How Ukraine’s Only Catholic University
Is Making a Difference

The Spring 2016 edition of ONE takes readers to Ukrainian Catholic University.

The Spring 2016 edition of ONE takes readers to Ukrainian Catholic University — the only one of its kind in the country. Writer Mark Rachkevych here reflects on what might be called the “UCU difference”:

After spending two full days with a Ukrainian photographer on the three campuses that constitute the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, my colleague said he regretted not attending the educational institution.

I immediately understood why.

He had attended a state-run university in town — UCU’s student body of 1,600 is a drop in the ocean of the city’s student population of 150,000 — where professors lectured and students were told what to write without dialogue or dialectic.

In the two days on campus, we were exposed to what hundreds of thousands of students experience in the more than 500 liberal arts colleges in the U.S. It brought back memories to me and enlightened my colleague.

Unjustifiably criticized by some critics in the U.S. who say that such institutions create a false sense of utopia, the atmosphere at UCU is one of intellectual exploration. Faculty and staff know the students by name. Pupils are in turn encouraged to grow and pursue goals that prize the process through the journey rather than the arrival at the finish line.

Education is enhanced by a rich student life that includes guest speakers, civic and spiritual activities, and extracurricular endeavors. In short, it’s what a university experience should be about so that upon graduation, students are ready to “go forth and set the world on fire,” to quote St. Ignatius.

On a more fundamental level, UCU provides students with a reference point of what is right and wrong, on what is good and evil. This is important in a society that is still healing from the inhumane policies of the Soviet Union that successive post-independence leaders haven’t quite extinguished. If someone grows up thinking that giving a teacher, doctor, or traffic police officer a petty bribe is the norm, they’ll never know that to build an open society, one needs to stop the pervasive practice of graft.

It’s important to instill meritocracy into students; UCU is run on an honor system with a zero tolerance policy regarding plagiarism and bribery.

This is what draws students of all backgrounds and faith to UCU. Here they get treated with dignity and respect. Once they graduate, they enter business, politics or civil society as responsible citizens; they become part of what UCU says is serving the community at large.

Graduates become leaders and role models for others. And people are drawn to them for the responsible way they behave and the examples they set by taking “ownership” of situations.

Take, for example, Anton Kukhliev who attended the university’s leadership summer school.

He came back to his town located 70 kilometers from occupied Donetsk in the war zone and successfully ran for city council on the ticket of a pro-democracy party where Soviet-era paternalism was the norm. He attracted three more candidates to his cause who also won spots in the 26-seat local legislature in October 2015. These kinds of success stories are inspiring — and a testament that UCU is doing something right for its country and its society.

Read more in Where Change is on the Curriculum in the Spring 2016 edition of ONE.

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