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Press Release


Emily Darrow
USIA Grant Is Awarded in Support of International University Partnership

ANNANDALE-ON-HUDSON, N.Y.-Bard College has been awarded a grant of $299,800 by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the United States Information Agency for Smolny College, a joint initiative in Russia by Bard College and Saint Petersburg State University. The grant will enable the two partner institutions to exchange more than thirty faculty and staff members over a three-year period.

Smolny College is the first institution to offer a liberal arts bachelor's degree program in Russia. In September, the first matriculating students begin study at the college in Saint Petersburg. The entering class of seventy-five students is expected to come primarily from Saint Petersburg, other parts of Russia, and the countries of East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union, including Kazakhstan and Poland. By 2003, anticipated enrollment is three hundred, of whom one-fifth will come from Western Europe and the United States as regular or exchange students.

Smolny College has received approval to offer a Bard College bachelor's degree to students who enroll in the fall 1999 semester and complete the rigorous four-year curriculum. Russian accreditation is expected soon and will allow students to earn a B.A. in liberal arts and sciences from Saint Petersburg State University.

Bard College and Saint Petersburg State University began work on the creation of the liberal arts college in 1996. Under the direction of Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, and Ludmila Verbitskaya, rector of Saint Petersburg University, Smolny College faculty have offered free courses at the university since fall 1997. More than 450 students completed the free courses, which were offered through spring 1999. This fall marks the first time students will attend full time and pay tuition. North American students will be admitted through Bard, as the American accrediting institution. The tuition for Russian students has been set at $2,000 per year, and scholarships are available.

"Smolny College revives a tradition of liberal arts education that was destroyed in Russia after the 1917 Russian revolution," says Susan H. Gillespie, director of Bard's Institute for International Liberal Education, which administers Bard's side of the partnership. "The original Smolny Institute was a college for women from the aristocracy; it offered a kind of all-around liberal education that included the arts. In the context of education in Russia today," Gillespie continues, "Smolny College's liberal arts program is unique. It is Russia's only full-scale liberal arts program within a great university. So far as we know it is also the only program of its kind in East Central Europe and the former Soviet Union."

The experiment will also offer unique advantages for American students," says Gillespie. "They can study at a Russian institution, with Russian students and faculty, a student-centered institution that allows them to pursue their interests in art history, literature, history, or politics, and everything in between."

Smolny College's faculty consists mostly of Russian scholar-teachers. It is supplemented by visiting professors from the United States and elsewhere. The program will offer degrees in the social sciences, humanities, and arts. Students will choose their courses and construct their major concentration from 26 fields including anthropology, architecture, American studies, art history and theory, Asian studies, economics, international relations, history, literature, music, philosophy, political studies, Russian studies, and sociology.

A major difference with education customarily offered in Russia is class size. Smolny College will offer classes to an average of sixteen students, in contrast to the large lectures which characterize most Russian university courses. Students will be expected to develop critical skills and to think creatively. As at Bard, each student will have an individual adviser. Courses will be taught in Russian and in English, with both English- and Russian-language instruction available at all levels. Smolny College will have its own library and computer facilities. Students will also have access to the larger resources at Saint Petersburg University including its course offerings, libraries, sports facilities, and cultural activities.

Funding for Smolny College has come from the Higher Education Support Program of the Open Society Institute, Budapest; the Trust for Mutual Understanding, in New York; and private donors.

Smolny College was originally constructed in 1744 as a convent by Empress Elizabeth, a daughter of Peter the Great. The Baroque buildings, including Smolny Catherdral, were designed by Bartolomeo Rastrelli, architect of the Hermitage. During the revolution of 1917, Lenin worked at Smolny as he prepared for the establishment of the Soviet government. His rooms at the college are preserved as a museum, along with a collection of his documents. With the establishment of the liberal arts college, Smolny serves today as a symbol of renewed enthusiasm for the liberalization and democratization of Russia.

Saint Petersburg State University is one of Russia's oldest universities, founded by Peter the Great in 1724. There are 18,000 undergraduates and 5,000 graduate students currently enrolled at the university. The university has recently introduced several new courses of study, including a school of management (in collaboration with the Haas School of Business at University of California, Berkeley) and a faculty of international relations. It has partnerships with the Collège Française; the Baltic College, Cambridge University; the Central European University, Budapest; the Free University, Berlin; the University of Bologna; and the University of Barcelona.

Bard College's participation in international education was notable as early as 1949, when Eleanor Roosevelt was a member of the Board of Trustees and the College was host to an annual conference of foreign students. Today Bard remains committed to an international education that introduces students to other cultures and global issues, both intellectually and experientially. Bard students interact with a large group of international students and numerous foreign visitors, and through the College's involvement with innovative collaborations with institutions abroad. Foreign students constitute 12 percent of the College's undergraduate body and come from forty-three countries.

The Institute for International Liberal Education at Bard College was founded in 1998. Its mission is to advance the theory and practice of international liberal arts education. The Institute focuses on joint ventures and long-term collaborative relationships with leading educational institutions in other countries. In addition to the collaboration with Saint Petersburg State University, the Institute is developing programs with Viadrina University in Frankfurt an der Oder, Germany; the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa; and the University of Zimbabwe in Harare, Zimbabwe.

For further information about the Institute for International Liberal Education and Smolny College call 914-758-7076; or visit the website at

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This event was last updated on 09-23-2004