Branson Statement About KBTU and Mikhail AkulovApril 30, 2017
NOTE: After reading my statement about KBTU and the difficulties with the dean, Mikhail Akulov, you may also wish to read this similar cautionary Statement About KBTU by Dr. Rossen Roussev—my colleague at KBTU during the 2015/2016 academic year.
To Whom It May Concern:
I was employed as Assistant Professor in the General Education Faculty of Kazakh-British Technical University from the beginning of the Fall 2015 semester to the end of the Fall 2016 semester.
I believe prospective employees of the Gen Ed Faculty of KBTU have a right to know about the facts I list below, since they are likely to be treated substantially the same way I was.
All the facts I list below can be substantiated through copies of contracts, saved emails, written testimony, etc., upon request.
Statement About KBTU
Dr. Beau Branson
1. The job advertisement I replied to gave a salary range of “$35,000 to $45,000 annually.” (You can see this by scrolling down or going to the next page to see the 2015 advertisement, 9 advertisements below the current, 2017 announcement.) Likewise, during negotiations, the dean of the General Education Faculty (Mikhail Akulov) quoted me a certain dollar amount as my “annual net salary,” (those were his exact words, both orally and in writing over email).
But the annual net salary I received was only 2/3 what I was quoted in writing.Expand for More Details
The first trick here was that they took the monthly salary and multiplied it by 12 to get an “annual” salary. But the contract was only for 10 months. So even the gross for the academic year was only 10/12 (5/6) of what they called the “annual” salary.
The second trick was that what was called “net” was actually before taxes, which are a flat 20% for foreigners whose Ph.D.’s have not been nostrified (see #5 below). (What is the salary the “net” from, if not taxes, you might ask? I asked Dr. Akulov the same question after finally receiving the written contract. He never answered.) So, for every $12 of the so-called “annual net salary,” the gross was really only $10, and the net was actually only $8 ($8/$12 = 2/3).
2. Dr. Akulov also told me (in writing) that “Next May, upon completing our annual review process, there will be a raise – at least, such had been our practice.” Furthermore, when I discovered the discrepancy listed in #1 above, he said that I “should regard the pay as the ‘entry-level salary’ subject to a 10% augmentation at the end of a school year.”
I never received a 10% augmentation to my salary, and nobody I spoke to at KBTU had ever heard of such a practice.Expand for More Details
There is no trick here except lying.
Although I resented having been misled about my salary after finally receiving a written contract, I reasoned that if I could manage to have my degree nostrified during the first year, then in the second year (1) my taxes would go down from 20% to 10%, (2) I would be eligible for an 11-month contract instead of a 10-month contract, effectively raising my pay another 10% per year, and (3) I would receive this 10% pay raise. Do the math, and this means that if I could get through the first year, my annual net salary would get up to 90.75% of what they had quoted me, rather than only 2/3 or 66.6%.
Ultimately, I decided that this 90.75% of the original quote would still make the offer worth it, so I persevered through the first year, despite grave misgivings about this deception, and later about numerous other issues I encountered.
(Without this 10% pay raise, but with an 11-month contract and a decrease to 10% taxes, my annual net salary after the first year would be 82.5% of what they had quoted. Better than the 66.6% it was during the first year, but still pretty far short of the original quote.)
However, after my first academic year, when I reminded Dr. Akulov of what he had said in this email, he said he would try to “pull some strings,” “call in some favors,” “see what he could do,” “it won’t happen immediately,” “the paperwork will take a few months,” etc.
The last time I inquired, I was supposedly going to receive the 10% pay raise some time in the Spring semester (over halfway through my second academic year, rather than before its beginning). However, I resigned before I could discover whether this was actually true.
Either way, it is quite clear that there is not in fact any standard “practice” of a “raise” / “10% augmentation at the end of a school year” as was claimed. If there were, it would not have required calling in favors and delaying for so long. (No one else I spoke to at KBTU said they had ever heard of such a practice either).
3. I was led to believe the work load was roughly the equivalent of a 3/3 or 3/4 load in the US. (You can see the claim that “The total teaching load is approximately 10 hrs a week” by scrolling down or going to the next page to see the 2015 advertisement, 9 advertisements below the current, 2017 announcement.)
Since each section is about 20-30 students, I inferred that my grading load per semester would be around 60-90 students, or possibly 120 at the absolute maximum.
In fact, my teaching load would have been equivalent, in the US system, to a 9/9/4 (9 sections per semester during the academic year, and 4 in the summer), with an average of more than 150 students per semester, with no grading assistance.Expand for More Details
There are about three tricks here.
The first trick is that they pack 3 or 4 sections of students into a huge lecture hall for a 2-hour lecture once per week. Then they break them out into individual discussion sections once per week. But only the hours you are literally in a classroom are counted.
For example, in the US system, 3 or 4 sections would count as 9 or 12 hours of instruction per semester. With 20-30 students per section, that would mean about 60-90, or maybe 120 maximum.
At KBTU, those 3 or 4 sections would be packed into one large lecture hall for a two-hour long lecture once per week, which would only count as 2 instructional hours. Then you would meet with those sections individually for a one hour discussion once per week, adding 3 or 4 instructional hours. Thus, the 3 or 4 sections would count as a total of only 5 or 6 “hours of instruction” at KBTU, rather than 9 or 12 as they would in the US.
Effectively, this allows them to roughly double your work load right off the bat.
The second trick has to do with the way classes are scheduled, and the fact that you cannot go under your minimum, while it is of course ok to go over the minimum.
Whereas in the US system, professors and courses / course times are determined first, and students register for them individually, KBTU still follows essentially the Soviet system in which students in the same year and with the same major are assigned to courses and days / times in large groups, and professors are assigned to teach those courses second. The large lecture groups obviously cannot be split up between different professors, so if you are just shy of the minimum hours of instruction per year in your contract, you will have to take on an entire additional lecture group of possibly 80-100 students to hit your minimum.
The contract for an Assistant Professor specifies “22 hours of instruction” per academic year. In the US system, a typical philosophy course counts as 3 credit hours. So I assumed this meant something like a 4/3 load, but asked what the extra hour was about. I was told the hours must average out to 11 per semester, but that “they count office hours and some other things in there,” and that there are 2 office hours per semester. (This was false. In fact, they do not count office hours, or anything else, towards the “hours of instruction” in your contract. But…) That gave the appearance of only really needing to hit 9 hours on average per semester, thus being equivalent to a 3/3 load. Even in a worst case scenario, I assumed it might work out to a 4/3 or 4/4 load. And again, since “sections” are typically around 20-30 students, this would have meant a grading load of 60-90 students per semester, or in the worst cast 120 students maximum per semester.
So, if one’s teaching load would only add up to, say, 21 hours, then they would have to add another entire lecture group (3-4 sections, thus usually about 80-100 additional students) in order for you to hit your minimum requirement of instructional hours. Thus, for example, I had 3 lecture groups with 3 sections each my first semester (27 hours in the US system; but only 15 at KBTU). The second semester, had I only had 1 lecture group of 3 sections (9 hours in the US; but only 5 at KBTU), I would only have had 20 hours total for the year. So I had to take an additional course to hit my minimum.
The third and final trick is that they will “reward” you for being an excellent teacher with additional teaching that you don’t want, ask not to have to take, and that they only pay adjunct-level salary for. This extra “reward” is theoretically “optional,” since it isn’t part of your contract. The catch is that whether or not your contract is renewed at the end of a year is almost entirely at the discretion of the dean (Dr. Akulov) who will be the one asking you to do it. In other departments, this may not be as big of an issue. But in the General Education Department, Dr. Akulov’s entire leadership style consists of constantly making subtle threats about your job if you express anything but approval for his agenda. So you are pretty much forced to do whatever he wants, whenever he asks for it. (This includes, for example, getting calls on your cell phone at noon during the middle of a lecture about needing to prepare a report for a meeting that will happen at 3pm when you will be teaching until 2pm, and other ridiculous demands that have to be met if you want your contract renewed. But that is another matter.)
For example, in my final semester, I would have had only a load of US-18 hours / KBTU-10 hours, with 120 students total, with just one prep. But I was given a US-9 hours / KBTU-5 hours course I had never taught before and that wasn’t even in my fields of specialization, giving me a total of 180 students in a US-27 hour / KBTU-15 hour semester. Even considered only mathematically, this would increase my work load by 50%, and when you consider the time spent prepping material much of which was completely new to me, it probably nearly doubled my actual time spent. However, the amount of pay was only about 20% of my ordinary monthly salary. Naturally, a 20% pay increase not worth a 50%-100% workload increase. I also went to Dr. Akulov before the semester began with concerns that it simply would not be mathematically possible to fit the number of hours I estimated working into the number of hours that actually exist. But literal, mathematical impossibility was of no concern to Dr. Akulov, and I was asked to teach the course anyway.
4. By law, classes are not held during national holidays. But I, and others working in the General Education Faculty were required by Dr. Akulov to schedule make-up classes during evenings and weekends after any holiday. We were not reimbursed for this. According to Dr. Akulov, this was required, because our contracts specified a certain number of instructional hours per week, so hours missed for holidays had to be made up to hit the number specified in our contracts.
In fact, I later discovered this practice is in violation of Kazakhstani lawExpand for More Details
One cannot be asked to “make up” work missed for a national holiday without reimbursement at a rate of at least 1.5 times one’s standard salary. (See the Labor Code of the Republic of Kazakhstan, Articles 85 and 109). To my knowledge, Dr. Akulov has not been in any way censured by the university for this practice, nor, as far as I am aware, has he been made to abandon this practice.
5. For the first year, I and my colleague Dr. Roussev stayed in Kazakhstan on 30-day x 3-entry “business visas” (rather than regular, year-long work visas) and told to list the purpose as “guest lectures” (rather than working as assistant or associate professor). I later discovered this is because, unbeknownst to us, our contracts themselves violated Kazakhstani law.Expand for More Details
Foreign Ph.D.’s have to be nostrified by the Ministry of Education before a university can legally employ them as professors. KBTU does not want to wait for foreign Ph.D.’s to have their degrees nostrified, because that process can take up to a year. So, they circumvent these laws through the ruse that you are a “guest lecturer,” who can be issued a 30-day triple-entry visa.
This requires one to make trips out of the country on a weekend every 30 days. Then every 90 days one must leave the country for a full week to get a new business visa. (This absence will have to be made up during evenings and weekends after one returns—see #4 above).
While on the one hand, one might think this sort of illegality isn’t very serious (like jay-walking), it is certainly something one should be made aware of beforehand as one’s livelihood for the next year is technically in violation of the law in a country where the situations under which laws are enforced, and the manner of the enforcement of those laws are extremely “flexible.”
6. Due to our contracts being illegal (see #5 above), receipts for salary payments were not offered to us. These payments varied every month according to the exchange rate, due to being defined in dollars but paid out in tenge. Thus, without receipts, there was no way to verify that the payments were even accurate, or whether anyone in the accounting department had taken anything out of them.
(Kazakhstan is the “131st least” [i.e., the 45th most] corrupt country out of 175 countries in the 2016 Corruption Perceptions Index reported by Transparency International, and if you live here for any amount of time, you will quickly understand why. So it is by no means paranoia to wonder whether anything was taken out of one’s paycheck when there is no receipt and no explanation of why one was paid a particular amount one month rather than another.)
There are still other issues that can be substantiated, and that I think certainly prospective employees have a right to know about, but which don’t quite rise to the level of deception, illegality, etc. But I think the above makes a sufficient point without being too time-consuming to read. (Mostly these additional issues have to do with with Dr. Akulov’s not only deceptive nature, but essentially abusive interpersonal style. There is also additional stress and complications in the workload due to students cheating at a rate that would not be believed by anyone from the West who hadn’t lived through it, and a preposterous amount of paperwork and other inconveniences stemming from the still largely Soviet-style bureaucracy of everything in the country. These factors could be manageable in principle, if there were any cooperation from the leadership, especially Dr. Akulov.)
After my resignation, I wrote a 2-page letter to the rector and vice-rectors of the university and a 50-page summary of Dr. Akulov’s (mis-)behavior as dean, certainly the biggest source of all of the problems there. (And I stress that, although 50 pages in length, it is indeed merely a very abbreviated summary of just a limited number of the personal and professional problems created by Dr. Akulov.) Dr. Roussev sent a similar lengthy letter of his own to the rector and vice-rectors, both corroborating my own points and raising several of his own.
Neither Dr. Roussev nor I received any response at all to our letters of concern. I believe this silence speaks volumes about the leadership higher up in KBTU’s hierarchy.
Dr. Roussev’s letter can be found here: Statement About KBTU by Dr. Rossen Roussev. I am willing to share my own letter to the rector and 50-page summary of problems with Mikhail Akulov’s performance as dean: upon request.