A new policy collapsing low-ranked universities into more favorably rated institutions has sparked protest in Moscow. The Moscow Times reports:
Students and faculty of the Russian State University of Trade and Economics who last week vowed an indefinite strike over the Education and Science Ministry’s decision to reorganize the university have appealed to Patriarch Kirill to intervene in the matter, news reports said Wednesday morning. In an open letter posted on the school’s website, members of faculty ask Patriarch Kirill to step in and help save the university and its “spiritual traditions.”
They also complain of a “special cynicism” in the timing of the Education Ministry’s decision to close the school and merge it with the Plekhanov Institute, as the decision was made just before the planned dedication ceremony for the university’s newly constructed chapel, built with the help of donations from students, faculty and staff.
An example of the school’s “spiritual traditions” could perhaps be seen last week, when they held a moleben, or service of intercession, for the health of their patroness, “the Head of the Russian Imperial House, HIH Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna [Romanova]“, one of the claimants to the Russian throne.
According to RIA Novosti, the students also “plastered the premises with portraits of President Vladimir Putin in an attempt to repel possible police attacks.”
The RSUTE – which failed to make the top 100 Russian colleges in a 2012 rating by respected weekly Expert – was to be one of the first mergers, joining with the Plekhanov Russian University of Economics (24th in the same ranking) by 2014. But about 400 of RTUSE’s [sic] 70,000 students went on strike last Wednesday in protest, refusing to leave the building… The college administration endorsed their protest, issuing a statement opposing the merger. Three RTUSE [sic] professors declared a hunger strike on Tuesday. The protesters said they feared that the merger would mean tuition hikes, mass expulsions and sackings among the teaching staff.
Leader of the nationalist Russian All-People’s Union party Sergei Baburin, who had been Rector of the University since 2002, was dismissed on December 25, prompting some faculty to begin a hunger strike.
In a statement to Russian internet newspaper Gazeta.ru earlier this week the Russian Orthodox Church’s press office said that “In Russia, the church is separate from the state. We don’t have the right to interfere in administrative matters, but we hope that the situation is resolved smoothly.” In unrelated incidents both President Vladimir Putin and Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu gave speeches earlier this month reiterating state support of the Church.
The Church has been under increased public scrutiny recently, particularly in the wake of Pussy Riot’s protest at the Cathedral of Christ the Savior this past February.
Meanwhile, in the U.S., students at the University of Southern Maine are protesting an upcoming tobacco ban:
“We just want kids to have a voice and stand up for what they believe in,” [protest organizer Jordana Avital] said Wednesday, wearing a handmade T-shirt that read “Occupy Butt Bench.”
At the time of writing they had yet to reach out either to Billy Graham or Timothy Cardinal Dolan.