Special Theme Edition on the Current Ukrainian Crisis: Volume 22, No. 3 (Summer 2014)
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Private Christian Colleges and Universities in the Former Soviet Union
Perry L. Glanzer and Konstantin I. Petrenko
Editor’s note: The first portion of this article appeared in the previous issue of the East-West Church & Ministry Report.
Former Seminaries Developing or Hoping to Develop into Liberal Arts Colleges
St. Tikhon Orthodox Humanities University (Moscow, Russia)
St.Tikhon University grew out of underground Bible courses offered during the Revolution. After Communism, St. Tikhon’s future leaders began holding classes on the campus of Moscow State University, and in 1992, it became an institute focused on training priests. Officially founded by the Moscow Patriarchate, it has now become the most influential theological institution of the Russian Orthodox Church. It was the first theological institution to receive accreditation from the Ministry of Education (1997) and was later called upon to develop the national standards for theology that are now used in more than 30 theology departments at state universities. St. Tikhon, however, always had a larger vision for education beyond theological training. According to its marketing material, it traces its vision to St. Tikhon, the Orthodox Patriarch persecuted after the Revolution. Thus, within the last half-decade, it has added faculties in history, philology, and pedagogical studies. Officials say it now educates 2000 full-time students on its Moscow campus, as well as hundreds more through the university’s distance education program. (For more information, see http://pstbi.ru/.)
St. Petersburg Christian University (St. Petersburg, Russia)
The history of St. Petersburg Christian University (SPCU) goes back to 1990 when Logos Biblical Institute was established in Russia’s Krasnodar Region, in an effort to provide theological education to future leaders of evangelical churches in Russia and the former Soviet Union. In 1992, the institute moved to St. Petersburg and received its current name. Although originally founded by the Russian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists, SPCU describes itself as a non-denominational institution. The university offers bachelor’s degrees in theology, Christian education, and youth ministry as well as graduate programs in biblical studies and church history. However, the leadership of the university is hoping to expand its current academic offerings to include non-theological majors. St. Petersburg Christian University is a member of the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. (For more information, see http://www.spcu.spb.ru/.)
Ukrainian Catholic University (L’viv, Ukraine)
The Ukrainian Catholic University originated from the L’viv Theological Academy, which was founded in 1994 through the joint efforts of the international and local Ukrainian Greek Catholic Church (UGCC). The academy officially became a university when in 2002 it began offering humanities programs in addition to its theology and philosophy degrees. According to its mission statement, “The Ukrainian Catholic University is an open academic community living the Eastern Christian tradition and forming leaders to serve with professional excellence in Ukraine and internationally for the glory of God, the common good, and the dignity of the human person” (http://www.ucu.edu.ua/eng/). It also boasts of being “the first university opened by one of the Eastern Catholic churches.” In its short history, it has graduated 151 students, and it currently enrolls over 200 students. Almost all of the students are UGCC, although it also accepts other students. (For more information see Dorothy Ellen Pfeiffer, “Ukrainian Catholic University: Restoring Christian Values and Civic Engagement in Post-Soviet Ukraine,” M.A. thesis, Harvard University, 2005.)
Zaoksky Christian Humanities and Economics Institute (Zaoksky, Russia)
Another unique attempt to establish a distinctly denominational Christian college has come from the Zaoksky Christian Humanities and Economics Institute in Russia’s Tula Region. Zaoksky is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, which makes it Russia’s first confessional faith-based liberal arts university associated with a specific Protestant group. The institute was established by the Eurasian branch of the Seventh-day Adventist Church and has been in operation since 1987. Like the Russian-American Christian University (RACU), Zaoksky offers degrees in economics and social work. The leadership of the institute is hoping to begin an English-language program as well. Zaoksky considers integration of faith and knowledge the focus of its education and sees its mission as developing highly moral persons and qualified professionals. (For more information, see http://www.zau.ru/about/index.php?depts=institute.)
Challenges Facing Christian Higher Education in the Former Soviet Union
The Funding Challenge
In order to survive and prosper, the leaders of these institutions have had to overcome a number of unique challenges. First, financial difficulties plague post-Soviet higher education as a whole. Tuition-driven private universities are especially under tremendous pressure to find the necessary funding to cover faculty and staff salaries as well as rent and maintenance for facilities. Here, there is an important difference with regard to institutions funded largely by the West, such as RACU, Lithuanian Christian College (LCC), Zaoksky, Ukrainian Catholic University, and St. Petersburg Christian University, and those started by indigenous individuals, groups, and organizations, such as the Russian Christian Academy for the Humanities, St. John, and St. Tikhon. All the indigenous universities have been able to grow on a much more limited budget. St. Tikhon, for instance, for a time existed primarily on the sales from its bookstore and the voluntary efforts of professors committed to the endeavor. Now, it is receiving financial support from Russian businessmen and the local government. It also received back a building previously held by the Communist government that was originally owned by the Orthodox Church. The other indigenous universities also survive primarily on tuition as well as domestic donations and grants.
In contrast, the Western colleges cannot cover their more expensive operating budgets with their tuition revenues and are still heavily dependent upon Western funds and leadership. For instance, Zaoksky receives support from the international Seventh-day Adventist community and the costs of both RACU and LCC are heavily subsidized by the evangelical Christian community in North America. Some are attempting to find other means of support. Zaoksky, for instance, has established small agricultural businesses that serve the community.
Close State Oversight of Curricula
A second challenge facing these schools concerns the centralized nature of higher education in the former Soviet Union, particularly in Russia. For example, in Russia private institutions of higher education, faith-based institutes, and universities are required to offer educational programs in full compliance with the standards and guidelines of the Ministry of Education. The Ministry dictates which courses are to be included in the programs, how many classroom hours are to be allocated for each of them, and what content should be covered. Since the Ministry’s guidelines do not provide space for distinctly Christian disciplines, faith-based higher educational institutions are limited in choosing the courses and content which would help integrate faith and learning. This fact does not mean courses emphasizing Christian content may not be required, but it can limit the amount of electives a student can take. In our interviews with university leaders in Russia, we found that indigenous leaders less prone to follow the letter of Russian law had little problem with this issue, but universities sponsored by Western groups expressed greater difficulty. Nonetheless, they still found ways to address the problem. For instance, RACU has developed an additional block of courses dedicated to shaping a worldview. This curricula includes Old and New Testament surveys, a course entitled Christianity and Education, and a senior ethics seminar.
Recruiting is another special concern for faith-based private higher educational institutions, both in regard to faculty and students. Because Christians were discouraged or prohibited from attending higher education under Communism, it is not easy to find Christians with advanced degrees to work as professors. Sometimes it is also difficult to recruit students from the Christian communities these institutions are trying to serve. Because believers were largely denied access to higher education during the Soviet period, a large number of them, especially those middle aged and older, tend to distrust education and dismiss it as irrelevant or even destructive to Christian faith.
The demographic crisis currently occurring in the former Soviet Union also poses a significant problem for colleges and universities. The number of high school graduates is falling off dramatically, especially in Russia. There simply are not enough young people to go around. The result is that it is a very hard environment to start a school. Nonetheless, the specialization of Christian universities can also be seen as a strength in this environment, since faith-based institutions offer a unique form of education in Russia and are able to distinguish themselves from the over 3,000 state and private institutes and universities that currently operate in the country. The connection to Christian communities also offers helpful marketing connections. RACU, for instance, attracts students by making presentations and posting information in churches and at Christian youth conferences and other gatherings.
Another practical challenge for faith-based private institutions is making sure graduates find job placements in their area of study. While in the Soviet era the government took the responsibility for providing university graduates with job placements, the situation is different today. It is now the task of individual educational institutions and the students themselves to find employment. Moreover, Russian employers still tend to distrust the education of young private institutes and universities, making it difficult for graduates to find good employment. Nonetheless, a strength that Christian universities bring to this problem is that many share connections to Western organizations and companies. A couple of them, such as RACU and LCC, also require their students to be fluent in English. As a result, all of their graduates are fluent English speakers capable of working in the international context. The language requirements also allow RACU and LCC to develop partnerships with Christian colleges and universities in the United States and to invite foreign professors to teach at the university.
The Perils of Government Oversight
Finally, private higher education as a whole is only beginning to gain the recognition of the general public and government agencies. In the Soviet Union most people are unfamiliar with it, often misunderstand it, and believe that it provides a poor quality education. Also, because faith-based colleges and universities are few in number, government officials often confuse them with theological seminaries. In practice, this makes it difficult for the former to win the favor of regional authorities and federal government agencies, as well as acquire or sustain their licenses and accreditation. Thus, it is crucial for Christian colleges and universities to build relationships with state officials because their power to license and accredit gives them the power of life and death over these institutions.
Overall, the emerging faith-based institutes and universities represent a recent trend toward the development of the Christian academy within the former Soviet Union. While some of these faith-based institutions have been established as liberal arts school, others originated as seminaries and later expanded their academic programs to include non-theological degrees. In a situation of declining interest in theological training and a growing demand for liberal arts higher education, it is reasonable to expect that more seminaries will consider broadening their programs. As a result, this process may further spur the growth of Christian higher education in Eastern Europe as liberal arts colleges emerge within the Orthodox, Protestant, and Catholic traditions.
Portions of this article originally appeared in Konstantin I. Petrenko and Perry L. Glanzer, “The Recent Emergence of Private Christian Colleges and Universities in Russia: Historical Reasons and Contemporary Developments,” Christian Higher Education 4 (2005):81-97.
Perry L. Glanger is Assistant Professor of Education, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. Konstantin I. Petrenko is a doctoral student in the School of Education, Baylor University, Waco, Texas.