students' letters

Unterstützungsschreiben an die Studierenden der Soziologie Fakultät der Moskauer Staatsuniversität

Euer Brief von den Vorkommnissen an der Soziologie Fakultät der Moskauer Staatsuniversität ist auch bei uns angekommen. Die Situation scheint uns höchst alarmierend zu sein. Wir sind uns darüber im Klaren, dass eurer Probleme tief in den Ausbildungsstrukturen und Prozessen verankert und uns insofern auch nicht gänzlich unbekannt sind. Wir verfassen diesen Text in solidarischer Absicht um euch zu unterstützen.

Entrance exams for the MGU sociology faculty, or 'All you need to bring is a pen'

Sociology Student, MGU:

Greetings!

I would like to support you and to provide some information which will, I think, be interesting. I am not going to come out in the open and give my name, I have a lot to lose at present. I well understand that in so far as there will be no actual names in my account (and I can actually only name two people anyway), it may appear like an unsubstantiated accusation. Still, I hope it will be published because it will resonate both within and outside the faculty, where the administration knows what I am writing about far better than I do. Like you, it is important to me to receive a good education and I cannot bear the constant pressures exerted by the administration.

Entrance exams for the MGU sociology faculty, or 'All you need to bring is a pen'.

It so happened that my father, without my asking, decided to ‘insure' me and paid someone so that I would certainly get in.

I knew about this a day before the exam and was hurt to discover that my father had no faith in me, but, it was too late and a lot of money had been spent.

I want to provide a brief account of how the sociology faculty ‘admissions' system works for children who pay.

On balance, I have no idea how they grade the exam essay because they only give a score - if the score is higher than a 2 (D) then the candidate goes through to the next exam.

Maths

A day before the exam a pleasant female voice phoned and said that after the exam I should go immediately to a lecture hall on the first floor (I don't remember which one).

To my astonishment, about 30 people were gathered in the lecture hall. Several lecturers came in with the exam papers we had just submitted. On each paper was a sticker with a number (representing the amount by which each candidate's grade should be raised, according to their performance in the essay exam). They explained how to solve the maths problems and then sat down with the prospective students to help them correct their work ‘as much as was needed'.

General Knowledge

Two days later a pleasant voice phoned and said that on the day of the exam I should go to Lecture Hall 100 and something, in the sociology faculty. I arrived and there was a queue all the way down the corridor. It would seem that people had decided to economise and just pay to pass General Knowledge because there were far more people than for Maths.

The door to the office was open and everyone behaved as if a totally normal everyday thing was happening.

A woman with a kind smile was sitting behind the desk in the office. On the desk was a box of new pens in four colours. I chose a pen offered by the woman and she used it to write my name on a piece of paper, saying that I must write my General Knowledge exam with the exact same pen, and heaven forbid if I forgot or lost it.

After that it was all easy, I got the required number of points on the test.

To be honest, it was very nasty to see people in the Maths and General Knowledge exams who just sat and sat, gave in blank, absolutely blank exam papers, and were admitted nonetheless. [...]

And that is the story.

They understand everything, they aren't stupid

Hi to my dear revolutionaries!

Well done all of you! Perhaps it was not the best way to do it, making the news will hardly have much influence but look at what you have sent the administration's way. You are clever!

I would like to propose that the information is expanded, and I have already been working on this for two days now. What news! There has been nothing like it before in our faculty. You'll be remembered! [...]

Signatures are all very well but no one takes any notice of them. If you remember, signatures were once collected once to save some boy or other and for other things, but, I don't think that anything was achieved, even though there were at least 250 people who signed. Still, I hope you will have more success.

By the way I was at the faculty today and ‘accidentally' overheard some lecturers talking. They were sure that some adult or other is at the forefront of the protest, inciting the youth to action!

One of the security guards also uttered the following phrase about poor students: ‘the reporters are pumping our students for information, but only those young and stupid ones who travel by metro; the ones weith cars tell the reporters to f*** off. They understand everything, they aren't stupid.'

What a lethal comment!!!!!! I don't go around in a car and I don't consider myself an idiot.

There you go!

All in all, be successful! Perhaps things will get better. If you need anything, please write.

The sociology faculty is an effective economic institution, which is not to say that it is effective as a place of education

Student, Sociology, MGU:

I am really glad that a group of students with initiative has appeared in our faculty. Once we tried to organise something similar but it only touched on teaching and the education provided by the faculty.

I agree with everything that has already been said and add that I personally do not like:

- The lack of breaks for meals.

- The lack of a canteen like in the Main Building, where it is possible to eat normally. (Although there is no space)

- Small lecture halls which hardly fit a single group.

- The lack of our OWN library - instead of this, all the lecturers advise us to get books either from them in the department or from shops.

- In the majority of subjects, seminars are conducted by means of useless ‘reports'.

- The presence of turnstiles and video cameras are also annoying. (By the way, I recall that there is a little old man on the 5th floor who drives everyone back into the lecture halls during breaks. It would be interesting to know what else he does in the faculty!

- A very strange syllabus: KSE in the 5th year; psychology only in the 4th and 5th and no ISF at all. Etc.

- Once I heard the following retort: ‘The sociology faculty is an effective economic institution, which is not to say that it is effective as a place of education. (Money - hand over fist - no comment!)

I want to share yet one more story

A student in the sociology faculty at MGU:

I am glad that at last many people are starting to discuss what is happening in our faculty out loud.

I want to share yet one more story, one which shocked me several days ago. It was about supplementary lessons in foreign languages. Last semester all you had to do was to arrange class times with the lecturer and pay them about 2000 r. per group per month, and then you could study in peace. Now, the payment must be processed through a bank, but that is not the most important thing. A single semester now costs 10 000 (!) r. per individual student. The lecturer will be paid exactly the same as before, so it seems that our administration has discovered yet another additional source of income.

That's it.

Good luck!

Lecturers fall asleep in seminars alongside their students

Even though I am a second year and have been racking my brains in earnest to be sure I really did get into the sociology faculty, and although I really do have reasons to be thankful for it (although to be honest, my thanks are due to certain individuals and not to the faculty as a whole), it never entered my blond head or my understanding that some of these things could ever happen:

Seminars on management are given by a person who has never worked as a manager even at the lowest level, who has no idea how a modern company functions in the real world; by a person who is religious to the point of blindness and certain that: ‘women can never become fully fledged directors in Russia.'

Lecturers fall asleep in seminars alongside their students.

A specialist syllabus in the methodology of ‘sociology' is compiled from the outset so that it does not include a single quantifiable element that can be used to determine the student's overall grade. (For example: ‘the student must give a presentation on...')

‘A quality education' is conducted according to the principle: ‘let's include some pretty packaging because then the sweets will look more tasty' and ‘this document says that the student must audit the course - so attend on pain of death'.

The only practical investigations we perform are conducting opinion polls compiled by dilettantes and non-sociologists; tons of time is wasted in explaining that if your survey has 65 questions, your respondent will throw it out.

There is no library in the faculty.

All the really accomplished lecturers are dismissed - and blah blah blah - all this has been said many times already.

It is entirely ok that my fellow students have started with the things at the tip of the iceberg, this, in my opinion, is a very sensible step. And this at least proves that all those courses in PR and communications are being taken on board! On that note, while Kapych does, of course, have a complex personality, he is a fantastic lecturer, I listened to his lectures with pleasure. What a shame that he is no longer in charge of the Department of PR and Advertising.

We must put the question of quality in education side by side with organisational problems

Respected members of OD

I am in solidarity with many of your protests. Much has been said on the subject that I have no wish to repeat. What is most worrying to me about the current situation is the future of our faculty. It is a fact that in 2007 the faculty is, in reality, already totally destroyed.

It is also true that the good lectures are leaving. Here is the question: what positive consequences can come from this scandal and what do we want to achieve? In my view, by observing in full view what is happening in the faculty and in MGU in general, we are opening Pandora's box. The current situation echoes the systemic crisis in education in the Russian humanities, and in particular the crisis of the MGU humanities faculties.

In my opinion, we must put the question of quality in education side by side with organisational problems. I study in the non fee-paying division. But, the majority of students pay for their studies and it is no small sum of money. This funding does not produce quality results. I do not know whether others feel the same way, but in the year of study it took me to meet the sociology faculty's entry requirements, I actually learned more than in my 4 years of study at the university.

All the most talented lecturers have either left or are thinking of leaving; students in the first years of the degree are receiving an even worse education than we did. Many have answered this by pointing out that those who want to can study everything themselves, that there are books, libraries and Internet. But this cannot replace interaction with lecturers.

It is shameful that, thanks to the decaying system that is now established, many talented students are altogether disenchanted with MGU and with the humanities. They regard their time here as entirely lost in terms of their education. It may be the school of life, but it is impossible to receive in depth academic knowledge here.

It is important to raise awareness of programmes for the development of the faculty. It is said that evaluations have already been carried out and that the results for current sociology faculty members were sad ones. We must now turn away from the faculty's deficiencies and towards its resources and future. If the current scandal develops further the faculty will implode and hundreds of students will find themselves with unfinished degrees; as for the lecturers, it is difficult to say.

Do not forget to present positive proposals next to objective criticism. The canteen and the problems with the building are merely visible signs of the deficiencies inherent in the whole system. We should not concentrate on improving these things, but rather on reorganising the whole system from within. Only then will all of this have some sense. Otherwise, external changes will ultimately only help an internally corrupt system to disintegrate further.

With respect and in support of much of your programme.

Who is going to answer our questions?

When I think of my studies in this faculty, I do so with great joy and am unable to suppress a smile.

Unfortunately many of the wonderful lecturers who taught us for five years are no longer members of the faculty. How could this happen? Where are Gnedenko, Zavalishina, Ivanov and Slabov? What is going on with E.K. Prokudina? And what devil, excuse me, has replaced Trofimov? This replacement is the one responsible for the stupid entry card system which prevents other students in our university from entering our faculty. Sure, turnstiles are useful things from the security point of view, but why can't students from other faculties enter ours any longer? How stupid is it that when you lose your entry card you can only use a temporary pass once?

Why are we being taught by graduate students more and more frequently when they don't always bother to turn up to lectures and seminars?

Why is it that each time I drop into the administrative division, I must feel in some way indebted to these women, and that ‘if you are so sick and tired of us all, it would have been better not to come.' Why such a discourteous attitude to students?

Why doesn't the faculty invite famous scholars, writers, lecturers or well-known entrepreneurs to talk to us? We are subsisting on dry theory from books.

I even remember a time in the first year when we went from one building to another like homeless children so we could have a chance to study; meanwhile, our dean collected money for repairs, and not just for repairs.

What has happened to V.I. Dobren'kov? It seems he has withdrawn completely from life of his very own faculty which he nurtured so carefully over many years Why is it Trofimov who answers all the questions these days? Because he is the son of one of the pro-rectors? I don't think that gives him such a right!

Why has our year group been without a tutor for a very long time and why are the tutor's duties carried out by external people?

Who is going to answer our questions? Mr Dobren'kov or Trofimov? What have you turned OUR faculty into?

OD Group Members, I support your project with all my heart, I am in agreement with ABSOLUTELY all your proposals! God willing you will keep it up and make our faculty an asset to MGU, not the ‘lowest caste in MGU'. WE ARE WITH YOU.

My criticisms of the faculty

Respected OD-

Many thanks for what you are doing. You need a lot of courage to decide on taking action in this way. I understand the power of some people in our administration well enough to imagine that they could be planning to cause you serious harm - even you those of you who are not sociology students - perhaps not now but, let's say, in a year's time when the press interest has died down. I sincerely hope that this will not be the case and our administration will at last begin to listen to its students, even if only to avoid similar protests in the future.

My criticisms of the faculty are not new and I am sure you will have come across them many times in other peoples' letters. Nonetheless, here they are:

1) Quality of Education:

It is no secret to anyone that the sociology faculty at the Higher School of Economics outstrips our own faculty in many areas and that its graduates find it far easier to find employment in their field. It is difficult for us to compete with them, despite all of our advantages, among them the MSU brand, which serves as an excuse for our faculty to ignore all the gaps in our education, most importantly, in our practical training. This is not any fault of the students but of those who have come here to teach. Quality of education is defined not merely by the coherence of syllabi (although by that too), or by impressive course titles, as much as by the qualifications held by the lecturers.

Even since I have been a student the following lecturers, who taught important disciplines, have been forced to leave due to their miserly salaries and to the contemptuous attitudes shown to them as specialists and as people: Kukushkina (History of Sociology in Russia), Nikolaev (History of Sociology), and Tolstova and Ivanov (Data Analysis). Among those who have either left or who are preparing to leave are: Prokudina (Former Deputy Dean of Studies and History of Sociology), Bashrat'ian (Head of Department of Communication Systems and Deputy Dean), Zavalishina (Lecturer in the Department of Sociological Organisations), Moriakova (Lecturer in the Department of State Administration), and many others. I am afraid that this list will lengthen in the near future as the names of no less capable people are added. They have said that these lecturers were let go as a result of performance monitoring, they were judged unfit to teach. But explain to me why this process permitted other members of the faculty to exist in perfect tranquillity: delivering their useless and boring courses - such as Osipova; or those such as Kvitinka and Briantseva who are talentlessly teaching subjects that are useful by name only or filling up the syllabus with meagre content. If I understand correctly, these and similar people were not assessed on their performance. It would have been interesting to know why?

2) Everyday problems and attitude to student initiatives:

For understandable reasons I shall not give my name or year, I shall say only that I am well known in the faculty and at least in my cohort. Over the course of several years I have more than once presented our administration with the everyday issues we are now discussing: the canteen, ventilation, timetabling problems, classroom provision, security and finally, open discourtesy from lecturers, and from those members of the administration who are now being dismissed towards students. In fact the replacement of administrators is the single area for which I can be grateful to our administration: the new examiners work much better, even if they seem to require a great deal more time to put in order the chaotic paperwork which their predecessors left behind. The previous administration chiefly occupied itself with eating large boxes of assorted chocolates and drinking spirits. Having said that, the administration of the sociology faculty has never been too shy to ask students for help in unloading cars full of drinks and snacks destined for faculty parties, whose existence was only ever made known to a narrow circle of chosen people. It was the same with the delivery of musical instruments for exclusive concerts. The only response to our help was a reminder of Filatov's phrase "Царю - дичь да рыба, а Федоту - спасибо."

3) Admissions:

In my opinion, the faculty's basic problem is its selection procedure. The majority of them have simply no interest in their studies. When in proximity to such students, even the very best lecturers (of whom few are left) lose heart and normal students lose their desire to learn. Why bother to better your standing in the faculty if you are no worse than the majority? It remains a complete puzzle to me that such people can end up in our faculty. Why study something at all if the majority of the syllabus they are trying to teach you is only useful for passing exams and will prove useless in the future?

Conclusion: The faculty's misfortune is that only a small proportion of students are interested in receiving a good education in sociology and that still fewer lecturers are prepared to try to provide one. Against this background, our dean tells a students' meeting that he is founding a church and sees himself as a patron of Christianity. In that case, I shall take the opportunity to address him not as a student speaks to a dean, but as one believer to another. Vladimir Ivanov, the Lord told us ‘I want mercy, and not sacrifice.' I can assure you that our Lord would find it far more pleasant to be among us if you were to desist from disseminating nationalist literature in the faculty; from organising meetings on nationalism; from seeking enemies of Russia within and without; and, from advocating the return of capital punishment. Instead, if you were to start busying yourself with the real problems of your students; if you were to ensure that the education they receive is of a sufficiently high standard for its graduates to find work in their field and to compete successfully with students of the Higher School of Economics, then would be the time to build a church and I would be ready to help you. First of all, Christians should strive not to do ill. By persisting in our sins at the same time as zealously donating money to the church, we shall look like we are trying to buy off God.

An MGU sociology student who is heartily tired of the whole situation.

The faculty administration have lost the payment receipts for all fee-paying students

Greetings!

Thank you for your work. :) The majority do not have the courage to do what you are doing.

I would like to describe the following situation: the faculty administration have lost the payment receipts for all fee-paying students in the fourth year of study. Some have been found, but not many. Firstly they put up a list asking for people to submit their own copies of the receipts as soon as possible. Despite having submitted my copies on time, I was marked on the list as not having paid for years 1, 3 and 4 of study. I went to see them to complain and told them that it was their responsibility to find my receipts. Today I noticed a long list with the names of students who were to be excluded and mine was among them. This is because ‘someone' lost the written proof that I paid for my studies.

We could take a photo of this list of names and the reason for their exclusion and bring attention to it. But, isn't this ridiculous?

PS. I got a place on the management degree as a fee-paying student, in spite of the high scores I had been awarded in Olympiads; then, I transferred to sociology at the start of the first year. Please do not think that I am a typical sociology major. [...]

Sociology Student MGU.

I would like to add two points that I feel are of great importance

Greetings, OD!

Firstly a huge thank-you for drawing attention to the problems in our faculty. I sincerely hope that your efforts will not be in vain and that this will be the beginning of positive changes in the faculty.

A great deal has already been said with regard to the faculty's problems and what needs to be done.

I would like to add two points that I feel are of great importance. I realise that it will not solve all the faculty's problems, but hope to contribute to the general bank of demands.

1) The situation regarding the selection of fee-paying students must change; specifically a single entry requirement should be established for fee-paying and non fee-paying students alike.

The extremely low entry requirement for fee-paying students (prospective students must not have any 2s [D grades] on their transcripts) results in the overall lowering of standards among a cohort on admission. As a result, talented students with a high level of attainment on admission are at a disadvantage: lectures are aimed at a lower level and better prepared students must submit to the needs of the paying majority.

This claim in no way suggests that absolutely all fee-paying students are poorly prepared for the course. This is not the case; talented students are to be found everywhere. However, I think that an equal entry requirement for fee-paying and non fee-paying students is entirely reasonable.

Conclusion: A single entry requirement for fee-paying and non fee-paying students must be established.

2. According to Government Standards in the field of Sociology

A specialist in sociology must:

+ Be familiar with the methodologies, methods and techniques with which sociological research is conducted.

+ Be able to use computer-based applications to interpret sociological information.

+ Be familiar with methods and techniques for the creation and use of predictive sociological models.

+ Be able to develop and use sociological tools for diagnosing different types of social trends.

These requirements are not met in our faculty.

Evidence: Only one general course on sociological research methods and approaches is available to the entire cohort of sociology students; it is available in the second year of study and lasts two semesters. I have no criticisms of the course, which is excellent per se; however, it is insufficient provision for students if they are to have full exposure to the "methodologies, methods and techniques with which sociological research is conducted." The course functions as an excellent introduction to a general understanding of and principles for the conduct of research, but a similar preparatory course on practical research methods and data analysis is necessary.

Courses on specific research methods (focus groups, sample groups etc.) are only available in the Department for Sociological Research Methodology and most students do not take them. Equally, the majority of sociology students do not take courses in the use of statistical or data analysis software. This is despite the fact that these courses are vital when we consider the requirements of today's employers.

Besides, students take courses in the Department for Sociological Research Methodology in order to benefit from being taught in a computer facility. It is very good that we have such a course. However, the following changes are essential:

1) The course must become a core requirement, taken by all students.

2) The number of computers and computer classroom space must be increased. Currently, two to three students share each computer, which is ridiculous. It is impossible to study in such conditions.

It is also vital to note that students affiliated to one department do not have, in reality, any chance to attend courses in other departments. This has come about because all the specialist courses in each department are scheduled at the same time; furthermore, the faculty members have decreed that students are forbidden to attend specialist courses in departments to which they are not affiliated.

The faculty administration must take measures to resolve these and other problems.

with respect,

A student of the sociology faculty.

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