World Lithuanian University Symposium

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In April of this year, Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) in Kaunas marked the 33rd anniversary of its re-establishment, and the centenary of its founding. The University of Lithuania was first established 100 years ago, and later renamed Vytautas Magnus University. It came into being in 1922 after the reorganization of the Higher Courses in Kaunas. It was the only Lithuanian institution of higher learning to become the centre of the country’s culture, science and modern free intellectual thought.

“The new Lithuanian intelligentsia was formed at the interwar university. After graduating from Vytautas Magnus University, Lithuanian sons and daughters began to create modern Lithuania,” said rector prof. J. Augutis. The University of Lithuania played an important role in the return of Lithuanians who were studying in foreign universities. (Ed. Note: Lithuanian institutions of higher learning were banned under Czarist rule.) The new Lithuanian intelligentsia and communities of civil servants, lawyers, engineers, financiers, scientists, artists, writers and teachers were formed at the University of Lithuania (since 1930 – Vytautas Magnus University). The university served as the foundation for modern higher education institutions.

After the Soviet authorities closed the university in 1950, the academic tradition of VMU continued to develop in the diaspora. In 1989, with the joint efforts of Lithuanian and diaspora scientists, Vytautas Magnus University was re-established.

According to Prof. J. Augutis, the re-established university was not only the first in Lithuania to implement the Western system of liberal studies, but also one of the first institutions to operate in interwar Lithuania and later re-establish its activities. This led to a wave of re-establishment of institutions, organizations, associations, parties and movements that operated in independent Lithuania. This was one of the victories of the independence movement called Sąjūdis.

VMU became the most comprehensive university in Lithuania in 2019 when it merged with Lithuanian University of Educational Sciences and Aleksandras Stulginskis University after the reform of higher education. VMU cooperates with more than 500 partner universities in various countries of the world and carries out more than 30 joint double degree programs and three international joint programs. The university is a member of the “Transform4Europe” alliance, which unites seven European universities.

“In a sense, VMU, re-established in 1989, was the result of the joint work of Lithuanian and Lithuanian diaspora scientists and artists. It became the university of world Lithuanians, which united, mobilized and developed not only the academic forces of the diaspora, but, more importantly, united scholars of the diaspora who had not lost contact with their homeland and Lithuanian academics that had survived the Soviet era,” said Prof. Egidijus Aleksandravičius.

Conference Delegates (front right – Ann Senn)

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the University of Lithuania, Vytautas Magnus University (VMU) hosted the World Lithuanian University (WLU) Symposium on October 27–29, 2022. Inspired by the tradition born in the Lithuanian American community in 1969 – to commemorate the centennial of the University of Lithuania, in 2022 VMU once again invited representatives of Lithuanian and world Lithuanian scientific and creative communities to gather for academic discussion.

The symposium’s main theme was Freedom and Its Forms, to focus on the current situation regarding freedom of thought and public expression, which has been protected by the right of academic autonomy and independent scientific research for several centuries. Academics were invited to discuss the significance of the tradition of the University of Lithuania for Lithuania and Lithuanian diaspora. The symposium also discussed how university studies, science, art and creativity have been affected by the global pandemic in Lithuania and around world in recent years.

The symposium and its opening events emphasized the importance of the collective wisdom of world Lithuanians, and opened discussions in several sessions aside from “Freedom and its forms”, such as “Who carries the flame when it is dark: the tradition of the University of Lithuania in Lithuania and exile” and “the reality of education in the face of virtualization; is it possible to thrive under unpredictable conditions”?

Dr. Indre Čuplinskas

Guests at the symposium included Ann Senn, whose father Dr. Alfred Erich Senn and grandfather Dr. Alfred Senn were well-known academics in Lithuania and abroad. Lithuanian Canadian Dr. Indre Čuplinskas, professor at the University of Alberta, presented a paper on St. Anthony’s Religious Studies Institute which was part of VMU in the early years of independence.