Moscow State University is Russia’s Harvard. A group of students has formed a protest group called OD Group (their logo is displayed at the left) seeking to stop the efforts of the Kremlin to seize ideological control of their institution, and they are pleading for foreign assistance. Here is their request:
We, a group of students of the Sociology Department at Moscow State University, have asked the department’s administration to improve the quality of teaching, stop force-feeding us with ultranationalist propaganda, and ensure acceptable conditions of life and study. In response to our demands, the administration has stepped up repressive measures: friends who were distributing leaflets have been arrested by the police; individual students have been threatened; and the dean’s office and a servile student’s committee have written a letter to the rector (president) of the university asking to clamp down on any unapproved student protest actions, campaigns, or meetings on campus. All this is part of an attempt to muzzle us and create a wall of silence to conceal the dramatic state of affairs at the department.
In recent years, lectures at the department have become ever more insipid and formal exercises. The administration has cut the number of seminars and practical classes. We are allowed to take ever fewer course units in neighboring disciplines. We are hardly ever given the opportunity to attend talks by outside lecturers. Exam questions are limited to the contents of a textbook authored by the dean. The dean’s office has distributed a brochure to all students which approvingly quotes the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” blames Freemasons and Zionists for the world wars, and claims that they control US and British policy and the global financial system.
Studying conditions at the department are unbearable. There are not enough lecture halls, and there is no ventilation. The building is stuffed with video surveillance cameras which the administration uses to track suspect students. Factory-style turnstiles have been installed at the entrance, and the security guards act rudely toward students. We have no library of our own.
We demand that the curricula be changed, competent teachers be invited, students be informed about foreign exchange programs, the rude security guards be dismissed, the rigid gating system be abolished, and a minimum of basic amenities be provided.
We are seeking a public meeting with the dean and rector. Our main objective is to improve the level of teaching and obtain acceptable working conditions for students, but also for the department’s faculty, some of whom have expressed their support for us.
Details about the situation at the department and our demands, as well as press reports and letters of support (mostly in Russian), may be found at http://www.od-group.org.
How can you help?
If you support our demands, please send us an e-mail (firstname.lastname@example.org) stating your name, institutional affiliation and position, or leave your details at our web site, http://www.od-group.org. Please write to the dean and the rector to express your concern, in any language, with a copy to our address.
Moscow State University Press Secretary
Viktor Antonovich Sadovnichy, Rector
Moscow State University: phone +7-495-939-10-00
Vladimir Ivanovich Dobrenkov, Dean
Moscow State University Sociology Department
E-Mail: email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org;
Administration of the Sociology Department
We also ask you to spread this letter widely among your friends and colleagues and ask them to support us. Any advice on how best to achieve our objectives would also be greatly appreciated.
Here is a list of some of the students’ concerns:
In recent years, fifteen recognized scholars have been forced out of the university, including Professor Vladimir Nikolayev, one of the few Russian experts on the Chicago School and translator of Robert Park, Everett Hughes, Alfred Schütz, Harold Garfinkel and Erving Goffman; Professor Elena Kukushkina, a well-known expert on pre-revolutionary Russian sociology; Professors Y.N. Tolstova and O.V. Ivanov, experts in the mathematical modeling of social processes; Professor V.V. Shtcherbina, a leading theorist of organization sociology and consultant to a number of large Russian companies; Professor Andrew Degtyarev, a well-known Russian expert in political sociology and member of the International Sociological Association’s research committees on Political Sociology and Urban and Regional Development; and Professor Helen Shestopal, a well-known social and political psychologist and vice-president of both the International and Russian Political Science Associations.
Experienced and well-known teachers have been replaced with young careerists promoted by the dean. They freely acknowledge their own incompetence: “I am very surprised I have to teach this course. I don’t have much of a clue about it. But we’ll find something to talk about…”
Irrespectively of the subject, the lectures are full of never-changing clichés. To quote a student: “Every lecture starts from scratch: we start with a definition of what sociology is about and stop at the third page of the textbook. At every lecture, we ask ourselves: ‘Is this really what the social sciences are all about???’” In some cases, faculty members refuse to teach a class because they find it unacceptable simply to read out chapters from a textbook as they are told to.
Staff teachers are not given the opportunity to conduct research and discuss it with their students. The administration asks them to teach full-time and literally takes away any outside research grants they are awarded. As one teacher witnesses: “Obtaining a research grant through the department means that you have to do unpaid extra work. The grant money is transferred to the department and ends up in other people’s pockets.” Teachers must keep quiet about this if they want to keep their posts.
The department does not invite outside sociologists to give classes – neither academic scholars nor market or survey researchers. Instead, most lectures are given by staff teachers. To quote a student: “Lectures on business administration are given by someone who has never worked as a manager even at the lowest level, and has no idea how private companies function. He is a religious fanatic and is convinced that ‘In Russia, a woman can never become a full-fledged manager.’” The administration does all it can to keep outside teachers away by offering them a fee of 260 rubles a month (10 US dollars/7.5 euros/5 GBP).
The administration does not inform students about visits by international scholars. Students at the Sociology Department were the only ones at the university who did not learn about a visit by the social historian Michelle Perrot. A visit by well-known sociologist Piotr Sztompka was kept secret: the department’s administration and a few ‘select’ faculty members met with him on a Sunday behind closed doors.
Instead of improving the quality of teaching, the administration tightens up discipline. Attendance control used to be at teachers’ discretion; now the administration forces them to hand monthly attendance reports personally to the vice dean, Sergei Trofimov. In addition to the security guards, the administration has installed turnstiles, as if the department building was a high-security military installation. The department building is literally stuffed with surveillance cameras. The security guards and the vice president (in person) “hunt” for latecomers – both students and teachers. A student reports that “even professors who are five minutes late are made to provide a written explanation, not to mention students.”
The administration exacerbates this atmosphere of total control by constantly bullying and threatening students and teachers. Students bold enough to criticize the administration are often accused of lying, bad manners, over-assertiveness and even sexual inferiority. A student reports: “Sergei Trofimov constantly humiliates students. He is unable to solve any problem without bossing them around. He is incapable even of communicating with them: he either shouts or threatens them with expulsion, usually without even understanding the issue at hand.” In one known case, a female student who protested against the turnstiles was forcibly dragged through them by the security guards.
The dean’s office has distributed a brochure entitled “Why is the Russian Land being ‘cleansed’?,” whose authors blame Freemasons for “starting the world wars and initiating the creation of the atomic bomb” and claim that “the Zionist lobby … dictates US and British policy, is in charge of the global financial system (including the issuing of dollars), and practically controls all major mass media and telecommunications,” calls Russia “the Righteous Country” and the USA “the Beast Country,” and quote the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as a reliable source.
Do you dare to imagine, dear reader, what Russians would say if they found out an American professor was referring to Russia as “the Beast Country”? LR, for her part, does not dare.