It is rare that a professor opts not to teach just two months before the start of classes, but rather assumes a high-profile government post in a foreign country. This however, is exactly what happened last July when visiting professor for the Skalny Center for Polish and Central European Studies Grzegorz Kolodko notified UR from his new office in Warsaw, Poland that he had become Minister of Finance.
How did the Finance Minister of Poland come to teach UR undergraduates? “Easy,” says Professor Ewa Hauser who first invited him to give a lecture in the Skalny Lecture Series in 1998. “He spoke brilliantly about the ‘Polish miracle’ when the economic growth grew from 4 percent to 7 percent in just three years [1994-1997]. He was animated, witty and succeeded in keeping some 300 audience members amused for an hour and a half.”
There was a special interest to fund visitors like Kolodko among UR friends and alumni, such as John “Jack” Evans of the Class of 1939 who are devoted to world peace. Grzegorz Kolodko became the John C. Evans visiting professor of Polish studies. According to Jack Kreckel from Alumni Relations, this professorship was created “as a way to bring the people of the world together.”
Kolodko’s appointment as Minister of Finance in July came from Prime Minister Leszek Miller following the sudden resignation of the former Minister of Finance Marek Belka four days prior. The state of Poland’s economy was demanding increasingly drastic changes in fiscal policy to address a countrywide unemployment rate of 18 percent coupled with economic growth currently hovering around 1 percent, according to International Monetary Fund reports.
The appointment was not wholly a surprise. His involvement in Poland’s political as well as financial future dates back to 1989 when he took part in the famous “Round Table” talks between the then-faltering communist government and leaders of independent trade unions such as, among others, the Solidarity trade union led by Lech Walesa. Walesa eventually would appoint Kolodko to his first term as Finance Minister in 1994.
“The government turned to Kolodko because, frankly, he is still associated with the economic boom in the Polish economy of the mid ’90s, and he presented a strategy for the type of rapid economic development that the Miller government is hoping for,” Visiting Professor Artur Gruszczak said. Gruszczak was invited from the Jagiellonian University in Cracow, Poland to teach a course in place of Kolodko’s “Politics and Economics of Post-Communist Transformation” at UR this fall.
Despite being subjected to a vote of no confidence last week in parliament, Kolodko still enjoys a fair amount of support from the Polish community because “of his commitment to decreasing the unemployment rate by as direct a means as possible,” says Hauser.
Kolodko was not available for comment, but according to one of his administrative assistants, Kathleen Consler, “he is working very hard and diligently to get Poland’s economy back on track.”
The Polish government is not the only one to recognize Kolodko’s capabilities. Many at UR felt that his reputable background and extensive experience were invaluable. Dean Green commented that in addition to being a distinguished figure in the international political arena, Kolodko “has been strongly committed and loyal to the UR community…with a wealth of experience and knowledge.”
“It was a rare opportunity to learn from someone of his prestige and from someone with such hands-on experience,” senior Maxwell Cooper, a former student of Kolodko, said.
Senior Benjamin Ilfeld provided further insight into Kolodko’s character. “Kolodko is a man who clearly believes in what he teaches,” he said. “His personality is more aloof than the average economist — more like a mad-scientist than a statesman.”
Despite the immediate loss of not having him here this semester, Hauser is confident that Kolodko will return after his term has ended. Furthermore, Kolodko told Hauser shortly after his appointment that if he gives any lectures in the U.S. during his term, UR will be at “the top of his list.”
Further information on Kolodko can be found on his website at http://kolodko.tiger.edu.pl/.