By YIDAN XU
On July 5, 2013, Russia’s lower house of parliament, the State Duma, approved a bill of reforms to the Russian Academy of Sciences, an organization that manages most of Russia’s scholarly research.
The bill was a revision of an earlier proposal announced by the Education and Science Ministry of Russia in late June. In response to the Academy’s inefficiency, the ministry demanded comprehensive reforms to cut down on the excessive bureaucracy that had allegedly crippled the Academy’s performance. The proposal would remove the Academy’s right to manage its economic assets and merge it with two other major science academies in Russia, according to Science Insider.
This proposal received only minor concessions in the Duma. In the latest version, the Russian Academy of Sciences would preserve its current status for at least three years while undertaking changes aimed at increasing its effectiveness. Its authority over its own property, however, would be shifted to a newly formed state agency.
These reform proposals drew protests in the streets of Russia. On August 24, hundreds of people rallied in Moscow over the planned reforms to the Academy. Ten days later, about two hundred scientists rallied in Vladivostok, a major city in Eastern Russia, to protest, according to the Moscow Times.
At Cornell, professors echoed critics and questioned the government’s incentives and legitimacy on the projected changes.
“It’s not clear whether the Russian government pursues the interests of science academy reform or more prosaically looking into taking control of the lucrative real estate,” Prof. Ivan Bazarov, Department of Physics, said. “Still, many people feel that a reform is necessary, but few of them agree that it should be government-driven as opposed to [driven by] some independent body of world-renowned scientists.”
Prof. Slava Paperno, Department of Comparative Literature, agreed with Bazarov on the motivation of the reform.
“It’s part of the continuing policy by the Russian government to undo the damage done by the privatization of assets in the nineties,” Paperno said.
Paperno also said that the planned changes will have a negative impact on the future of the celebrated institution, which has enjoyed self-governance since its founding by Peter the Great in 1724.
“The assets that are now controlled by the scientists allow them a certain degree of control over their life and work,” Paperno said. “Losing [those assets] to the government will be a severe blow to Russian science in material, practical ways. It will also involve a loss of dignity and political independence.”
Facing the stress of public opposition, the Duma will hold a second reading of the controversial bill on the reformation of the Russian Academy of Sciences on September 17, 2013.