Last week, 185 presidents of Russian colleges and graduate schools endorsed the Kremlin’s War in Ukraine. The statement was released by the Russian Union of Rectors, an umbrella for over 700 presidents of the country’s colleges and universities, and is publicly available.
“This is Russia’s decision — […] to ensure demilitarization and denazification of Ukraine, protecting ourselves from the growing military threat” says the statement. The long list of signatories involves presidents of the finest, most internationally acclaimed and also regional schools, bringing together schools as far apart as from Kaliningrad in the west to Vladivostok in the east.
The statement sums up by saying: “Today as never before we must demonstrate decisiveness and resilience in the condition of economic and information attacks, resentfully unite around our President […] Together we are the great power!” The first and the most important signature in the list belongs to Victor Sadovnichy, rector of the Moscow State University and president of the Russian Union of Rectors.
For the last 30 years, Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia’s major and oldest university, has been led by 82-year-old mathematician Sadovnichy. For the last 28 years he is also in charge of the Russian Union of Rectors. A doctoral supervisor of Vladimir Putin’s daughter Ekaterina Tikhonova, Sadovnichy and his ties to Kremlin have been a subject for a number of investigations, including a long-read profile by the Project, Russian independent investigative media, now operating in exile.
In an unsurprising coincidence, a day before Tikhonova’s doctoral defense, Putin decorated Sadovnichy with a “Merit to the Fatherland” medal. To no one’s surprise in 2012 and 2018, Sadovnichy was Putin’s presidential campaign trustee; he sits on the Supreme Council of the United Russia, the top tier of the country’s ruling party. By this point you should not be surprised that Putin personally chairs the Board of Trustees at the Moscow State. During Sadovnichy’s rule, the scale of persecution of independent-minded faculty and students at Moscow State has only increased, a pattern common for the higher education sector across Russia during the last two decades.
Despite all that, Yale continues to partner with Moscow State University. The most vivid platform of this cooperation belongs to the Fox Fellowship program. Despite the statement by University President Peter Salovey and the most recent condemnation by Faculty of Arts and Sciences Senate, the ties remain in place. Isn’t this the right time to cease Yale’s work with MSU, a corrupt school which endorses the most brutal war Europe has faced since 1945?
Realizing what value Russian studies and networking with academics in the region bring to Yale, schools like the European University of St. Petersburg or Moscow School of Social and Economic Studies, who did not sign the statement and have an impeccable international reputation, would suffice for ceasing ties with Moscow State.
Ultimately, now is the time for Yale also to introduce our Ukrainian peers to the Fox program and get rid of the ties with Russian war-mongering schools. It is not only the heroic resistance of Ukrainians that the world remains astonished to witness, but also a fact that the country, defending its and Europe’s freedom, is a home to fine schools, including the Ukrainian Catholic University, Kyiv Mohyla Academy, Kyiv School of Economics, and others. Yale students and faculty, especially in the realm of Eastern European studies, would benefit from such partnership.
Recently, a Write to Your Dean Campaign was launched. It calls upon reaching out to deans and presidents across the world calling to cease ties with Russian schools and providing a research and residential fund for Ukrainian academics. Faculty members and students both at Yale and the rest of the Ivy League should follow the call. It is not only ethical but meaningful that the academic community steps in and supports peers who are under Kremlin’s slaughter.
Maksimas Milta is a first-year graduate student in European & Russian Studies at Yale MacMillan Center. Before coming to Yale, he worked extensively at the European Humanities University, a Belarusian University-in-Exile, located in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Correction, Mar. 15: the piece has been updated to correct the name of the European University of St. Petersburg.