On June 2, 2023, the leadership of St. Petersburg State University (SPbSU) fired Mikhail Belousov, an associate professor at the Institute of History, for committing an “immoral act” by speaking out against Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and “insulting” the Russian armed forces.
Screenshots of Telegram messages between Belousov and several of his students reportedly documented Professor Belousov openly criticizing the war in Ukraine, stating “direct and open approval of racism is disgusting.” After screenshots of the messages began circulating in the media, SPbSU’s Vice-Rector for Security reportedly contacted law enforcement agencies and the university’s ethics commission. Following an investigation, SPbSU’s rector signed a letter dismissing Professor Belousov, and the university posted a message on its website stating that the professors’ behavior was “immoral and incompatible with the implementation of educational functions and the continuation of this work.” At a meeting with the ethics committee prior to his dismissal, Professor Belousov reportedly denied having sent the messages, stating that someone had created a Telegram account in his name without his knowledge.
Scholars at Risk is concerned by a university dismissing a scholar for exercising his right to freedom of expression. Higher education leaders must refrain from dismissing a scholar based on differing political ideologies and the scholar’s nonviolent exercise of his rights to freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victims, these actions undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.