SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: October 13, 2023

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):St. Petersburg State University

Region & Country:Europe | Russia

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On October 13, 2023, St. Petersburg State University (SPBU) fired Svetlana Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya, a senior lecturer in the Russian language department, for allegedly violating “moral and ethical standards” while conducting a linguistic analysis of a court case.

In the spring of 2022, the defense team of Aleksandra Skochilenko—an artist who was arrested in April 2022 and charged with discrediting the Russian military by replacing the price tags in a supermarket with messages condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine—asked Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskayato conduct an independent linguistic evaluation of Skochilenko’s supermarket messages. The defense team requested that Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya analyze whether Skochilenko knowingly spread false information, as the Russian government has accused her of doing. The prosecution in Skochilenko’s case hired two other SPBU professors, Anastasia Grishanina and Olga Safonova, to conduct a separate linguistic evaluation.

During a hearing in May 2023, Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya reported that her analysis had found no evidence that Skochilenko had discredited the Russian military and that there was no “incitement of hatred and enmity” in the messages. Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya criticized the linguistic evaluation conducted for the prosecution by Grishanina and Safonova, stating that the two other professors had used outdated sources in their analysis and made “school mistakes.”

In September 2023, SPBU Vice-Rector for Legal Affairs Yuri Penov submitted a complaint against Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya to the university’s ethics commission, which is composed of 12 professors. Penov accused Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya of speaking sarcastically about Grishanina and Safonova to the press and on social media and stated that her behavior “cast doubt on the professional competence of St. Petersburg State University experts and the status of the St. Petersburg State University Center of Expertise as an expert organization.”

On September 29, the ethics commission held a meeting to review Penov’s complaint and Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya’s actions. Only five out of the 12 commission members attended the meeting. Those present found that Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya had made false statements regarding the professional expertise of her SPBU colleagues, and had violated “the moral and ethical standards of behavior” of the university student code by inadequately “represent[ing] the University in the non-university environment” and not complying “with the norms of scientific ethics, impartially and objectively evaluat[ing] the knowledge, skills and professional achievements of colleagues.”

On October 13, two weeks after the commission issued its decision, SPBU informed Drugoveiko-Dolzhanskaya in writing that she was fired.

Scholars at Risk is concerned by a university dismissing a scholar for conducting academic analysis and exercising her right to freedom of expression. Higher education institutions should respect and safeguard academic freedom and institutional autonomy, including by refraining from dismissals or other disciplinary actions that retaliate against a scholars’ exercise of academic freedom and freedom of expression. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, these actions undermine academic freedom, institutional autonomy, and democratic society generally.