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May 8, 2014

Freedom is specific

Am I more or less free in Russia than when I was in the US? The answer is not that obvious. Let’s consider a few practical matters.
  1. This blog – only once have I considered self-censorship here, and in the end decided to go with that anyway. I was afraid that my post, no matter how insignificant, may affect the chances for our rector to be reappointed (he is appointed directly by the government). Later I learned that the rector expressed more or less the same sentiment publicly on radio, so he took the risk, too. In the US, I had to pull my blogs or edit them several times, all because of concerns with political situation within the state. It is safe in the US to criticize the federal government, but the state, especially if it is a small state – a different matter altogether. In fact, a state official had called my superiors to pressure them about my blog (and it wasn’t even offensive or outrageous, just critical). 
  2. The concept of Experiential Studios, which was designed with my colleagues, could not be, for a number of reasons, implemented at RIC. Partly because of the accreditation regime in the US, and partly, because of the resistance by the Arts and Sciences faculty. Well, we’re implementing a very similar program starting this Fall here at HSE. Not without a fight, but it has been approved. 
  3. In American universities, I had to spend a lot of time on mostly boring tasks, associated with accreditation (read NCATE). Not just boring, but I was not convinced it is useful. Here in Russia (I’ve got in again on an accreditation year, such luck), I was able to delegate most of this work to others. And the project itself was not that burdensome Probably as useless I terms of quality assurance, but less demanding. Instead, I was able to pull off a really interesting exercise of external review for our two programs. Wу have asked international experts to read our student’s theses, and grade them to see if they consider the final product to be at the world level (they did). 
So, what I am saying? My country has just annexed a part of its neighbor and looks like is gearing up to intervene in a civil war. The state-controlled mass media looks more and more chauvinistic. There are no independent TV channels, or courts here; the non-profit sector is being harassed. How can one be freer? That’s just the thing – there is no freedom, there are many kinds of freedom and non-freedom in various dimensions of our lives. Professionally it can be one thing, politically – quite different. Then there is the personal life, the everyday life (where doo you buy your groceries? How do you pay your bills?). All of these have different textures of freedom, and those vary within one country from city to city, and definitely among countries.

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