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Last month, when the Russian Attorney General’s Office listed Bard as an “unpopular” organization, the nearly 25-year partnership between Bard College in New York and St. Petersburg State University came to an abrupt end.

The name actually criminalizes Bard in Russia and exposes individuals working on behalf of the Russian Academy to fines or imprisonment of up to six years.

Bard’s executive vice president and vice president of academic affairs, Jonathan Becker, said that there is uncertainty about how the law will be enforced. It’s not clear whether criminal penalties can be applied just because of its association with Bard — “That’s why it is so. It’s dangerous,” he said.

Bard is the first international higher education organization to receive this title. Bard has an unusually deep connection in Russia. In the 1990s, he collaborated with St. Petersburg State University to co-found Smolny College, a liberal arts college that offers bachelor and master degrees from two institutions.

Becker said that after the attorney general made a decision, St. Petersburg State cancelled its relationship with Bard and notified Bard officials that these officials would no longer serve as members of the advisory board. In addition, Becker said that St. Petersburg State chose not to award the Bard Diploma to 142 students who received the Bard Diploma at the graduation ceremony held last weekend (he said students still get their degrees from St. Petersburg).

“From the original idea, this is a dual degree program,” Becker said. “In addition to the diversity of student exchanges, faculty exchanges, conferences and research, this is a dual-degree program in which Russian students have obtained degrees from St. Petersburg State University and Bard College, so as a platform through Bard, the United States and There are a large number of cooperation places between Russia. Students from more than 50 American universities study in Russia. In Bard, we receive 60 to 70 Russian students each year to participate in semester or summer courses. For example, through this cooperation, we have created The meeting of the Roosevelt Presidential Library and the Boris Yeltsin Presidential Library convened a liberal arts education meeting and conducted joint research. This is a multi-faceted and multi-level program that has lasted for nearly a quarter of a century.”

In addition to ending cooperation with St. Petersburg, Becker said that the appointment of Russian prosecutors has also raised concerns about the potential impact of Bard faculty and students who travel to Russia to attend conferences or study abroad for other academic purposes.

Becker said: “The fact now is that the law is very ambiguous on many issues that affect academic interaction.” “How to understand and enforce the law is not clear. We know that there are some things we can’t do, but we don’t know this. The absolute scope of the matter.”

“This is a blow to academic freedom,” Becker added. “It is one thing to say that Bard Academy should not cooperate with Russian institutions. It will be very difficult and sad. Marking us as an “unpopular” entity is another thing. Its broad impact is not yet clear.”

The Russian prosecutor’s office did not explain why Bard was considered unpopular, only that Official media reports Its activities “threaten Russia’s constitutional order and security.” The Russian Embassy in the United States did not respond to a request for comment.

Some netizens speculate Bud’s deep relationship with billionaire financier George Soros And the non-profit organization Open Society Foundation he presided over-this is also Banned as an “unpopular” NGO in Russia – may have played a role, although Becker pointed out that St Petersburg State University recently opened a representative office in Bard because Bard has received $60 million gift From the Open Society Foundation (Becker said that since the organization was banned in Russia, the college has not spent any OSF funds in Russia).

Political factors within Russia may also be at work. Alexei Kudrin was the former Minister of Finance under the leadership of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He was Dean of Smolny and in recent months Measures were taken to separate the college from St. Petersburg State University and establish it as an independent institution.

Sam Green, professor of Russian political science and director of the King’s Russian Institute at King’s College London, said on Twitter that this was “obviously a shot at Kudrin”.

Green said in an interview that he was both surprised and not surprised at Bard’s appointment.

Green said: “The Russian government has been taking actions for many years to reduce the ability of various foreign organizations to influence Russian society.” “For some time, vultures have been hovering in the field of higher education, giving some more international and possibly more open-minded institutions. Put pressure on and chase many sources of funding, especially those that have sources of funding you might think. Political archives. A few years ago, the Open Society Foundation and MacArthur Foundation Fund research and academic exchanges with others. “

“In fact, after cleaning up most of the landscape, they will eventually notice that this project is in progress, involving Bard-there are not many similar projects in Russia-it may just be a matter of time,” Green said. “It is surprising that they will take steps to declare the entire foreign higher education institution as an unpopular organization.”

“We are talking about thousands of people now, and they are now not subject to Russian law,” Green continued. “We don’t know what consequences this will have on Bard’s teachers and students, or the exchanges between Russia and Western universities more generally. Will this force Western universities to reconsider their relations with Russia?”

Becker stated that he believes that the government’s actions “fundamentally stem from the breakdown of US-Russian relations.” He said there have been other tense moments over the years, “but by focusing on education, we managed to avoid the worst political impulse to date.”

“We are in the same boat, we have been together as partners and have experienced the ups and downs of US-Russian relations,” he said. “For current students and graduates, and those studying exchange programs, it is very sad and disappointing that this is happening now.”

Ryan Fedasiuk was one of those students who were disappointed. Fedasiuk is now a master’s student at Georgetown University. In 2018, he participated in Smolny’s exchange program during his undergraduate study at an American university.

“In general, this is very positive. I learned a lot about Russian culture, language and the worldview of Russian peers at St. Petersburg State University,” Fedashuk said. “I contacted the students and asked them how they view current events in international relations. I have been living with a host family, such as [when] Have International relations between Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea broke out in the fall of 2018, I have to debate with them on some interesting issues. There are some experiences that really shaped my views on Russia and the broader international relations. I think it is a shame that the program is no longer allowed to run there. “

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