Remarks by John Slocum on the Foundation's Efforts to Strengthen Russia's Scholarly Infrastructure, March 1, 2006
March 1, 2006 | Speech | Higher Education in Russia & Africa

Russia has been in the news a lot recently.  Some of the news is negative, but I wanted to take this opportunity to provide a larger context.  In brief, MacArthur has been able to do a lot of good in Russia, and we believe that we will continue to be able to do so for some time to come.  But the new NGO law and the political calendar of the next two years will likely present some challenges to the Foundation and our grantees.

I’ll start with an assertion, which I’d be happy to back up if asked.  The end of Communist rule in Russia and Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War, and the breakup of the Soviet Union – all of which happened in a period of less than three years – from early 1989 through the end of 1991, were global events of far greater significance than 9/11 or anything else that happened since 1945.  In the case of Russia, the most important of the post-Soviet states, this meant a chance to move toward democracy and a market-based economy after a 70-year experiment with communism. 

It should not be surprising that MacArthur got involved in Russia at that crucial juncture.  The Foundation was dedicated to working on issues of arms control and international cooperation, we had experience in funding policy analysis and scientific research, and we had experience in U.S.-Soviet relations.

MacArthur began early grantmaking under its Initiative in the Soviet Union in 1991; already by the end of that year, we had to rename it Initiative in the Former Soviet Union, later the Russia Initiative.  In 1992, we opened an office in Moscow, which has been directed from the outset by my colleague Tatiana Zhdanova.

The details of our Russia strategy have shifted over time.  Today, there are two main areas of work – higher education and human rights; in fact, we have discontinued use of the term “Russia Initiative” as of this year in recognition that our work there in higher education and human rights is part of a larger Foundation effort in these areas.  We also make a small number of Russia grants through the Science, Technology and Security strategy of the International Peace and Security grantmaking area.  Looking back, from 1993 through 2004 the Foundation also operated a Research and Writing grants competition in Russia; looking forward, we may possibly incorporate one or two Russia projects into the new Migration Initiative.

The main tasks at the outset determined an agenda that still informs our strategy today – first, finding ways of making better use of an overgrown and under-funded research establish in the hard sciences; second, turning the social sciences from an offshoot of Marxist-Leninist ideology to a set of tools that could be used for objective, empirical analysis of social realities and public policy options, and third, empowering civil society organizations to become active contributors to Russia’s transformation. 

Since 1992, MacArthur has made over 2,300 grants totaling nearly $115 million for work in Russia and the other post-Soviet states (this includes some 1,800 grants to individuals). The current annual budget for our core Russia work – higher education and human rights – is $10.3 million.

I’ll talk about current grantmaking under each of these programs and some of the impact they are having.  I’ll then turn to a discussion of the current political context.

The Foundation currently provides $6.9 million annually in support of universities and other elements of scholarly infrastructure in Russia.

Some of the main goals of this work are:

First, to create modern research universities; in the Soviet system that Russia inherited, research and teaching were institutionally divided.  Leading research was done in institutes of the Academy of Sciences and other government research institutes; some leading universities had a significant research capacity but most were essentially teaching institutions.  With resources tight, there was a need in Russia to consolidate teaching and research within the university setting.

The second goal is to counter brain drain; many of the best minds in Russia have emigrated and/or abandoned scientific pursuits, and we want to help provide incentives for them to stay in science in Russia.

Closely associated with this is the need to train new generations of scientists and scholars.  The professoriate is ageing rapidly and, in the social sciences, is still too heavily populated by older professors of “scientific communism.”

Another goal is to renew key fields; again, in the social sciences these are typically disciplines that little serious intellectual content in the Soviet period (e.g., international relations, sociology, political science, gender studies).

A final goal is to strengthen scholarly communication; the end of the Soviet system cut ties, made travel often prohibitively expensive, and reinforced old tendencies to hoard information and contacts, and a system characterized by minimal scholarly mobility.  Under these conditions, building and strengthening networks – within Russia and between Russian scholars and their foreign counterparts – is very important. 

The metaphor of a balanced portfolio applies to this work, in that we support institutions both inside and outside the state system of higher education. 

The largest amount of MacArthur funding currently goes to two large programs of support for centers of excellence at Russian state universities.  The BRHE program is in the natural and physical sciences, and the CASEs program in the social sciences and humanities.  Each of these represents attempts to work within the system to help transform Russia’s universities into modern centers of integrated research and teaching, and to help counter brain drain.

Prior to 1992, the state system of research and higher education was the only game in town – there were no independent research institutions or private colleges or universities.  Coming from the U.S. context, we believe that a healthy research and educational system requires a range of institutional forms.  We also believe that some wholly new institutions are needed to move the social sciences out of the Soviet era. Thus, the next largest part of MacArthur’s funding goes to support three private universities – technically these are graduate schools only – in the social sciences.  These are the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, the New Economic School (also in Moscow), and the European University at St. Petersburg.  These private institutions are making an attempt to jump-start the social sciences through creating new research faculties outside the state system.  They are also producing new graduates that can seed the state system with a growing cohort of thinkers trained to be fully capable of participating in the international scholarly community.

A fourth private school is the European Humanities University, or EHU, which is not in Russia but was originally located in Minsk, Belarus.  In 2004, EHU was forced to close its doors by the government of Belarusian President Lukashenko, a move which triggered much local and international protest.  MacArthur has been a leader in helping the EHU to re-establish itself as a university in exile in neighboring Vilnius, Lithuania.  

In addition to universities, MacArthur also supports ten nongovernmental public policy institutes, or think tanks.  The presence of private think tanks, as opposed to government research centers, is also entirely new to the post-Soviet period in Russia.  MacArthur-supported institutes include a mix of established and newly emerging entities, some located in Moscow, others in the provinces of Russia.  These provide independent sources of expertise for policy reform, serve as linkages between universities and policy makers, and also provide alternative career paths for the best of the new generation of scholars.

A final piece of MacArthur’s Russian higher education is support for academic networks and for the publication of specialized scholarly journals.  These elements of scholarly infrastructure provide crucial connective tissue for the rebirth of intellectual life in post-Soviet Russia.  We currently support four networks – on international relations, political science, security studies, gender studies, and interethnic conflict.  We also provide targeted funding for five journals.  A number of other journals and publications are funded as part of larger projects supported at the policy institutes.  And finally, MacArthur provides access to the online journal archive JSTOR to every Russian university that receives MacArthur funds.

I turn now to human rights in Russia, which is part of a larger grantmaking area in Human Rights and International Justice.  Russia is the largest country-specific component of this work, amounting to $3.4 million annually.

The overall goal of MacArthur’s human rights grantmaking strategy for Russia is to help strengthen a Russia-wide network of human rights organizations that can provide effective monitoring of human rights abuses, disseminate information to key domestic and international audiences, and achieve both redress for specific human rights abuses and systemic improvements in the implementation of human rights laws by utilizing judicial institutions on both the Russian and international levels.  Such a network is a key factor in helping the Russian government live up to its domestic and international commitments, building trust in the legal system, and strengthening Russian democracy and civil society.

This work concentrates on three themes:

• First, addressing pervasive problems of police abuse and working cooperatively with the police to introduce key reforms;

• Second, helping Russians make better use of the European Court of Human Rights; and

• Third, assisting in the development of the institution of the regional human rights ombudsman.

In its geographic dimension, our human rights work follows a hub-and-spokes model.   MacArthur funds a dozen Moscow-based groups that serve as hubs or resource centers for Russia-wide networks of human rights organizations.  We also fund up to three groups in each of ten focus regions, shown on the map.

Let me turn to a brief discussion of the impact of MacArthur’s work in Russia – starting with higher education.

On the level of individuals, MacArthur has helped boost the careers of thousands of students and scholars.  The state university centers we support involve over 3,000 students and 2,000 faculty; we also co-fund a targeted fellowship program that currently supports 300 post-docs at the BRHE centers in the natural and physical sciences.  The three private schools have produced nearly 3,000 graduates, and more than 1,000 Research and Writing grantees had the opportunity to scale back on teaching and other professional duties and devote an extended period of time to research. 

On the level of institutions, we’ve helped build new schools, think tanks, and journals, and help transform others.

On the level of scholarly fields, MacArthur has played an important role in breathing new life into the curriculum and research agenda for sociology, ethnic studies, and international relations – and we’ve been a key player in nurturing the field of gender studies.  Each of these fields address crucial topics on contemporary Russian society – whether the pervasive discrimination against women and ethnic minorities, or the need to find new solutions in the realms of social policy or Russia’s foreign relations.  In the hard sciences, MacArthur grantees are making advances in fields as varied as genetics, materials science, and marine biology.

And finally, on the level of systems reform, MacArthur has made several key contributions.  Our support for individuals – particularly in the social sciences – has helped accelerate the generational transition away from the pseudo-science of scientific communism.  We’ve had an enormous impact by way of the methods by which we’ve offered support – most crucially, in the use of open, peer-reviewed competitions in both the Research and Writing competition and the BRHE program.  This has helped break up the old-boy networks and non-competitive, essentially corrupt research funding patterns that Russia inherited from the Soviet Union. 

We are also promoting projects that will help Russia reform its entire higher education system to meet the requirements of the so-called Bologna process.  This is the goal of creating a so-called “common European higher education space” by 2010.  Some of the main requirements include the introduction of a two-cycle BA-MA system, and the adoption of a system of transferable credits.

Finally, the Russian government recently announced that it will create and fund 25 new university research and education centers on the model of BRHE and CASEs – a clear indication that our work has had a systemic impact.

In the human rights field, progress is tougher, but here, too, one can point to impact on several levels. 

On the level of institutions, we are supporting a set of anchor institutions and helping promote a new generation of emerging human rights groups through a small grants program administered by the Moscow-based Fulcrum Foundation. 

Our support for networks has helped our biggest grantee, the Moscow Helsinki Group, produce the first comprehensive overview of human rights conditions in each of Russia’s 89 regions.

Support for bringing cases to the European Court has led to some important outcomes.  Recently, the Court delivered its first verdict in a case concerning Russian police torture. In the case of Mikheev v. Russia, the Court held that the Russian Federation had violated the European Convention on Human Rights’ prohibition of torture and the right to an effective remedy. The judgment came about in large part through the efforts of several MacArthur grantees, including the Nizhnii Novgorod Committee Against Torture and the London-based INTERIGHTS. 

And MacArthur has helped Russia build a new institutional architecture for human rights.  In recent years, the number of regions with human rights ombudsmen has more than tripled, to more than 30, due in part due to the promotional efforts of our grantee the St. Petersburg Strategy Center.  A MacArthur grantee, INDEM, is working with police in several cities to introduce standard, more user-friendly procedures for handling first contact with citizens at police stations. Finally, the spotlight our grantees bring to cases of human rights abuse, and their assistance to victims, is helping bring redress for thousands of individuals.

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