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Academic Time: Temporal Modes of Russian University Culture (19th-20th cc.)

Priority areas of development: humanitarian
The project has been carried out as part of the HSE Program of Fundamental Studies.

Предметом изучения в проекте является академическое время как средство (само)управления университетами и (само)организации академических сообществ.

The subject of study in this project is academia’s time as a means of university (self)management and academic communities’ (self)organization.

The object of the research comprises published and archival documents reflecting university office work, university self-descriptions, professors’ memoirs and interviews.

The goal of the study is to identify the pace, the rhythms, the direction of various university times and to find out how social and individual time in 19th-20th cc. Russian universities was constructed.

To achieve this goal, the following tasks were solved:

1. Identifying the changing ways of managing time in university space;

2. Verifying the hypothesis that university life was multi-temporal.

3. Finding representations of ‘university times’ in ego-documents and office records;

4. Analyzing time models in university self-descriptions.

The research methodology is a complex one. While based on a combination of aging studies and the anthropology of time, it utilizes also research approaches typically used in the ethnography of academic communities. The primary source texts are analyzed using methods that were developed for identifying ritualization and disciplining techniques in time management. To identify the axiology of temporal concepts and categories in university narratives,  discourse analysis was used, which allowed to determine priorities and hierarchies in the organization of university time.

A historiographical survey of the research previously done showed that temporal aspects of university culture are best developed in sociology and philosophy of education. Historians rarely addressed this problem, which makes understanding the evolution of university life’s temporal regimes and organization a challenging task.

Viewing the subject matter under study in a diachronic perspective allowed us to make a number of observations.

During the first third of the 19th century, the cyclical time of Russian universities was almost autonomous from the then linear time of administration bureaucracy. Their rapprochement and gradual assimilation began in the late 1830s when universities set themselves the task to produce new knowledge, which geared their work to the linear time of progress, and the modernization of management introduced the time of reporting cycles to the ministries’ work. The Russian authorities’ desire to unify education and educational institutions in general led university time being incorporated in the overall temporal regime of state government and subordinated to the tasks of bureaucratic periodicity and timeliness. In this regard, the university autonomy was limited not so much in the legal as in the temporal sphere.

In the mid-nineteenth century, professors began to fight with ministry officials for their right to dispose of academic time and to control the way it was spent. Both professors and bureaucrats were equally interested in good vocational training and high-quality research being provided by universities, but they had different ideas about the time and financial resources required for this. The bureaucrats’ priority was results being achieved in an economical way, while academics focused on working process that would be comfortable in terms of time and opportunities.

In Soviet times, this confrontation was resolved by transferring the right to record and control academic time to a ministry that was in charge of higher education. The scope of the ‘academic hours’ concept which traditionally measured only classroom instruction workload was now extended to cover other areas of professors’ and students’ life. The extracurricular activities of professors such as grading student assignments, curriculum development, preparation of lecture courses, research work etc., came to be counted and controlled.

During Stalin's rule, total regulation of academic time was used for social equalization and maintaining ‘labor discipline.’ But already in the late 1930s it became clear that the Soviet state that was in need of skilled workers and scientific achievements had erected barriers to their production by limiting the time universities were allowed to spend on the respective education and research work. In the mid-1950s, the management of teaching workload and research activities was transferred to the individual universities’ administrations. In the late Soviet period, the individual workload of professors depending on the discipline, region, university, one’s status in the academic community, and personal responsibility. This  was perceived as an injustice at that time, but many years after, this temporal regime was remembered in the corporate memory as a time of academic freedom and corporate responsibility.

Perestroika and the collapse of the USSR led to a change in temporal regimes in universities. The rapidly changing historical time revealed, according to modern professors, that universities failed to keep abreast with the economic development. In the perception of academics, the present increase in the intensity and pace of university life is associated with a transition from classical university to managerial one leading to a drop in the quality of education and research.

The findings of the study can be used in teaching for the preparation of lecture courses and workshops in history of science and higher education in Russia and the USSR. The observations made and the trends identified should be taken into account when developing and implementing management decisions in academia aimed at regulating the pace of knowledge production.


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