More on Russian Academia

Lyndon at Scraps of Moscow adds to the MGU controversy with a comment on the matter from an alumnus. He also rightly puts the matter into the larger context of the Russian government’s battle with the Russian Academy of Sciences and their future direction.

The collapse of the Russian academy is one of the worst outcomes of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Many of the brightest, especially in the hard sciences, have left for better opportunity and pay resulting in a severe brain drain. The result has been a loss of an estimated $30 billion to the Russian economy.

The soft sciences have suffered worse. The lack of funding in the form of pay and research, has left many to either make deals with Western publishers (i. e. Yale University Press’ deal with the Russian State Archive for Social-Political History to produce their Annals of Communism series), to put up their own money and time to publish, or simply sit on their laurels and collect bribes from students. To succeed as a Russian academic nowadays requires a certain level of entrepreneurship.

The second strata of scholars are the least common and most impressive. I’ve met several of these folks in archives. One guy drove all the way from Tula to work in Riazan. Another young student came from Tambov to Moscow to do his research. It’s not the travel that is impressive. It’s the fact that the travel, expense, and time bears so little fruit and yet they still slave away for the love of it. Unlike in American universities where publication comes with prestige, pay raises, and other perks, publication in Russia comes with prestige but most often only in local academic cliques.

Many of the best books I’ve found in Moscow’s small bookstores (the best by far being Нина) are self published with runs of 300-500 copies. Such small runs make it difficult to even get your book into libraries. This is all unfortunate because there are some amazing studies coming out in Russia but their limited press run and lack of institutional support assures that they will be virtually ignored by their American colleagues.