The New York Times reports on the horrifying neo-sovietization of education:
Word spread this month among the faculty members of St. Petersburg State University: According to a document signed on Oct. 1, they have to submit their work to administrators for permission before publishing it abroad or presenting it at overseas conferences.
The order, which was circulated internally and made its way onto a popular Internet forum, says professors must provide their academic department with copies of texts to be made public outside Russia, so that they can be reviewed for violation of intellectual property laws or potential danger to national security.
Administrators say they are simply bringing the university into line with Russia’s 1999 law on export control, passed after a decade in which some impoverished scientists sold strategic technology to foreign customers. But some professors are protesting, saying such a system is unheard of in Russian universities — and could be a step toward broader academic censorship.
“Some of our faculty will not comply with this order,” said Sergei Samoletov, the assistant dean of the university’s journalism department. “That kind of bravery is more likely to come from our major academics. The basic mass of scholars are more likely to turn down trips, or else comply.”
Though scientists have long been subject to export control rules, the St. Petersburg order applies to the humanities as well. It asks for copies of grant applications to foreign organizations, contracts with foreign entities, curriculums to be used for teaching foreign students and a list of foreign students, along with their plans of study.
Deans will clear the work for publication or submit it to an internal export control commission for review, said Igor A. Gorlinsky, the university’s vice rector for scholarly and scientific work. The order was issued to clarify a rule that has been on the university’s books for a decade, but that existed “only on paper,” he said. Dr. Gorlinsky added that the plan might be adjusted or streamlined in response to faculty feedback.
He said he did not believe that the order would interfere with professors’ efforts to publish abroad. “One of the psychological problems we’re encountering is that some of our colleagues, instead of reading the documents carefully to understand what will be examined, and for what purpose, are speaking out against any kind of control,” Dr. Gorlinsky said.
“But I don’t think this is a very civilized attitude,” he said. “Any university, including your alma mater, protects its intellectual property and will protect the legal interests” of its country.
He said he doubted that work in the humanities would be affected unless it violated the university’s intellectual property rights.
“What state secrets could there be in the sphere of political science?” he said. “Intellectual property, yes. We intend to protect our intellectual property, which unfortunately is sometimes used without approval.”
Some professors reacted with alarm, saying the model recalled the Soviet era’s notoriously bureaucratic “first division,” which reviewed documents before they were released to the outside world.
Vyacheslav Y. Morozov, an assistant professor in St. Petersburg State University’s international relations department, estimated that 70 percent of the scholars in his department published and spoke abroad regularly, and worried that the new demands could make that impossible.
“It might be a model for the defense establishment, but I don’t think anything like that exists in the universities,” Professor Morozov said. “Maybe in China. Maybe in Iran.”
In 2007, a similar proposal was shelved at Volgograd State University after faculty members argued against it, said Ivan Kurilla, the head of Volgograd’s international relations department.
Several St. Petersburg professors said they worried that the rule would be applied selectively to penalize specific faculty members, either because they were in conflict with administrators, or because their work was critical of the Russian government.
“You can see the list of people whose publications might be stopped,” said Dmitri A. Dubrovsky, an associate professor of international relations and human rights at Smolny College, a division of St. Petersburg State University. “I suspect they will stop any publication that expresses small concern about the real situation in the political sphere and in human rights.”
The change is noteworthy, in part because it is being introduced at the prestigious institution where President Dmitri A. Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin studied law, and where Mr. Medvedev taught for nine years.
The university’s rector, Nikolai M. Kropachev, the longtime law dean, is on good terms with both leaders. In 2000, after the television show “Kukly” mocked Mr. Putin, then running for president, Dr. Kropachev signed a letter calling for sanctions against the program, which the letter described as “an eloquent example of the abuse of freedom of speech.”
After he was named rector last year, Dr. Kropachev set about strengthening central controls over the sprawling institution and its teaching staff, which numbers more than 4,000. Since then, the university has improved in international rankings, rising to No. 168 from 228 in the Times Higher Education ratings list, and increased its citations in foreign-language journals by 7 percent, Dr. Gorlinsky said.
As Mr. Medvedev focuses his ambitions on modernization, his alma mater clearly has his attention. Along with Moscow State University, St. Petersburg is being granted special autonomous status so that it can independently bring technology to market and its rector can be hired or fired only by the Russian president.
But some on the faculty are complaining that the new vision is authoritarian. In the spring, after the dean of the journalism school sharply criticized the rector’s policies, the president of the university filed charges against her, alleging libel and embezzlement. Students picketing in her favor were arrested.
Even critics acknowledge that the university needs to increase its oversight mechanisms. The Soviet collapse sent scientists scrambling for foreign work, in areas including weapons development. Though Russia passed an export control law in 1999, compliance remains weak, a particular danger in an era in which civilian laboratories produce “dual-use technologies” that can be used in weapons manufacture, said Igor Khripunov, a security specialist in the United States at the University of Georgia’s Center for International Trade and Security.
Dr. Dubrovsky, of Smolny College, said he understood these concerns; the system that developed in the post-Soviet years amounted to “no control at all,” he said.
But he said the present order veered too far in the opposite direction. “This is the problem of my country — there is either total control or no control at all,” he said. “These are the only two possible positions.”