After telling my private tutor about the many shortcomings of KFU, she explained that it wasn’t always that way.

A few years ago (the final stage of the process was going on around the time I applied for the Fulbright), Russia enacted a nationwide audit and reform of institutions of higher learning (I use the pretentious phrase not to be pretentious, but because the reform included not only universities, but also institutes (where you might study engineering, physics, medicine, etc) and colleges (where you would study a trade). The criteria on which each institution was graded were manifold and confusing (What? Welcome to Russia?), and the reforms that were implemented at “unsatisfactory” institutions didn’t necessarily improve them in any way.

Two reforms were common among unsatisfactory institutions: changing the name, and consolidating multiple institutions into larger ones. Both of these happened at KFU, which, in those days, was not Kazan Federal University, but Kazan State University. That all sounds good–federal universities are supposed to be a step above regular ones, and if I’m not mistaken, there can be only one per federal district (the largest administrative subdivision–there are 7 federal districts total: Northwest (where Cher is), Central (where Moscow is), Southern (the Caucasus and Black Sea area), Volga (where I am), Ural (you know where that is), Siberia, and Far East), so hypothetically federal universities are bigger and have more resources than state universities.

Zakhra says that when KGU became KFU, a lot of different institutions were condensed, a lot of staff fired, and the whole thing came under new leadership. She likened it to the Bolshevik Revolution in that they slashed and burned everything that existed and started anew, rather than actually deciding case-by-case what institutions were worth keeping and which weren’t. For some reason, old professor were let go because they were nearing the ends of their careers and were replaced all at once by younger faculty who don’t have the expertise or experience to live up to their predecessors’ work or to the university’s reputation (KGU was famously one of the leading universities in Russia–it’s still famous, but only because it’s riding on the coattails of its former excellence).