Today, U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is urging Secretary of State Antony Blinken to support efforts in reversing the Russian government’s recent designation of Bard College as an “undesirable” organization. The institution has a longstanding affiliation and degree partnership with St. Petersburg State University – started 25 years ago by Bard President Leon Botstein. The exchange and education programs have been critical to building ties between young Americans and Russians, and played a large role in developing a cohort of Americans well-versed in Russian language and culture. The recent designation of Bard College by the Russian government effectively ended this program and makes any student or worker associated with Bard’s program a potential criminal subject to fines or imprisonment.
“This designation is not only highly disappointing to the Bard College community, but it also politicizes and undermines the important work that exchange programs achieve building human-to-human relationships between partner countries and students,” said Senator Gillibrand. “The recent designation of Bard College as an ‘undesirable’ organization sets a dangerous precedent of punishing lawful institutions and partnerships engaged in free academic exchange. I look forward to working with Secretary Blinken on this matter and I urge the State Department to swiftly aid Bard College against threats from the Russian Federation.”
“The Russian government’s unwarranted designation of Bard College as an “undesirable organization” is a tragedy not just for the students and our colleagues at Smolny College but also for the future of higher education and cultural partnerships in Russia,” said Bard College President Leon Botstein. “The Smolny partnership, which spanned more than 25 years, was successful in bringing Russian and American students together to pursue shared educational goals. For this collaboration to be forced to end abruptly at a time when this understanding seems most needed is disheartening. Bard will continue to support and strengthen the idea of international education and people-to people diplomacy in other locations across the globe. We are very grateful for Senator Gillibrand’s support and despite this setback, we will continue protesting the Russian government’s designation and push for the reinstatement of Bard’s partnership with Smolny College.”
For 25 years, Bard College has been a model for U.S.-Russia higher education cooperation through its partnership with St. Petersburg State University, and is one of the most robust education programs shared between the U.S. and Russia. Its Smolny College program has been consistently praised in both countries for its educational quality and opportunities it provides for American and Russian students, including receiving recognition from former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. However, on June 21, 2021, the Prosecutor General’s Office of the Russian Federation announced Bard College’s classification as an “undesirable” organization that “threatens the constitutional order and security of Russia.” This decision bars Bard from continuing its academic programming and would likely preclude any of its associates from maintaining similar programs as well. Further, this designation may also label any Russian citizen participating in Bard-sponsored activities as violating Russian law.