photo by Raven Fawcett

TU’s Russian Studies dishearteningly deteriorates

Russian studies are still relevant in today’s world, and students continue to show interest, yet TU has failed to give the department the resources it needs.

TU’s Russian Studies degree program has humble beginnings. In 1979, history professor Dr. Joseph Bradley moved here from Harvard. Students in his classes showed interest in TU gaining a Russian Studies program; eventually they gathered enough signatures on a petition to the dean that the Arts & Sciences college hired an adjunct Russian language professor. Between this adjunct, Dr. Bradley, and a few others during the 1980s, the program began to gain traction as a degree option. Then came Robert Donaldson.

Former TU President Dr. Robert Donaldson began at the university in 1990. He stepped down as president in 1996, but continued to teach classes until as late as 2009. Classes he taught included such course titles as “The Politics and Culture of Russia,” “The Cold War” (a freshman seminar), “Russian Foreign Policy” and “Global Threats to American Security.” Donaldson was a leading voice behind the creation of the sister city partnership between Tulsa and Zelenograd, a city in Russia just outside of Moscow. Donaldson was also responsible for bringing world renowned Soviet/Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko to TU for the first time in 1992. Yevtushenko would end up making his home in Tulsa, teaching Russian Literature and film classes at TU until he passed away in April of this year. His classes always had wait lists and many students remarked that his were the most memorable courses they took at TU.

After Yevtushenko’s passing, faculty of the Russian Studies program asked the university’s administrators if the funds that went to pay his salary could now be spent on hiring another Russian language professor. They were told that the “funds had already been spent.” There are currently just two Russian language professors and only one is full time. Compare this to other language departments like German or Spanish that have enough faculty and enough courses to offer full bachelor’s degrees in just the language alone. The only major Russian has is Russian Studies, billed as “an interdisciplinary program in Russian language, literature and culture, history and politics.” Due to the small course availability, Russian language courses must be paired with history and political science classes for majors to earn the degree, which can present problems of their own.

When Donaldson retired, TU hired Dr. Guarav Kampani to fill the gap Donaldson left in the political science department. However, Kampani does not teach a single course that deals specifically with Russia. Classes he teaches include titles like “American National Security Policy” and “The Politics of the Global Commons,” which are very different from Donaldson’s offerings. His teaching focus includes “South Asia” and “US Foreign Security Policy.” Again, nothing specific about Russia.

Dr. Bradley recalls a time when he had about 80 students enrolled in sections of a class he taught called “Russia Today.” He has not taught that class for several years now. Bradley, who is the last remaining professor in the Arts & Sciences college to teach strictly Russia-related courses, retires this May. “Without the faculty it needs,” he told me “this program will die.”

Where does the program currently stand? Christine Ruane, who taught history courses related to Russia, is gone. Bob Donaldson, who taught Russian policy courses, is gone. Yevgeny Yevtushenko, who taught Russian literature and film, is deceased. Joseph Bradley, who teaches Russian history classes, is retiring in May. That leaves two language professors: Applied Associate Professor of Russian Elena Doshlygina and Adjunct Instructor Olga Randolph. The latter might only have one class in the spring, despite the fact that their admired language and culture classes are often overfilled with eager students. The newly named head of the Russian Studies program is Dr. Benjamin Peters, a media studies professor who also has expertise in Russian Studies. Due to departmental demands, he currently does not teach a course that specifically relates to Russia; although this could, in theory, change.

During a conversation, Peters said that “TU is poised very well to rebuild a strategic, critical Russian Studies program. We need to make sure that we do not miss this opportunity.” As TU is so heavily invested in both cybersecurity and petroleum, it only makes sense to have a strong Russian program. Russia is the only other nation in the world that is as heavily invested as the United States is in both of those arenas. As Peters puts it, “show me a global citizen who thinks he or she doesn’t have to interact with Russia, and I’ll show you a seriously disadvantaged person.” Russia, both history and current events agree, is not going anywhere; neither should we.

Speaking of global citizens, Russian Studies is a program that’s produced two Fulbright winners (one of whom won a critical language scholarship) in just the past four years alone, as well as a deep bunch of impressive alumni who operate across global industries and national government.

TU bills itself as a school that makes students think globally. There’s the Center for Global Education, Global Scholars program and Global Graduate award. Semester after semester, TU students listen to administrators tout how internationally accepting the campus is, how diverse the student body is, how well-prepared graduates are to face a globalized world. In fact, Forbes magazine recently named TU a Top 20 university for international students. Why then is TU letting its Russian program slowly die?

Professors who’ve never been replaced? Check. Salary money that was “already spent” before it could be allocated back into its own department? Check. One more professor about to retire? Check.
Still, perhaps not all is lost: professors told me Dean Misra, of the Kendall College of Arts and Sciences, remains supportive of Russian Studies. What this program needs is a healthy, revitalizing boost. It needs it fast. It needs it now.

The faculty are doing all they can. Already, Professor Doshlygina has collected over 80 student signatures on a solidarity petition for the program. She also received 12 letters from alumni of the program in support of Russian Studies, which she hand-delivered to President Clancy’s office. The future of the Russian Studies program remains to be seen. On the eve of one of TU’s largest events, the International Bazaar, a night that celebrates TU’s diversity, it would be quite an appropriate time to hear some good news from administration concerning the Russian Studies program. Rest assured, the Russian Club will have a booth there.

Post Author: Alex Garoffolo