Dear colleagues. By now many of you will have heard about the situation at the European University in St Petersburg (EUSPb). The university has been suddenly closed by the Russian authorities due to a reputed “violation of fire codes”. The classes have been suspended indefinitely and the rooms have been sealed by fire marshals. The University faculty and students, whom many of you know as colleagues and friends, have appealed to us, the international academic community, to write collective letters to support the university and to urge the authorities to reopen it. There have been many speculations as to the real reasons for the closure of this university, known for its high level of scholarship and independent social and political analysis. You can read about these various theories and explanations on the web sites provided above. However, colleagues at EUSPb have asked us “not to politicize” the situation, in order to avoid creating more problems.
Right now time is an issue — this is the middle of the semester at EUSPB, as elsewhere — and we must act quickly.
We have written a petition, and invite all of you who agree with its content to sign it. The text of the petition is provided below. We plan to collect as many signatures as we can in a speedy fashion and send this petition to administrative and educational institutions in Russia.
Alexei Yurchak, Department of Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley
Michele Rivkin-Fish, Department of Anthropology, University of North Carolina,
20 February 2008
Esteemed members of the St Petersburg administration, academic community and the general public:
We, the undersigned, write to convey our highest possible support for the European University at St Petersburg and to express our dire concern about its temporary closure. As social scientists from the United States and Europe with research programs connected to Russia, we have come to know the European University at St. Petersburg as a flagship institution in Russia, Europe, and the world. Its faculty are leaders in international scientific analysis of history and contemporary society. It is an institution universally respected for its objectivity and independence. We regularly look to the findings of their research as we develop our own. This enables our scholarship and teaching to benefit from a more nuanced and accurate understanding of Russian society than is available from the Western mass media. Indeed, the European University is among the foremost institutional centers where communication between Western and Russian scholars takes place. In addition to consulting the European University faculty’s research through their publications, their conference participation, and international exchanges, the European University provides the opportunity for our graduate students to train directly in Russia. The International Master of Arts in Russian Studies (IMARS) of the European University offers Western students who study Russia an unparalleled resource for gaining the highest standard of knowledge about Russian history and society. Between 12 and 26 students annually take advantage of this unique program, the only one of its kind in Russia. We greatly value the opportunity to send our students to the European University to enrich their studies and ensure the superior quality of their training.
Beyond its immense contributions in the international world of academic scholarship, the European University in St Petersburg also plays a critical role in the development of Russian society. The University’s goal is to train future professionals in the spheres of education, science, culture, and state and municipal management, fields that are of immense importance for Russia’s future. The European University is a leader amongst universities in the Russian Federation which seek to develop pedagogical standards and models for teaching about contemporary areas of knowledge and training. The university plays another extremely important role. As a center with internationally recognized standards of education where top scholars and students from all over Russia can study, teach, and conduct research, this university has been instrumental in substantially slowing down the intellectual “brain drain” from Russia to Western countries. This important, patriotic endeavor can only be welcomed by the Russian public and the country’s leaders.
Right now all classes at the European University are suspended and classrooms sealed, leaving students without studies, faculty without work, and Russia without one of its most valuable intellectual centers. Addressing the need for “fire safety” at the European University — the official reason for its sudden closure — must not be allowed to prevent the ongoing functioning of this valuable institution. The important work of the administration, faculty and students must continue, and we implore the city and the country’s administration to do everything in your power to reinstate its operations as soon as possible. The sudden suspension of university life in the middle of a semester is an unprecedented action and raises unnecessary concerns about the political climate in Russia from the international community. We strongly urge you to renew the university’s right to work and to support its continued functioning.