The Legacy of a Dean

MT
When Yasen Zasursky, the dean of the journalism school of Moscow State University, was dismissed last November from the post that he had occupied since 1965, his students came to his next lecture with signs and stickers that read 'Yasen is our president' and 'Yasen's plan is Russia's victory.'

There was a little irony in that as he had been appointed as president of the oldest journalism school in the country.

"This position had just been introduced by the university council, and I felt honored to accept it," Zasursky said. "Now I don't have so much paperwork and administrative functions on me. And I can concentrate on my lectures, research and the strategic development of the school."

For the 42 years Zasursky served as dean, half the journalistic elite of the country were under his tutelage. The news of his dismissal caused wide unrest among the students, and all the major newspapers sought his response.

But he was happy to have been relieved of the position and its administrative duties as the aspect of being dean most important to him was working with students -- the part of his job, he says, that keeps him young.

At 78, Zasursky has no intention of being an ordinary pensioner, and his schedule attests to that. He travels, both domestically and abroad, lectures on international journalism and literature, and authors books and articles. He even has his own blog.

Age has never been a barrier for him. He finished school at 15, got his Ph.D. at 22 and became dean at 36. While some consider such people to be prodigies, Zasursky attributed his success to another factor.

"I grew up during the war. People were excited about fighting the enemy, the fascists. And everybody wanted to do something. I just wanted to study more. And I intensified my studies. That was it."

His interests were largely influenced by his father, Nikolai Zasursky, who worked for the State Standards Committee and traveled widely researching building materials and methods of production. His stories from the United States made the biggest impression on young Zasursky, which influenced his decision to study English and American literature.

Zasursky entered the Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages in 1943 before he finished school. "I took preparatory courses and passed all the entrance exams with excellent marks. And the director of the institute allowed me to attend lectures before I obtained my secondary education certificate." He finished secondary school within the next year.

He graduated in 1948 with a certification to teach English and then pursued a Ph.D. in American literature.


Igor Tabakov / MT
Zasursky says he never was a party bureaucrat, but he wanted to study languages.
His first job offer came from the Communist Party, but he did not want "that kind of job," he said -- one that would have caused him to work with the communists in the United States.

"Many of the present leaders who were active in the transition to a market economy and democracy were in the international department of the Communist Party. I didn't want to work there. I wanted to study literature, languages, journalism. Therefore, I was never a party bureaucrat."

His first job was as an editor at the Foreign Literature Publishing House.

In 1953, the department of journalism opened at MGU and Zasursky was invited to lecture on international journalism, an offer he accepted, turning his attention to journalism.

In 1956, he became the deputy dean of the faculty. Two years later, he was awarded a UNESCO fellowship and went to France and England to study journalism. "I think our curriculum was influenced by those studies," he said.

In 1965, the first dean retired and the faculty staff unanimously nominated Zasursky. "I didn't want to be the dean at all," he said. "I was not interested in administration of any sort. But my colleagues insisted. ... They did not want the candidate for this position who was recommended by the Central Committee. ... And the faculty members thought it would be bad because our school was set up to educate journalists, not party officials. They insisted on my election, and I had to become dean."

Under his care, the school became the preeminent center for journalism in the country. "I wanted this school to be a serious school where students get serious, fundamental knowledge," he said.

Yelena Vartanova, the acting dean and his former pupil, described him as "the true head of the academic school." Among his other qualities, she noted his attitude of openness and genuine interest in listening to others. "His influence on the creation and the consolidation of the faculty is tremendous."

But Zasursky said he was ready to write more, read more and learn more about the subjects that are really of interest to him -- the future of journalism and the development of society.

"I think I should prepare the school for my departure now," he said. "I have a very good team of deputy deans and the acting dean. They all speak foreign languages, they are young enough and they are experienced enough. They are people who will take up my interests and continue along the lines that I think are important for journalism education.

"So, I am leaving the school, but I am staying," Zasursky said.