Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies
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Center for Russian, East European, and Eurasian Studies (1975)
The current international status of the Center for Russian and East European Studies has been achieved through the combined efforts of a small core of faculty planners, the Ford Foundation, the U.S. Office of Education, and the University of Michigan over a period of 35 years. The Center coordinates an extensive program of study and research on the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, awards graduate student fellowships, organizes scholarly conferences, and is the liaison on campus for IREX (International Research and Exchanges Board). A Bachelor of Arts and Master of Arts in Russian and East European Studies, plus dual or joint degree programs in journalism, law, business administration, and public policy are available through the Center. Currently 39 faculty in 16 departments contribute to the comprehensive curriculum in Russian and East European Studies. A Public program of symposia, lectures, and arts and humanities events brings internationally known scholars, scientists, and artists to the University of Michigan.
Although the Center was established in 1961, its roots extend back to the founding in 1946 of a loosely operating “Committee on the Program in Russian Studies” of the Literary College. Its main support came from five departments — Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, and Slavic Languages and Literatures.
The launching of the first Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union, on October 4, 1957, dramatically increased interest in Russian Studies throughout the United States. The Russian Studies Committee responded by offering three public lecture-discussions which were attended by overflow crowds. The Committee then organized an interdepartmental survey course on the Soviet Union which, first taught in the summer of 1958, has continued to be an important interdisciplinary course in Russian and East European Studies.
During the early period of intense national interest in Soviet Studies, many departments of the University expanded course offerings and added specialists to their staffs, thus providing a solid framework for the establishment of the Center. The greatest expansion took place in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, with enrollment increasing from 200 to 600 students in three years. Marked growth in Soviet Studies also took place in the departments of Political Science, Economics, and History.
The U.S. Congress reacted to Sputnik with the passage in 1958 of the National Defense Education Act. Title VI of that law provided that federal funds on a matching basis be available for the establishment and support of language and area centers to provide graduate instruction. In order to lay the organizational groundwork to take advantage of this opportunity, the Russian Studies Committee petitioned, and was later granted approval, for the establishment of a Center for Russian Studies on the University of Michigan campus. Largely in recognition of the merit of courses already established in various departments, and the extensive help needed by the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures to fulfill the new educational mission described in the National Defense Education Act, the University was designated in 1959 by the U.S. Office of Education an NDEA, Title VI Slavic Language and Area Center.
While the administrative direction of the program remained during a transitional period in the hands of the Committee, with the committee chairman functioning as adviser to students, in April 1961 the Committee on the Program in Russian Studies became the Center for Russian Studies. The Center was to be administered by an Executive Committee composed of representatives from the departments of Economics, Geography, History, Political Science, and Slavic Languages and Literatures, with the Director of the Center chosen by the Executive Committee and serving as its Chairman. The current Director, Dr. Deming Brown, became Center Director in 1978.
The function of the Center in its early years was: (1) the administration of the B.A. program and the graduate certificate program in Russian Studies; (2) administration of the interdisciplinary Survey of the Soviet Union and interdisciplinary Survey of the Soviet Union and interdisciplinary Research Seminar in Russian Studies; (3) administration of programs for fellowships, faculty research projects, faculty travel in the area, and a Russian Studies publication series; (4) administration of research and training contracts with government and private organizations; (5) sponsoring of public lectures and appearances of visiting scholars; (6) planning further development of Russian Studies.
A major undertaking of the first Executive Committee was the development of a ten-year plan, with specific goals outlined for the curriculum, the staff, research, and library. A comprehensive grant proposal based on this plan was subsequently submitted to the Ford Foundation. The proposal called for incentive fellowships, support for publications, new curriculum development and a visiting lecturer budget, in addition to its central focus on program development and research.
The Ford Foundation responded with a succession of large grants spanning the ten-year period, 1961-71, with a smaller transitional grant to follow. To this day the Center program reflects the structure implied in the original grant application and the comprehensive nature of the Ford Foundation response. The Center has grown from 15 faculty in six departments in 1961, to 39 faculty in 16 departments in 1979. In 1961, 54 courses were offered, whereas in 1979 a total of 220 courses dealing with Russian or East European Studies were included in various program sequences.
Just as the development of a strong curriculum and research program in Russian Studies took precedence during the years 1961-66, the development of a comprehensive program in East European studies began more formally in 1966. This additional focus was institutionalized by the change of name to the Center for Russian and East European Studies. Training and research projects on comparative communism in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe led to the employment of faculty specialists and the development of library resources for this purpose. Relevant courses and faculty were added by the departments of Economics, History, Political Science, Slavic Languages and Literatures, and the School of Education, and the Law School. During the 1966 academic year, the interdisciplinary graduate research seminar was redesigned to shift focus from selected Soviet topics to a comparative study of communist societies in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. As a result of this shift of emphasis, a long-range process was set in motion which resulted in the employment of faculty with specialization in area studies related to Poland, Czechoslovakia, the Ukraine, and the Balkans, and the emergence of special strengths in the languages and literatures, economics, cultural histories, and comparative political systems of East European countries.
As part of its training activities, the Center initiated a yearly lecture series, bringing distinguished specialists from throughout the U.S. and abroad to lecture on important topics in the field. In order to keep faculty and students better informed of current developments, the Center established a Reading Room in 218 Lane Hall, where the Center is located on the second floor. The Reading Room currently offers access to daily newspapers from the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, numerous East European periodicals, a wide-ranging collection of Samizdat materials, Foreign Broadcast Information Service publications, Radio Free Europe Research Reports, and the statistical yearbooks of the Soviet Union and East European countries. Beginning in 1963, the Center also began a reprint publication series of major articles written by its faculty, which now numbers 147 reprints. Michigan Slavic Publications, housed in the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, under the supervision of Professor Ladislav Matejka, publishes four or five major works yearly.
By 1970, the core of the curriculum, both for graduates and undergraduates, had been established chiefly in eight departments of the College of Literature, Science and the Arts — Anthropology, Economics, Geography, History, Linguistics, Political Science, Sociology, and Slavic Languages and Literatures — and in four other schools of the University: Education, Engineering, Law, and Public Health. Languages taught at this time include Russian, Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Serbo-Croatian, Hungarian, Lithuanian, Romanian, Armenian, and Finnish.
Although limited transitional funding was made available by the Ford Foundation to assure the continuation of informal “brown bag” lunch talks, mini-courses, special seminars, and the appearance of visiting scholars and artists until 1974, the only major source of funding directly for the Center since 1972 has been the U.S. Office of Education Title VI program, and to a more limited extent, general funds of the University of Michigan.
New strategies to support the Center’s overall mission were devised as individual faculty and faculty teams, often associated with other U.S. or foreign institutions, sought direct grants from foundations and agencies interested in supporting specific research problems in Soviet or East European area studies. These grants are administered through the Center and provide continuous stimulation in the development of new courses based on original research. Individual faculty of the Center currently have grants from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Earhart Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the American Council of Learned Societies, the International Communications Agency, the National Council for Soviet and East European Research, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Research and Development Committee of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies.
The research activities of Center faculty have led to numerous extra-University relationships with research institutes, universities, and individual scholars world-wide, among them the Soviet Institute of the U.S.A., the Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences, Yugoslavian and Romanian universities, the Center for Migration Studies in Zagreb.
In 1973, in its grant proposal to the Office of Education, the Center re-defined its major goals in five principal objectives which continue to guide the development of the Center: (1) to provide a comprehensive, integrated curriculum of Slavic language and area studies; (2) to assemble and maintain a research-generating faculty of instructional excellence; (3) to maintain and further a great research library, (4) to provide financial support for Center-affiliated graduate students, and (5) to serve as a local and national resource for educational institutions, professional organizations, and government.
With the help of yearly allocations from the Center to the Graduate Library to augment its acquisition program and maintain its professional staff, the Slavic and East European collection has grown to 175,000 volumes in Russian and the languages of East Europe, and thousands of volumes in English and West European languages on area-related topics. The library subscribes to 960 serials and 74 newspapers in Russian and East European languages. The collection is concentrated in the fields of history, literature, linguistics, economics, and political science. As a result of intensive acquisitions since the early 1960s, materials in Russian are most numerous. Material in Polish, Czech, and Serbo-Croatian is collected at a comprehensive level, while material in Bulgarian, Hungarian, and Romanian is collected at a reference level.
Although a teaching program leading to a certificate in area studies began in the early 1960s, the present M.A. program was initiated only in 1973. It is designed to prepare students for one of two career paths: an academic track leading to a Ph.D. in a particular discipline, or, a career in government service, business administration, librarian-ship, journalism, law, and related international fields.
The M.A. program is broadly interdisciplinary. Graduate work must be distributed over at least four of the following fields: anthropology, economics, education, geography, history, law, political science, Slavic literature and sociology. By providing a core of area-focused students with scholarly competence in Soviet and East European Studies, this program makes a contribution to the national and international community as a whole.
With the encouragement of the U.S. Office of Education and the cooperation of the Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies, the Center embarked in the mid-1970s on a long-range effort to establish joint or dual degree programs for students whose career goals unite a need for Soviet and East European expertise with that of another major professional area. This desire to give students both greater flexibility and precision in planning specific professional careers has led to the development of graduate dual or joint degree programs with the Department of Communication, the School of Business Administration, the Law School, and the Institute for Public Policy Studies. These program options, though still new, provide the latest evidence of the Center’s commitment to professional competence in the international fields of journalism, business administration, law, and public policy.
Although little has been said thus far about the public program of the Center, ever since the original “Committee” sponsored the first evening lectures in the post-Sputnik period, the sponsorship of public programs has been a regular feature of Center activity. Yearly lecture series with internationally-known speakers, symposia on topical questions of public interest and films, poetry, concerts, and festivals have been offered. A monthly newsletter is mailed throughout the area to hundreds of people interested in Soviet and East European affairs and culture.
During the current year, 16 faculty of the Center have offered 55 lecture topics available to civic, teacher, business, and professional groups. Film festivals open to the public are also offered each semester. Currently, seven courses have been opened to the general public, including Ukrainian Culture, the Arts in Russian Culture, East European languages, and the Survey of the Soviet Union — that original course first offered in 1958 and since restructured many times to conform to the changing social and political situation of that country.