“Science, Education, and International Cooperation,” Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute
February 12, 2008 | Speech | Higher Education in Russia & Africa

Rector Strikhanov, President Onykii, distinguished members of the Academic Council of the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, professors, students and honored guests:

As I stand before you this afternoon, I feel privileged to become part of an institution that is a leader in scientific research and international cooperation. Pausing at the pictures of six Nobel laureates associated with MEPhI, hearing from faculty about current path-breaking research, sensing the energy of a new generation of students in laboratories gives me a confidence that a distinguished tradition promises a bright future.

In granting me this degree, you also honor the MacArthur Foundation, its support for research and education in Russia, and our determination to strengthen cooperation between our two countries. On behalf of all my colleagues at MacArthur, a heartfelt thank you.

MacArthur has a long term commitment to advancing the development of Russian universities and research institutes. I am proud that MacArthur has played a role in the renaissance of scientific research and higher education underway in Russia.

Let me pay tribute to your Rector, Mikhail Strikhanov, who has been a driving force in that renaissance. Not only here at MEPhI – where his career began and which he now so capably leads – but also in his nine years at the Ministry of Education and Science. Mikhail, your steady hand, clear thinking and unwavering commitment to reform gave us confidence that our funds would be used wisely. You understood the path necessary for a new era of excellence, building on Russia’s past strength and future promise. I applaud your longstanding dedication to Russian science and education and to the cause of international cooperation.

Science, education, and international cooperation – these are the challenges that bring MEPhI and MacArthur together. The world has entered a new century. It began with new fears and uncertainties, but we all hope for a just and sustainable world, living in peace. Few human endeavors hold more promise for the future than the growth of scientific knowledge, when coupled with humanistic values and conducted in the spirit of peaceful collaboration among nations. Humankind’s highest aspirations can only be achieved with coincidence between our two countries -- cooperation based on mutual respect, a powerful connection of interests, and deep affection between our peoples. This is a vision shared by MacArthur and MEPhI.

A few words about MacArthur. The MacArthur Foundation is a private philanthropic institution, established in 1978 by American businessmen, John D. MacArthur. All of the Foundation’s assets derive from his estate; we raise no funds, accept no contributions. We are governed by an independent board of trustees; the Foundation has no connection to the U.S. government, or to any for-profit activities.

As one of the largest private foundations in the U.S., MacArthur has assets of nearly six and a half billion dollars and makes grants each year of 260 million dollars – in the U.S. and 60 countries around the world.

In the United States we work on creating opportunity for low income families, preserving affordable housing, improving public education, and reforming the juvenile justice system.

Our work outside the U.S. focuses on biodiversity conservation, international peace and security, population and reproductive health, human rights and international justice, and migration and the global mobility of people.

Certain values animate our programs. We believe that sound public policy depends on high quality, objective research – research that gets the questions right and the facts straight. We are realistic about the present but optimistic about the future. We reject the notion that poverty, ignorance, and strife are inevitable parts of the human condition. Each of them is the accumulated product of choices made by men and women in many countries over time. We believe strongly that what people have the power to choose, they have the power to change.

In trying to spark that change, the MacArthur Foundation does not embrace any ideology other than a commitment to free expression and a passion for truth. We seek fresh ideas and new approaches. In the U.S., Russia and elsewhere we give good, smart people the chance to exercise their talents and apply their knowledge and ideals to the benefit of society. We play no role in politics.

MacArthur’s largest financial commitment outside the United States is here in Russia, where we have had an office since 1992. We come to Russia in the spirit of partnership and respect for its people and its world leadership. All of our activities are fully transparent, published in an annual report which lists all our grants. The centerpiece of our work here is a 20-year, $100 million dollar commitment to strengthening higher education and scholarly infrastructure in Russia. MacArthur provides support to 24 state universities, 3 private universities, 11 independent policy institutes, 3 journals, and 5 scholarly networks.

Much of our work is in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Science to support centers of excellence in science and technology at twenty universities across Russia, including one co-located here at MEPhI and at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Funds donated by the MacArthur Foundation are matched by federal and local government sources.

The twenty Centers have become engines of innovation in the Russian higher education system, bringing first-rate scientific equipment into the universities, fostering the integration of teaching and research, countering brain drain, and producing scientific results of great use to the Russian economy and to world science. I think of new “shape-memory” alloys ideal for medical products, created by metallurgists at Urals State University, or a new process of producing nano-structured ceramic materials suitable for aerospace machinery invented at Tomsk State University, or the exploration of methods for producing food crops with natural resistance to pests and diseases, at St. Petersburg State University.

When I visited MEPhI last November and again today, I saw first-hand the enthusiasm of the students and professors working at MEPhI’s Center for the Basic Investigation of Matter Under Extreme Conditions. By learning more about the fundamental properties of matter at the microscopic level, you are contributing to our knowledge of its macroscopic properties. This work is making profound contributions to the field of nuclear physics. I understand that, among its practical implications, it will help build the next generation of batteries and lasers.

The science is complicated, but it is easy to sense the pride and dedication of your leading researchers. Through funds awarded to the Research and Education Center, MEPhI has refitted five scientific laboratories, three educational labs, and two offices. The equipment purchased under these awards include a new semi-conductor laser Doppler instrument, and upgraded monochromators, spectrographs, and a variety of lasers. This equipment has made possible new discoveries, and helped train a growing cohort of young scientists. Among the latter, MEPhI has been very successful in attracting post-doctoral research and teaching fellows, funded under the BRHE program. The Center here has hosted nearly thirty such fellowship recipients.

I have also learned about your international collaborations. Of particular interest to me is your work on nuclear non-proliferation which is carried out jointly with U.S. national laboratories, under an agreement between the U.S. Department of Energy and the Russian Federal Agency for Nuclear Supervision. This important program trains experts to ensure that our nations’ nuclear materials are controlled, protected, and accounted for—it plays a vital role in our common security. In your partnership with the University of Maryland you a pioneering a new era of cooperation between the Ministry of Education and Science and the U.S. Department of Education—this program of joint study and student exchanges gives both universities an opportunity to showcase their scholarship in an international setting. And your scientists working with CERN are uncovering new secrets of the building blocks of matter.

At CERN, MEPhI has played a key role in designing the ATLAS transition radiation tracker and researchers have participated in experimental gluon plasma research.

Over the past two years, Russian federal funds provided through the National Priority Projects have accelerated the transformation of this country’s institutions of higher education. Here, too, MEPhI has been in the forefront of progress. I congratulate MEPhI on your selection, under the National Priority Projects, for a major grant for innovative educational activities in nuclear science and industry. The honor bestowed by this award shows that MEPhI is succeeding in its mission of developing world-class specialists for Russia’s nuclear industry. The additional funding it provides will allow MEPhI to remain at the forefront of Russia’s contributions to the integration of the world’s scientific research agenda.

I also note that many winners of Presidential grants and Potanin scholarships are among your student body. While MacArthur’s financial support is now a modest percent of research and scholarship funds flowing to MEPhI, we are pleased that our early support helped catalyze the great transformations underway here.

In addition to BRHE, MacArthur and the Education Ministry are partners in the Centers for Advanced Study and Education, or CASEs Program, in which the lead U.S. partner is the Carnegie Foundation. The CASEs Program supports nine interdisciplinary research and education centers in the social sciences and humanities. These Centers are providing research and policy advice on important issues like the role of higher education in regional labor markets at Tomsk State University, developing new air and ground transportation corridors at Ural State University, and security and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region at Far Eastern State University (in Vladivostok).

Minister Fursenko and Rector Strikhanov have been MacArthur’s closest partners for both the BRHE and CASEs programs. Each program was jointly designed and implemented by leading Russian educators and U.S. specialists with decades of experience in international scientific cooperation. Each program responds to the expressed needs of Russian higher education.

In addition to BRHE and CASEs, MacArthur supports new private institutions of graduate training and research in the social sciences – the New Economic School, the Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences, and the European University at St. Petersburg. These universities are serving as engines of innovation for the social sciences, helping train specialists in economics, political science, sociology, and other fields. The independent think tanks we fund are providing analysis across a range of policy arenas, such as youth concerns, regional environmental policy, immigration, and the impact of globalization on rural localities. And support for journals like Pro et Contra, Demoscope, and Ab Imperio strengthen new channels of scholarly communication.

Apart from research and education, a smaller portion of MacArthur funding in Russia goes to civil society organizations promoting the rule of law and human rights. We work in partnership with local groups and government authorities to help improve the functioning of the police and the independent ombudsman system. Our work on the rule of law in Russia is part of a global commitment to justice, which includes significant support for the International Criminal Court and regional human rights bodies like the European Court of Human Rights and the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights.

Our work with civil society groups and universities is mutually reinforcing. We believe that strong universities are part of and help nurture a vibrant civil society. And universities are the bellwether for democratic societies. Can we think of any vibrant democracy that has not been nurtured by free and dynamic universities? The reverse is also true, as we know all too well: authoritarian regimes are by their nature insecure and dare not tolerate either intellectual liberty or academic independence.

I have great hope for Russia’s future when I see the talent and creativity at work in its world-renown universities and research institutes. I applaud current trends in higher education policy – toward becoming part of a European-wide higher education area, and toward further empowering universities, granting them greater institutional autonomy and greater responsibility for charting their own directions.

The Trustees of the MacArthur Foundation are encouraged by those trends and feel that our grants to universities and scholarly activists have been well used. Therefore, I am pleased to announce that MacArthur will continue its support for science and higher education beyond the current program. We will talk with Minister Fursenko and Rector Strikhanov and other leaders and scientists about how MacArthur can be most helpful in the future. In the spirit of partnership, we welcome your ideas as we plan the next era of our work together.

Let me conclude with a personal observation. I enjoy foundation life, but given my own background as a historian and a former university president, I feel most at home on a university campus. I enjoy walking the halls of MEPhI, talking with students, learning about your dreams and your vision for a future in Russia with opportunity to develop your talents in an open society. When I hear pessimism in the West about Russia, I counter with your stories, your optimism, and your commitment to building a prosperous, confident Russia ready to lead in the quest for a more just world at peace.

This university began its life in a different era, at a time when the Soviet Union and the United States were joined together in a great struggle against fascism. Our countries have since passed through a phase of monumental rivalry to embrace the possibility for a genuine partnership.

Robust partnerships take time to build, there can be setbacks and disappointments along the way. Our governments need the help of people of good will from both our countries who know, like, and respect each other. MacArthur is dedicated to forging ties through civil society and through universities. What unites our countries is much deeper and enduring than what separates us. And science is the most powerful bridge of all.

The language and values of science are universal. It is no accident that scientists have always been at the forefront of international cooperation in the cause of peace. Those most acquainted with the destructive potential of science have been among the most ardent voices for peace. I think of Albert Einstein, Robert Oppenheimer, Andrei Sakharov, and of course, the founder of the Moscow Engineering Physics Institute, Academician Igor Kurchatov.

In his last public address, in January of 1960, Kurchatov said: "I'm glad that I have dedicated my life to Soviet nuclear science. I believe that our people and government will use that science only for the good of mankind." The work you are engaged in today is bearing out Kurchatov’s conviction. I will be forever proud to be associated with MEPhI. I draw inspiration from your achievements and encouragement from your aspirations. I accept with humility the honor you have entrusted to me today.

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