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Moscow campus signals new era in Overseas Studies
STANFORD -- Stanford University officials are moving ahead quickly with plans to open an overseas study center in Moscow next fall.
According to the new Overseas Studies director, Professor Russell Berman, Stanford in Moscow will offer classes and research opportunities for about 25 undergraduates studying Russian language, history, politics, economics and culture.
Negotiations are still under way to find a home for the center, which probably will be located near a Russian academy or educational foundation. Students will be housed with Russian families in the surrounding academic community.
The university's current center in Krakow, Poland, probably will be redesigned into a smaller "research module," providing a base for students and faculty pursuing research on Eastern Europe (see accompanying story).
Stanford has been thinking seriously about establishing an overseas study center in Moscow since the early days of glasnost.
The university and the on-campus Hoover Institution have prominent scholars and archives devoted to Russian and East European studies, and the campus has been visited twice by Mikhail Gorbachev, in 1990 while he was Soviet president and again in 1992.
Until recently, though, the country's political and economic turmoil was a strong deterrent to setting up a formal program.
"I have asked experts here and in Russia repeatedly about security issues," said Berman, a professor of German studies and associate dean of the School of Humanities and Sciences.
"A year ago, people were saying, 'Don't do anything now. It's too soon.' Now what we hear back is, 'Sure, there's a risk it might not work out. But it's time.' Things have settled down enough."
Stanford knows firsthand the value of getting its students into countries while the action is hot. The university's overseas study centers in Berlin and Krakow were among the few American educational institutions on the scene during the liberation of Eastern Europe.
"Our students saw the Berlin Wall come down; they witnessed the first free elections in Poland in 40 years," said Janet Schmidt, assistant director for overseas academic programs.
"If you get your foot in the door early, you have access to a lot of the best people and the most interesting associations. People come to think of Stanford as the leading program in the area. It's easier to attract international scholars to teach and do one- time lectures."
In addition to Berlin and Krakow, Stanford operates overseas study centers in Oxford, Paris, Florence, Santiago and Kyoto. About a third of all Stanford undergraduates spend from one quarter to a full year in these programs -- taking classes, doing research and making normal progress toward their Stanford degrees.
Logistically, there is no doubt that Stanford in Moscow will be a harder center to set up and run than the more Westernized programs.
"It's clear that the program in Moscow will not be for faint-hearted students," Berman said. "It's a city with major social problems. Nevertheless, this is a historic moment. If we can get a program going, students there will witness the dramatic changes that faculty members are studying."
The move toward Moscow comes after several years of difficult pruning in Stanford's Overseas Studies Program. Faced with approximately $600,000 in budget cuts over the past three years, planners consolidated some programs and closed others altogether.
In 1990, the university shut down its popular overseas study center in Tours, France, and expanded its program in Paris to accommodate more students.
This year, Stanford closed its center in Salamanca, Spain. The university also redesigned its 31-year-old Florence program into a smaller, more academically focused study center.
Although the changes upset some faculty and alumni who had fond memories of the old centers, planners feel strongly that the new, leaner Overseas Studies programs are on the right course.
Among the improvements they cite:
Probably the most significant change in Stanford's overseas studies program is its general shift beyond Europe to a more global orientation.
The university gained a foothold in Japan in 1987 with the opening of the Kyoto program, and is firmly establishing one in South America this year with the program in Santiago.
Once the program in Moscow is set up, planners hope to turn their sights toward such locales as Africa and China.
"It's not going to happen this year or next, but we are initiating discussions with our own faculty and exploring various locations," Berman said.
Possible sites in or near China might be Shanghai, Beijing, Taiwan or Hong Kong, which will be annexed to China from Britain in 1997.
A center in Africa could be located in Botswana, Zimbabwe or even in a democratic South Africa, something that couldn't even have been contemplated 10 years ago.
"Especially in Southern Africa, the rapidity of change is reminiscent of the developments that let us enter Eastern Europe," Berman said.
"We want to be prepared to be able to respond to opportunities. If it becomes possible to work in a part of the world that could provide exciting intellectual opportunities, then Overseas Studies would be remiss in holding back."
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