From Russia With Love

Photo of Chancellor Blumenthal in Moscow

I took in a few sites, including the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin Wall, dedicated to soldiers killed during World War II.

My lecture in Moscow during the conference on the "The Birth and Revival of Universities" at the Higher School of Economics was well-received. I was invited to give the talk because UCSC was recently ranked seventh in the world for universities under the age of 50; President Putin is eager to see Russia break into the Top 100, and my hosts were looking for helpful insights.

I emphasized that UCSC's success was based largely on three factors: Our outstanding faculty, whose work often reaches across disciplinary boundaries; our stunning location and our proximity to Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay; and our culture of innovation in undergraduate education, including our 10 residential colleges and the opportunities we give undergraduates to participate in research. I fielded questions on university financing, innovation, the role of languages, and the nature of Silicon Valley partnerships, but the highlight for me was when a dean at the HSE told me after my presentation that he wants his son to attend UCSC!

In the "small world" department, I met two people with UCSC connections. Richard Miller, the president of Olin College in Massachusetts, gave a fascinating presentation. He attended UCSC in the '70s before transferring to Davis because we lacked an engineering school back then. I also met Bram Caplan, a UCSC alum who is directing student affairs at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, a new graduate‐level university near Moscow that is being launched in collaboration with MIT.

A small group of university leaders also met with the leaders of the Russian education ministry. Putin wants five Russian universities in the top 100 by the year 2020 (they currently have none). I have to admit that I expressed some skepticism about the value of that goal. I suggested they need a more comprehensive vision of the future of Russian higher education and that the goal of achieving several highly ranked universities should be considered only in the context of such a vision. Within Russian science, the best research is done at the science academies, so raising universities in the rankings will also necessitate a change in the system.
All in all, it was a great, thought-provoking trip, capped by a performance of La Traviata at the newly refurbished--and quite impressive--Bolshoi Theater. Now, off to New York to meet with campus donors and friends.   

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