Monday, August 1, 2022

To Ensure His Political Future, Putin Destroying Academic Freedom, Grozovsky Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, July 8 – Recognizing that the survival of his regime depends not on the thinning ranks of pensioners but on the rising generation, Vladimir Putin is seeking to destroy the last remnants of academic freedom lest it support protests, an action that resembles what the tsarist authorities did before the 1905 revolution reversed their efforts, Boris Grozovsky says.

            Russia’s political leaders “are gradually aging even as the level of support the regime has among the 18 to 25 age cohort is declining,” the Russian economist says. To maintain control, the Kremlin has countered by working to “transform universities from ‘disseminators of free thought into controlled ‘budget institutions’” (

            This process has come to a head since Putin launched his war in Ukraine, Grozovsky says. The university administrations are fully integrated into the state bureaucracy, faculty are under increasing restrictions preventing them from cooperating with others or speaking out, and their political solidarity and autonomy of earlier years has disappeared.

            Not only are rectors now appointed rather than elected, but they are paid now 20 times as much as most professors, leading them to identify with their government paymasters rather than the faculties they oversee. And in this situation, they have hastened in most cases to do the Kremlin’s bidding to keep the faculties and students quiet and in line.

            Moscow succeeded in imposing such controls on regional universities almost a decade ago, leaving only a handful of higher educational institutions in the two capitals with even the vestige of academic freedom. Now, in cases that have attracted widespread attention, with Kremlin is imposing similar restrictions on them.

            Faculty and students in the humanities and the social sciences are the first targets, Grozovsky says; but the restrictions on international contacts and on any expression of dissent are affecting the hard sciences as well. Not surprisingly, faculty and students in both the one and the other are leaving to live and work abroad.

            What Putin is doing recalls what the tsars did 120 years ago, suppressing academic freedom so as to silence political dissent. “Only the radicalization of the political situation before 1905 forced the authorities to return part of the autonomy to the universities.” Authoritarian states can’t have free universities, which will always remain a threat.


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