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Suzana Milevska // Disobedient (Reasons for Resignation)

April 27, 2015

For more background into this case please read: Suzana Milevska // VIS VERITAS OBSES (Truth Is the Hostage of Force) and Suzana Milevska // VIS VERITAS OBSES (2).

22 April, Schillerpark, Vienna

Information distributed to the students who attended the meeting requesting more information from Prof. Dr. Suzana Milevska regarding the course for Central and South Eastern European Art Histories, Academy of Fine Arts Vienna. 

Dear students, thank you for your support and for coming to the Schillerpark. Some of you requested more information about the reasons for my resignation when you received the student’s campaign and petition Free Suzana (in support to my request to your Academy of Fine Arts Vienna for one sided premature termination of my contract).

Things became awkward already in November last year, when the Erste Foundation never mentioned my name as the previous winner of the Igor Zabel Award for Theory and Culture at the Award Ceremony for the new Igor Zabel Award. Moreover they even disinvited me from giving a key note speech at the Ceremony (usually given by the previous winner), to which I was originally invited as the 2012 Igor Zabel award’s winner. Yet I was not aware of any specific issues with either the Erste Foundation or the Academy of the Fine Arts Vienna, and even now I am not sure what triggered all the disrespect that I and my work suffered at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna (unless the plan was to replace me, but how could I have known this?). Now the Erste Foundation that founded my position in partnership with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna claims that it’s only the Academy’s decision (read: Rectorate) to select the new Professor (see: Apology letter from 12 April).

However, I have many reasons to believe that, in fact, it was a mismanaged deal between the Erste Foundation and the Academy and I hope to be able to prove this problematic intrusion of the founder’s in the academic autonomy during this meeting. Because in all correspondence with the Rectorate, the Rector and the two Vice-Rectors always have the last word, and I am treated as a liar and my voice is overwritten on so many different levels it became impossible to me to teach and believe in this academic structure, and in the promise for a dialogue behind this position. During this meeting I want to put emphasis on the dangers to my integrity and self-respect that eventually led to defamation and thus forced me to ask for resignation. The most important points of the conflict are that:

1.  On 16 December 2014 – the Rectorate answered that I am eligible to apply [for the Endowed Professorship for Central and South Eastern European Art Histories at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna], after I asked via the Dean of the Institute for Art Theory and Cultural Studies where I taught (evidence number 1).

2.  On 16 December, the same day when they might have realised that they made a mistake or omission, they threatened me not to apply before I applied (in an accidental meeting the Vice-Rector quoted some financial reasons that later turned not true-again, the rotation rule was never mentioned)-my testimony and the Dean’s testimony for the same quote confirm the consistence of this story.

3.      Obviously, only later they decided that I am not eligible, behind closed doors, when the decision was already made, and this cannot be legal (it should have been in the call)

4.      When the professors selected me, the Rector decided to appoint another candidate on the basis of a rotation rule that was never written before, and without informing even the professors (why then would have they voted for me, if they knew? and why would have I applied, if they had ever told me that I didn’t have the right to apply?).                                         

5.      When I asked why my application was rejected the Rector answered that ‘I knew’ about the rotation rule, and that this was implied (so I was either stupid or a liar) (evidence number 2)- so my question is how could I know when this was not mentioned in the call, not in the contract? (not to mention that when I asked, the Rector told our Dean that I could apply). So how could I know something that at that time nobody knew? However, the official explanation is still that ‘I knew’ about the a posteriori rule all this time so this implies that I am either stupid, clairvoyant or arrogant.

6.      The first year I had a contract for 10 months, then it was prolonged for 10 more months -I never had a contract for 2 years. The Rector wrote that 2 year rule change was implied – implied means that something was always the same and obvious. In my case, they kept changing the rules (evidence number 1,2, 3-previous calls and the definition of Endowed professorship-don’t mention any 2 year rule, but only excellence in theoretical contributions, teaching records and other academic merits.

7.      The first time that I’ve heard any explanation about the reasons for my rejection was on 17 December during a phone call with the Erste Foundation, when one of the coordinators of the Professorship (with no university degree) informed me that it was their preference to get a new Professor (so it was clear who’s decision the selection was). I was invited to discuss this with the other team members of the Programme Culture, regardless of direct conflicts of interest – because of family relations between an Erste Foundation’s curator, and the person responsible for the professorship at the Academy. I withdrew from such a meeting for obvious reasons: to avoid yet another stressful situation and entering the vicious circle of conflict of interests.

8.      Now the most important is that after all this the Editorial Board (consisting of the Rector and two Vice-Rectors) are trying to censor my book On Productive Shame, Reconciliation and Agency. I believe that they are trying to punish me for disobeying (just because I applied? and was selected, and objected that they selected the second on the list without proper legal or academic reasons). The Rectorate heavily disrespected my work (and my contributors’ work) by putting footnotes in my reader (without my knowledge and consent), they changed the cover image that I proposed for being too controversial – namely, a work by Sanja Iveković, Disobedient (Reasons for Imprisonment) from Documenta 13 to which I referred in my introduction as to the most inspiring work for the book’s concept).  They’ve even given my book (or just a text, who’d know?) to a professor at the Academy of Fine Arts who hasn’t contributed to the book in any capacity to check how she was mentioned in one text (without my knowledge and consent) because of the “defamatory nature of the mention” and this was the last drop. Is this how books are made in Austria? I consulted everybody in the editing business- everybody said that this is outrageous – people would have never published anything critical if they knew that their texts would end up in the hands of criticised writers for their text (and the criticised text regarding the “defamed” professor’s class was published only in the Academy’s newspaper and the critique was mild- not mentioning the conflicts in the her studio class). The Rectorate claimed that the text was defamatory (to me this sounds even absurd taking into account my case), but everybody knew that there were conflicts in the class and some students withdrew from the class, so I as an editor didn’t think that a footnote was necessary. Moreover the inserted footnote on the one side doesn’t react to the criticism, so it still ignores the conflicts, but on the other side it claims that the issues discussed in the book have been discussed in the class. The Rectorate thus gave another writer the chance to include a criticism to my book in the book before it was even published! However, the Rectorate refused to include my note stating that these two footnotes were included without my consent (the both footnotes are difficult to explain because they go all the way back to the sensitive case of anti-Semitic treatment of one student from the Vice-Rector, whom now the Rectorate blames for misconstruing her claims although she graduated from the Academy in 2014 with a diploma work dedicated exactly to her conflicts in the class).

10.  Finally, the Rectorate doesn’t allow to me to resign without going to the Rector’s office to “negotiate” my resignation, which usually means further disciplining and signing a confidentiality agreement- that I won’t share this information. I didn’t go to the office because I want this story out, even though I am going to be hurt.

I am alone in this, but I hope that future professors from my region and also the Austrian professors, whose’ respect and autonomy was also affected, may gain at least more respect and awareness from this case. I felt as a guinea pig- they were experimenting with me how much humiliation I can take – to some people this sounds like nothing, but for me it turned into a complete dismissal and defamation of my work. More importantly I hold that the other professors – my colleagues from the region who applied to the competition and/or may apply in future deserve to know how the selections and decisions are being made since they might have hoped the same as I did: that their elaborated course’s proposals, their CV’s and their education were the main criteria so they went on completing demanding applications when the truth was completely different –the fact that the newly appointed professor had never even studied art history, not teaching it in a proper academic and university context makes this story a farce! If those responsible for this Professorship, the course and call mix the terms “discipline” that is in the title of this Endowed Professorship (usually given for excellent achievements in the discipline) and “field of study” (gender studies are not even mentioned in this title, it’s only mentioned as one of the topics of interest), then this is really amateurism! Using the term “postcolonial” in the open call makes it even cynical. Is this responsibility towards you, the previous and the future students of this course?

I hope these 10 reasons are enough to convince you in my endangered integrity and self-respect. There are many details about the Erste Foundation that are even more problematic. Anyway, my contract is signed with the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and in my apology to the students I already stated that “the truth is hostage of force” because the Rectorate always finds a way to prove that their lie is the only ‘truth’ including inventing a posteriori rules, rules about who can teach art history, etc.

Perhaps some of you were right, the information is not complete, not yet, but the others believed in my story and signed the petition. Now I am too ill even to deal with the resignation and the petition.

Thanks again for your trust and support.


Dr.Suzana Milevska

The appointment of Jelena Petrović as the new Endowed Professor for Central and South Eastern European Art Histories at the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna, Austria was announced today by The Academy of Fine Arts Vienna and the ERSTE Foundation.

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