital, and he was never to come back for hospitalization, but only for a check, after which he sent to memories both that hospital and all the previous ones.
After such a long time spent in hospitals, he had learnt very well the unwritten rules regarding the gratitude the patients had to show to the doctors. But, doctor Drăgulinescu accepted nothing but a bunch of flowers, which he gave her on the occasion of the last check and, when she asked his permission for her to publish the results she had got while applying that treatment on him, she made it in such a tone as if she had been the one that owed him gratitude!
That was a lesson the destiny gave him, meaning that beside the ways we have beaten out, we should always try others, too. That was a lesson that doctor Drăgulinescu gave all the doctors Alexandru had met during that hard time! And last but not least, that was a lesson she gave to Alexandru, who learnt how to appreciate the huge creating force of the weaker gender representatives - very useful lesson for him, as a future leader who had to know, in that quality, how to use all the available resources which, anyway, are never enough.
Yet, he had a bitter feeling following that hospital stay when not even one of his university colleagues had visited him.
A long and hard period of his life had come to an end; it was a period that could not have passed without leaving its marks on him. However hard his family and his close friends tried to make him look at this period with different eyes, once it was gone, they never made it. It was a period that had lifted him on a sort of pedestal, from where he would forever see the world with different eyes, a pedestal of sadness of a man who had hardly ever been a child...
In the meantime, the exam session was to come again, and that time he had three exams to take. He was not concerned about passing them, but about defending the prestigious position he had got the year before, which seemed much more difficult to do. Now, they knew him and had expectations from him. He took two marks of nine and one of ten, and he took two exams with Professor Dorel Homentcovschi, a future manager of the Mathematics Institute of the Romanian Academy, and he later became a good friend and collaborator of the professor.
He was in the second university year; an important but unhappy period of his life had ended – that was his disease - and another important period started – this time, it was to be a fortunate one – when he met the man who was to be his professor, mentor, friend and the most important collaborator - professor Răzvan Măgureanu. He may not have been too interested in starting a new period, but he was not even aware of having ended the previous one which – if he had been aware of it, he would have lived a great joy!
The meeting with professor Măgureanu happened following a completely insignificant detail, namely his little knowledge of Russian. The time when speaking Russian meant really something had gone, though the Romanians were living the climax of the “golden age”. Alexandru was somehow the late result of the times when only the Russian language had been taught, and both in his native village and at the sanatorium he had had only teachers of Russian language and not of other foreign languages. Among his university colleagues very few had shared the same experience.
Professor Măgureanu was interested in finding a Russian speaker among the best students, for a research programme in the permanent magnet servomotor field, where much of the available bibliography was in Russian, in original or translations of other versions. This is how a long collaboration began, which never ceased and materialized in a number of books, hundreds of press articles and scientific papers, and led to a close soul-to-soul relation between the two, as well.
The more the time went on and the more knowledge Alexandru gained in the field, the more he congratulated himself for the decision he had made when he had chosen that speciality. He had chosen a field by which Romania held a good position in the world. Professors Constantin Budeanu, Alexandru Popescu, Ioan S. Gheorghiu, Remus Răduleţ brought a great international acknowledgement from before the Second World War and gathered around them those who were to further develop this progress-carrying field, in all the other areas of life. Remus Răduleţ is universally recognized as the founder of the Romanian modern electrotechnical school. All the above-mentioned were professors in the faculty whose mysteries Alexandru had just timidly started to discover.
His collaboration with professor Măgureanu soon had good results, since the first book they wrote together was ready for publishing before Alexandru graduated from university, and the second one – after one year, only.
Professor Răzvan Măgureanu had a very particular behaviour, both as a human and as a professor. He had the chance that few Romanians had during those times, namely to have carried out his activity abroad, in Great Britain, for a while, on which occasion he had learnt a number of advanced education methods, which later he successfully applied in Romania. He had published a lot of books in Romania and abroad, spoke English very well, and was always among the great personalities who were nominated in the international committees which were organizing the main scientific events in the field. If he were to be described in a single word, that would be efficiency. When he had the intention to start working on a new research programme, he preferred to choose from the best students - from different university years, whom he very carefully selected, in accordance with his goal - than from his young assistants, who were working at similar issues and different specialists who were working in the research institutes or in the factories running their activities in the respective fields. Most of the time, his collaborators were his former students. He knew very well how to make up a team. In time, he created a real school, being among the few young professors who founded a school.
But it was not easy to obtain good results! He worked hard for it, and the whole team did, too, as each of them had a well-defined role. He used to forget about the ordinary problems, as did all the great people. It happened that, after having a conversation in his office, he left and locked the door, while his conversation partner was still inside. After years, when he remembered his collaboration with the great man, Alexandru realized that he had never seen the professor eating and had never heard from the others that he had been out for lunch, either, although he would come to work early in the morning, and would go back home late, in the evening. That kind of life didn’t get him tired, we could see that he enjoyed activity he was carrying out. On the occasion of a happy event of his life - when his daughter was born - and, naturally, the problems he faced at work having to “compete” with those he faced at home, he had a real mental block. His daughter grew up and the professor soon returned to his usual kind of life, kept on educating more and more new generations of young specialists who, with no exaggeration, had begun to be called “Măgureanu’s School” by students and professors alike.
When Alexandru was in the fourth university year, something happened that mentally or physically marked all the Romanians – it was the earthquake of 4 March 1977. It was one of those events which - after experiencing it - constitute a real landmark in people’s lives, all the other important events in their lives being referenced by associating them with the words “before” or “after” that event.
He had been able to somewhat put his life in order, his health condition was good and Vera’s picture had rather faded out of his mind and he couldn’t feel the influence of instability in his family anymore, due to his rare visits home. Nothing seemed to bother his temper. While he was living in a student hostel, one evening he paid a visit to another colleague, who had an aquarium. He was watching the fish which were swimming along their routes, according to some laws which only the fish knew. The younger students were playing, throttling the oxygen tube and, instantly, the fish’s Brownian motion turned into a single direction, towards the upper water layers, in search of air. At a certain moment, the fish got to the surface, without any outside intervention, for getting oxygen. He didn’t pay attention to the phenomenon and left for his room with his roommate, Relu, who had been informed that his father had been looking for him for a while.
Uncle Nelu Bădescu, Relu’s father, a man who had a great responsibility in society, as he was the head of the Trade Department in Argeş County – had come to Bucharest for some lectures which were being held at “Ştefan Gheorghiu” Academy. He met them in the doorway with his joyful nature:
– Where are you wandering, aren’t you going to leave the girls alone?
– Well, we wouldn’t leave them if we could, but we can hardly find a girl in this student hostel, answered Relu, when everybody came into the room.
No sooner had they sat down than the room started shaking, at first up and down and then in all directions, making the students jostle one another or run into the walls, in their desperate rush to the exit.
When they got down, uncle Nelu – a self-possessed man, as he must have lived the earthquake of 1940 – could not help commenting, perhaps for getting the boys out of their mental block, which was easy to understand, actually.
– And you were saying that there were no girls in this building, said he, pointing to the student hostel side door, where they could see a lot of girls, scarcely dressed, even naked, whom the unhappy event had made to jump out of the ground floor window. The ground floor was inhabited by foreign students.
There are events in life which help us classify even the human instincts, according to their importance. That one showed that self-preservation is stronger than the instinct to perpetuate the species.
Earlier, the fish in the aquarium must have felt that something unusual was to happen.
Right after the earthquake, everyone could hear a terrible noise outside, coming from the steam power plant of Grozăveşti which, according to the safety measures, especially foreseen for such cases, was discharging the high pressure steam directly into the atmosphere.
Alexandru, Relu and his father left for the “Ştefan Gheorghiu” Academy hostel, where uncle Nelu was living on the twelfth floor.
They climbed the stairs up to the twelfth floor, startling at each unusual noise and helped uncle Nelu carry his luggage, as he was to leave for Piteşti at once. He was enough experienced to realize that the lectures he was attending were less important than his presence in the institution he managed.
Like very many colleagues, the boys went out, helping with cleaning the streets and the public area, all that night and the next days. During those hard moments, it was not their fatigue that mattered, but the anxiety they felt, especially when - in the few free moments - they went to the student hostel, to have a short rest.
The idea that the ground we are stepping on is not safe made Alexandru have similar feelings with those he had had during the time when he had no hope of ever getting well, and those feelings were much more intense, due to the violent earthquake.
That feeling haunted him for a long time, and another selection criterion occurred – it was something new in his life – and that was the safety provided by the buildings where accidentally, or for a longer time, he was to live.
Later, when he started to travel by plane, he had - strangely – a more pronounced safety feeling while being on the plane than on the ground, as he thought that planes can not be harmed by earthquakes. But that safety feeling was gone when for a while, there happened very frequent plane crashes, after 1989, especially, when such occurrences were described in very many details - either because the events were more frequent, or because the press was free and much more informed than before and described the crashes - both those which were happening in our country and those happening abroad.
Actually, that stress phenomenon is to be felt increasingly more in the Romanian society which was artificially “protected” by lack of information on such events, during the communist times. The western countries have been forever living under that stress, considering that one of the man’s basic human rights is to be informed, and each of us may use that information as we like.
For the Romanian society, on the whole, the earthquake of 1977 was the start of a huge economic unbalance generated by the start of some huge projects for the construction of civil buildings and public institutions, which led to further exaggeration that could not have been financially supported by the State and that could not have been understood as necessary things to do, by the common people. Actually, that exaggeration was not the only one, it could be found in all the fields, and everyone could feel it in their lives.
While Alexandru was a student in university, the most important problems of the “education reform” were the length of the students’ hair and the duration of their internship in the manufacture field.
Professor Constantin Mocanu – the faculty dean – who was very friendly with students, told them – during one lecture - about the reproofs he frequently received from tovaraşa (comrade) vice-chancellor Suzana Gâdea, the future education minister. Talking about the long hair of the Electrotechnical Faculty students, she addressed him:
– Tovaraşe (comrade) Mocanu, I do not like the education that your students receive from you, they all look as if they were Vlad the Impaler.
– But, tovaraşă vice-chancellor, do you imply that Vlad the Impaler was not a positive character? replied the dean.
Nevertheless, the professor advised them that, in case they were asked - while being found inside the Polytechnic Institute - what faculty they attended, they should say they attend another, not the electrotechnical one.
– I like you as you are, said the dean, addressing the students. I am not pushing you to have your hair cut, but I have to protect myself somehow, the professor ended the “moral lecture” and switched to more serious problems.
Regarding the students’ internship in the manufacture field, there was a new rule and another period every year.
At the end of the third year, after they had done the internship before the exam session and had just finished the summer exam session and everybody was getting ready for going on holiday, in came the news that an extra internship month was to be done during summer!
Alexandru’s class were sent to the Special Steel Complex of Târgovişte. “You are badly needed there” - they were told by the dean staff – “don’t be late in making your appearance there, at once, without delay”.
They left for Târgovişte, went to the steelworks, where nobody knew anything about their arrival. They quite bothered the steelworks people, since somebody had to take care of them. Later on, somebody from the steelworks had the idea that they might be more useful at the branch of a design institute in Bucharest, which operated near the steelworks.
The institute branch manager was contacted, who finally accepted the offer. On the second day they went to the institute branch, which ran their activity in a temporary location that was a hostel. The employees had not enough chairs not even for themselves; luckily for them, it was holiday time, and some of employees were away!
They noticed that the barter between the steelworks and the institute was that the students should put order in the archived technical drawings, and the steelworks would provide the students a meal in their canteen.
Thus, for a month, they put the drawings in good order, had lunch at the steelworks canteen and dawdled around Târgovişte.
It was during such a moment of “maximum intellectual concentration” that he met Vivi Anghel in the street, who was his former high school schoolmate, from Găieşti, whom he hadn’t seen since he was a high school student. He was one year younger than Alexandru. He was very good at literature and the poet of their high school.
– Hello, Vivi, what are you doing around here?
– Hi! I am recording a television show, “Glorious ways”, at the Cultural Centre.
– What is this show about?
– There is a competition between counties, and the teams are made of an intellectualist, a student in university and a farmer and a worker. I am the student representing the team of Dâmboviţa County.
– What faculty are you attending?
– Philology, in Bucharest. What about you? What are you doing here?
– Practising my future profession at the steelworks. Like all my class.
– By the way! If you have nothing else to do, come to the Cultural Centre.
– You know, Vivi, I wouldn’t come; I’d better watch the Olympics gymnastics on TV tonight. I’m simply in love with our gymnast kid!
It was during the Olympics of Montreal when Nadia Comăneci amazed the world with her great talent.
– Tonight? We are recording at three p.m., and it takes one hour, one hour and a half, maximum. They broadcast the show within forty-five minutes.
– In that case, I’m coming! Let me go to the hostel, I may bring some other colleagues with me.
He went to the hostel and, indeed, he brought other colleagues, too, as they had to spend their free time somehow.
They entered the Cultural Centre where the big hall was overfull and the recording started, soon.
There was a jury whose president was a professor at the history faculty of the University of Bucharest, the team which represented the county whose student Vivi was, and the television director – who was one of the best of the time. The doors were locked and the nightmare began. For each question which was addressed to each member, but not to the team, as a whole – except for those questions addressed to Vivi – it was an ordeal until the right answer was finally chosen. When the right answer was, at last, given by the person in question, it was recorded in the storm of applause of the audience. The director had the unpleasant task of asking the audience to applaud at the end of each final answer, after long minutes of hesitation.
At a certain moment, they asked the farmer a question referring to the independence war. He had to cite three names of localities where a historical event had taken place. The farmer cited three names of localities, one of them being Smârdan. The president told him that two names were correct, except for Smârdan. So, he advised the farmer to think of another name. Seven or eight other attempts followed, after a long time of “deep concentration” and each time the answer began with Smârdan, which brought the audience and jury to exasperation.
The correct answer became a public asset, it was circulating in the mouths of the audience, between the audience and the team but I believe that the competitor in question could not hear very well.
The recording ended at about midnight, so that the students were about to miss the broadcast of the gymnastics contest from Montreal which - due to the time zone difference – was broadcast late at night.
They were all going to the hostel, each of them thinking about the painful situation, without speaking.
Alexandru was thinking of Vivi, who had nothing to do with that, he was a very clever talented boy and had been writing poems since he was in high school. He was thinking of that television director for whom Alexandru had a particular respect, as very many times he had had the occasions to admire the latter’s cultural and informational knowledge. He was wondering why the hall doors had to be guarded by militiamen...
Relu, his roommate, broke the silence, exclaiming:
– Where are you now, mother?! You should have been here and participate in this masquerade, as, if you had, you wouldn’t drive me crazy by telling me about the smart people who participate in the contests organized by the radio-television institution, and who do not go to the football games and cinema as your son does!
The Romanian technical university education was at a turning point that was related to the quick development of the computer technology, which required that the students should get the necessary knowledge, the equipment should be created and last, but not least, the society should get familiar with the new “intruder” in their everyday life as, without it – according to the information which had come from abroad – there will be no future, though, in Romania those who really believed it were still very few.
Firstly, a big issue was that all the students had the first contact with the computer technology during the university education, actually they were overwhelmed by the storm of information – increasingly high – coming from the basic subjects that were specific to their future profession.
Secondly, the facilities were so scarce that all the students coming from twelve faculties had to use one computer only, both for testing the demo programmes, and for the research issues, and they used the only thing that was available at that time for the introduction of the source programmes and of the data – that was the punched cards. There was a real lottery to get the programme running from one end to the other, so that some of the students completely lost their confidence in the computer, while others used it in some more pragmatic purposes, which had quicker and more concrete results. Profiting that the printing paper was made available by the Polytechnic Institute, a student whose parents lived in the countryside, who grew and sold vegetables, used to develop simple programmes containing few instructions, like the writing of the natural numbers under one hundred thousand, one number on each row, or others of the kind, and took home piles of high quality, heat treated printing paper to use them for wrapping the vegetables to be sold at the marketplace. He also increased his paper stock on the days that followed each communist congress, national conference, or generally, after any speech of Ceauşescu’s, when scores of pages of Scânteia – the communist party paper – were issued at the same price, that was a quarter of one leu. He bought very many copies, saying with satisfaction that on those days the paper had the lowest price and buying it was a real bargain!
Thirdly, there was a division between students who, most of them, anyway, were eager to acquire those new techniques and the older professors – who were visibly pessimist.
The things changed for the better in time, as the personal computers appeared, facilities were improved, which allowed a separation of the computers for students from those used for the research activity. But another problem occurred, which shall last as long as computer programming is not taught during high school.
The computer is a tool, which the child must get used to from an early age so that he or she might find it easier to use the computer applications in the complex problems they study during the university education. In the developed countries - by means of different games on computer and by the programming lessons students have in high school education - students in university are highly experienced in this field from the very beginning of the university activity. They start their university student life like the well-trained sportsmen who are to acquire more knowledge in the subjects of the field they chose, in addition they own this very powerful tool, which enables them to be much more efficient and get very good results, at a low effort.
From this perspective, in Romania there are two opposite groups of students. One is represented by those who do not have confidence in computers and, as a consequence, from the very beginning their results - both during the studies, and especially after graduation – can’t be competitive. The second is represented by those who almost completely consecrate their life to the computer technology assimilation, imminently neglecting the basic subjects of their speciality. Considering the students’ rather limited time, their final results are almost as poor as those of the first group, so with each generation, their level of knowledge of the basic subjects in their speciality decreases, even though these students have a good understanding of the computer’s use. Anyway, passing through these intermediate stages is necessary, as long as the financial and organizational problems triggered by the availability of the equipment and the teaching staff still delay for a long time the computer programming study in all the high school education. Moreover, there is a third group of students – less numerous than the previous ones - who succeed, at the same time, in handling computers - with very good results – and in studying the essential problems and becoming very familiar with computer technology.
A similar case happened in 1989, when the question of founding the technical university education held in the international circulation languages was raised for the first time - for the Romanian university education graduates to improve their foreign language skills in order to accelerate Romania’s integration into the international community. It is very necessary that this step be made. No matter how patriotic we are - since Romanian is not an international circulation language - we have to admit that it does not give us the possibility to make ourselves understood by foreigners. Consequently, we have to make all the necessary efforts to learn those languages allowing us to make ourselves understood. As we know, in countries which have similar positions regarding their languages, especially in northern Europe, more than half of the technical university education is held in English.
Certainly, the organization of an education form in a foreign language raises – in the whole world, not only in Romania - a huge number of problems, which are hard to solve, regarding the foundation of some structures that should be parallel to the education in the mother tongue, the finding of teaching staff to speak very well the respective language, the finding - for the beginning – of a sufficient number of students to make possible the start of the lectures and, last but not least, the provision of the necessary facilities.
A famous professor told me that he was sceptical about the results of such an education form, since he knew – from his personal experience - that there were very many students who could not understand the difficult problems of fine nuance, which a lecture implied, even in the Romanian language. What is going to happen when those problems are to be explained by a professor in a foreign language, which problems will have to be understood by some students who have neither language, nor professional knowledge?
With all due respect, you are right, Professor, but nothing on Earth is easy!
Then, there are students of some kind or another, it is not necessary that all of them should participate in such a form of education, but it must exist, for those who have the capacity to be provided with that possibility. We do not have to schedule almost everything for the capacity of everybody, as if only the society were important, because each person in turn is important, too!
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