On October 26, 2022, St. Petersburg State University (SPSU) dismissed Denis Skopin, an associate professor in the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Sciences, apparently for his participation in protests against the government’s mobilization of military-age men to fight in Russia’s war in Ukraine.
On September 21, 2022, as Russia declared a partial mobilization of military reservists, Skopin attended a demonstration against it and was subsequently detained. The following morning, he was brought to court and sentenced to 10 days of administrative detention.
Upon informing the university administration of his absence, Skopin explained the circumstances of his arrest and the article under which he was charged. Three weeks after he was released, the university reportedly dismissed Skopin from his position as a professor without any explanation or warning.
The dismissal order explicitly cited Skopin’s attendance at the demonstration as grounds for his termination, stating that his actions were “immoral and incompatible with the implementation of educational functions and the continuation of this work.” Skopin’s colleagues issued a petition against his dismissal to no avail and students applauded him on his last work day.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by a higher education institution dismissing a scholar, apparently based on political considerations and the scholar’s nonviolent exercise of his rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Higher education leaders should respect academic freedom and institutional autonomy by refraining from disciplinary actions motivated by scholars’ peaceful and responsible expressive activity. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such actions undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.