To put out a flame of science
Complicated situation with the European University in St. Petersburg drew a wide response both in the media and the blogosphere. Great number of reports, from simple news with quotations of press-releases of the University administration to primitive analytics with attempts to find out deep causes of what had happened and to paragon, appeared in the press. The case becomes even more confused, as the administration of EUSP hardly contacts with the press.
But all these reports proceed from the assumption that all readers understand what it is all about, whereas people, who hear about EUSP for the first time, can hardly understand what the university is solely from fragments of descriptions from the site. That’s why first of all one should explain what EUSP is.
What the European University at St. Petersburg is.
To begin with the official information. The full name of the organization is long and rather complicated. It was formed like a compromise among primordial cosmopolitan academic aspirations and increasing bureaucratization in our country. Some relicts of freedom of the 90s remained, but now appendages, which allow to include the EUSP in formal classifiers of the educational system, appeared around them. Non-governmental Institute of Further Professional Education. Whom does the EUSP graduate? On the official site one can read that “The European University at St Petersburg (EUSP) is an educational institution for further professional education - a non-governmental, non-commercial graduate school training highly qualified specialists in the spheres of social sciences and humanities.”
EUSP was created in the middle of the 90s at the initiative of the then mayor of St. Petersburg Anatoly Sobchak by efforts of representatives of RAS institutes with a definite intention to create an alternative postgraduate study on social science and the humanities. The main features of this study is an immersion in the international research community and intensive education of young researchers (often it was almost retraining from scratch) on first stages of their dissertation work.
Inherently EUSP was to become a rare for Russia graduate school, a kind of cross between master and postgraduate programs, an analogue of graduate schools of big research universities of Europe and North America. The aim was achieved to a large extent. Fist there were four faculties (that of history, economy, ethnology and political science and sociology) and beginning with 2000 a new one, a faculty of history of art, created jointly with the State Hermitage Museum began functioning. Besides the educational program in Russian language, there is a program IMARS (International Master of Arts in Russian Studies), on which students from Europe and North America who are research history and sociological and economical problems of Russia are accepted.
The annual admission is not great: 40-50 students of the main program and 20-30 on the IMARS; at the same time there is quite a stern dropout during the education. Though students of the University defended over 100 graduation papers on history, sociology, culturology and other sciences for past years. Defence of theses are held in senates of institutes of the RAS and prominent institute of higher education of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Although it was easy for EUSP to create its own academic senate, for a long time defence in external senates was an independent evaluation of a work, which hardly can be contested. Many theses were later worked into monographs and issued by the EUSP publishing house or by commercial publishing houses (European house, Aleteja, NLO). Some were translated or are prepared for translation.
From the very beginning EUSP opened up splendid opportunities for scientific work. The up-to-date library amounts to 40 000 papers books and provided access to online and full-text databases of publishing houses and big collections of periodicals, such as JSTOR or EBSCO. Within the boundaries of the University several research centres function, carry out seminars and expeditions, supervise scientific projects. EUSP regularly organizes summer schools and conferences. A three-year summer school program "Modern Directions of Historical Science” (2001-2003) attracted not only Russian students, but also tens of researchers from Germany, Austria and other German-speaking countries. Program “From the History to Histories” organized jointly by the Faculty of History and Faculty of Ethnology is also very popular. Since 2001 a summer school on applied macroeconomics has been functioning.
All lecturers in the University occupy themselves with research work. Many of them combine teaching in EUSP with work in institutes of RAS. The president of the University N.B. Vakhtin is a prominent specialist in languages of the peoples of the North, a professor of the Faculty of Ethnology of EUSP and a leading scientific associate of the Institute for linguistic research of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Among lecturers there are such people as Albert Kashfullovich Baiburin, Dr.Sc. (History), EUSP; Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology (Kunstkamera), Doctor Honoris Causa of the University Sorbonne; Evgeny Anisimov, Doctor of Sciences (History), senior staff member of the St. Petersburg branch of the Institute of Russian History RAS, etc.
The world scientific community appreciated the University. Many universities and colleges of Europe and America are glad to cooperate with it and participate in its student exchange programs. In 2004 EUSP was the only Russian university, which fell in the first hundred of the most influential universities in the field of political science by results of publication activity of the lecturers. Alumni of EUSP work in multifarious fields and play even more remarkable role in Russian academic community. Many of them combine research work with teaching in universities. During several years the Faculty of political science and sociology implemented a program of support of regional universities. Fresh alumni had a possibility to prepare an original course of lectures and deliver them in universities of Petrozavodsk, Tver, Kazan.
The University is financed from the budget of St. Petersburg and by different charitable foundations. All educational and research programs, summer schools, conferences and workshops, development of the library and information infrastructure are carried out on special targeted grants. Thanks to support of charitable foundations students of EUSP receive merit-based scholarships.
But such a constant dependence from philanthropists is favorable neither for philanthropists, nor for the University. Some years ago administration of EUSP decided to create a foundation, which would allow to set a base for stable functioning of the University in the future. Significant funds have been already collected. Russian business took an active part in the establishment of the foundation.
All stated above doesn’t mean that there are no problems in EUSP. Certainly there are different opinions concerning further ways of development of the University. But the fact is, that the University is one of the most vivid and dynamic research centres of social and humanist thought in the country.
Some words about the current situation. Fire.
To say the truth there has been once a fire in the University. Some years ago a back office on the fourth floor burnt out. Fire brigade from the nearby fire station came in time, and managed to stave off flame spreading. It was even more lucky, as the back office was situated near the book depository of the main library holdings of EUSP, one of the best collections of modern literature on social sciences and the humanities, which is the pride of the University. This loss would have been irreplaceable.
Fire inspection examines regularly the University. In recent years much has changed. Special doors, which can be opened full-width in both sides, were installed in corridors. The building is equipped by a fire alarm and a loud-speaking communication system for warning in case of any contingency. There is a twenty-four-hour security.
Moreover, the administration cannot be accused of neglect of reprimands of the fire inspection. On Tuesday (February 7, 2008), a day before auditoriums of the University were so unexpectedly sealed, the rector of EUSP had distributed a circular letter: “The administration informs that by results of fire inspection of our University, we were made several reprimands. Please, don’t place back chairs removed from corridors and stair landings.”
“Within the boundaries of measures performed in order to eliminate the violations, the administration of the University has to carry out regular practical drills on fire evacuation of all lecturers, students and staff. First ‘fire-drill’ is to take place anon”.
But some ‘violations’ are ineliminable. The EUSP is situated in a historic building of XIX centure. A caracole of 1881 is under the guardianship of the State Inspection for the Protection of Historic Monuments; so it cannot be removed by no means. But it isn’t used and isn’t situated on any escape route.
According to the president of the University N. Vakhtin “The third category [of remarks] is rather remarkable. It concerns structural features of our building. For example, we have iron, but not ferroconcrete stairs. Or, for example, the corridor is not high or wide enough. Or there is no natural lighting on the stair of XIX century. You see, our building is a federal historic monument; we cannot even recolor the stairs, let alone remove it”.
It should be remarked that recently fires happened in many universities of the country and even in St. Petersburg. There were several fires in St. Petersburg State University (in the buildings of the Historical and Philosophical faculties). Meanwhile none of these buildings have been sealed.
There were several hypotheses concerning what is happening around EUSP.
The first one is quite common. EUSP occupies a building in the central part of the town. For years of its work the University has invested no inconsiderable sums of money in maintenance and repairs of the building. Within the town program on restoration of old buildings, a unique facade from pink marble was restored. Now it is a cherry on the cake for realtors; and one can neglect one non-governmental university to obtain it.
The second hypothesis, which has revealed itself in mass media in blogs, is more ‘conspirologic’. The matter concerns a grant, which EUSP has received to implement a research and educational program “Interregional electoral net of support”. The activity of the program seems to be rather innocuous; it concerns mainly explanation of Russian electoral law to pollwatchers. But a deputy from the United Russia party Gadgimet Safaraliyev was annoyed with this activity. Taking into account the level of predictability of the ‘elections’, it is strange, why to bother about pollwatchers at all. But anyway the program has been discontinued. But the administration of EUSP insists, that current problems with the fire inspection has no attitude to this program and its closing.
One can imagine even more versions of true reasons of what is going on. What’s the bottom line? There are yet no official results of the fire inspection work, but they are to appear soon. According to preliminary information, in the report of the fire inspection it will be stated that from total 52 reclamations, 20 have been eliminated fully and 3 partly. Deep reasons of the ‘coersive signal’ (so Vadim Volkov, a professor of EUSP, an author of a monograph on sociology of organized crime in post-perestroika Russia has described the situation) remain a point of speculations. One can only hope that the European University at St. Petersburg, one of the leading centres of social and humanist though in Russia, will overcome this distressing period without significant consequences. The more so because the mayor of St. Petersburg Valentina Matvienko spromised in her interview to Kommersant business daily not to stand aside the problems of the University.