Russian Unorthodox

He has been an advisor to Mikhail Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. He's renowned internationally as a journalist and scholar. And he has been a highly popular visiting professor at Webster University. So why is Nikolai Zlobin looking for a job?

Staley says that in the past, Zlobin filled "specific areas of need. That's why the university offered him teaching appointments years back. Those interests have grown and sustained."

But given Zlobin's credentials, his scholarship, his impressive student evaluations ("There's almost a Nikolai Zlobin cult," says Linda Holtzman, former chair of the Communications and Journalism Department) and Webster's self-promoted international scope and World Headquarters moniker, wouldn't this be the ideal person for the school to keep?

"Webster has no comment on its personnel decisions," responds Staley in a tone that must be practiced by administrative apparatchiks worldwide.

Holtzman, who has worked closely with Zlobin for the three years, responds more openly about the possible loss of the school's Russian expert. "I don't usually say 'irreplaceable,'" she says, but she feels the word is apt when speaking of Zlobin. "He's unbelievable, one of the best teachers I've ever seen. The guy's brilliant -- his scholarship, the depth and breadth of his experience. It is rare to find someone with his high intellect, with the uncanny ability to connect with undergraduates. But," she qualifies, "if you ever play cards with him, watch out."

Holtzman recognizes that the school administration "wants to see excellence in scholarship and in teaching, but they also have a budget."

These budgetary determinations have Zlobin in a quandary. "I thought Webster would be more open to international innovations," he says. "It's not big money. Come on."

Ironically, one of Zlobin's themes in discussing the relationship between Russia and the United States in the Yeltsin era is one of missed opportunities. "This is what drives me crazy," he says. "I'm trying to tell everybody. I talk to State Department people and a lot of big guys in Washington about this. How stupid it is that Yeltsin, the most pro-Western Russian leader in a thousand years -- he was in power almost 10 years and we didn't use this opportunity. Clinton's foreign policy toward Russia failed completely. The next (Russian) president -- it doesn't matter even if he is an extreme democrat -- he won't be so pro-American or pro-Western."

However Russia turns, Zlobin emphasizes that America needs people with a knowledge of Russian affairs. "It is the last empty market where everybody needs goods, so you will need lots of experts on Russia. And if relations turn back to the old Cold War system, you will definitely need experts on Russia. It's very important to have programs on Russia and Eastern Europe."

Those programs won't be found -- or taught from such a unique perspective -- at World Headquarters, Webster University, once Zlobin's gone.

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