Saturday, February 23, 2008

In a nutshell

Founded in 1994, the European University at St Petersburg is Russia's best social science grad school. Most of its teaching staff hold PhDs from US or West European universities. It is the second university in Russia to have built up an endowment.

On Feb 7, 2008, the university was closed by court order for 90 days due to fire hazards in its historic 19th century building. This decision followed a visit by fire inspectors on Jan 18. The ruling was upheld on Feb 18, even though many of the hazards had been removed.

The sudden closure of this excellent university, without regard for its academic needs and despite the fact that it has occupied the same historic building since 1994, has alarmed many in the academic community in Russia and abroad. Some have suggested that economic or political motives may have influenced this decision. Explanations range from attempts to appropriate the university's building for other purposes to a politically motivated crackdown on academic freedom. In particular, there seems to be a direct link with IRENA, a political science project focused on electoral monitoring which had been publicly criticized by a member of the Duma in June 2007 and was closed by decision of the university (under pressure, as some suggest) on Jan. 28.

On Feb 22, the university signed a four-month lease allowing it to use the premises of the Economics and Finance Institute, on the outskirts of town, to proceed with teaching in the second semester. Members of St Petersburg's city legislature and government indicated that they endorse the decision. However, it later transpired that the EUSPb's license was revoked on Feb. 21, and the Institute withdrew its agreement. Thus the university now finds itself homeless. It will not be able to obtain a new license unless it finds temporary new premises to proceed with even a limited curriculum, and much indicates that eligible partner organizations are intimidated and will offer no help. Keeping up public pressure on the Russian authorities is the only way to solve this problem.

This blog documents the events and provides links to pages in English and Russian with updates and letters of support.


Tanchobara said...

Yes, "good news" are still very unclear and even allowing to open the teaching process partly it is not allowing for PhD-level stidents to continue their work on dissertation. All research and teaching infrastructure is not available in the new suggested place.

Princess said...