Being Here: Teaching Russians to Take His Job

It's Wednesday night at Moscow Linguistic University/Touro College's new joint accounting program, and Paul Kindlon is working the room like it's a southside Chicago nightclub.

He launches into a few quick one-liners, then asks the 24 Russian students if anyone has a joke. Having coated the pill with sugar, he segu?s into an announcement about final exams.

When Kindlon steps down from the lectern, his students are still laughing.

"It's not often laughter is part of an accounting class," says Natasha, one of his students. The dark-haired, broad-smiling Kindlon says, "I guess I'm part educator and part entertainer."

In a career of on-again, off-again jobs, Kindlon, 42, has had occasion to be both. He spent seven years as an actor in Chicago before entering the University of Illinois-Chicago to get a Ph.D. in Russian literature. But in 1991, with the doctorate in hand, he entered the job market at a time when American universities, like the rest of the country, were facing a tough recession, and employment was uncertain.

He decided to go to Russia.

In Moscow, he landed a job with "Karyera," a publication of the journalists' union, where he was supposed to expound on Russia. Before he finished his first column, the paper folded.

Kindlon next taught English at a Russian secondary school. One day, after hearing Open Radio's news program, he called up the station and offered his services; he felt he could do better, he said. The station asked him to audition, and he got the job.

"It was most definitely out of the blue," Kindlon said. "One of the great things about living in Russia was there was so much opportunity. People had an attitude of, 'C'mon in and let's see what you can do.'"

Kindlon became the station's principal English-language broadcaster. A self-described "political animal," he said he loved the chance the job gave him to interview people like commentator Vladimir Pozner, former Finance Minister Boris Fyodorov and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky.

Despite the popularity among the foreign community of the English-language program, Open Radio canceled the broadcast earlier this year. Out of work again, Kindlon contemplated going home. But a blossoming romance with a Russian woman named Yulia, which later turned into marriage, kept him here.

He was not out of work for long. A friend directed him to Touro College, which is based in New York City and earlier this year set up a joint program with the Moscow Linguistic University. The school asked him to teach psychology, and later to become associate dean of the graduate accounting program.

Since Kindlon says he didn't want to go into business, people sometimes ask him why he would get involved with a school that teaches the subject.

He refers to his own out-of-work experiences to explain the importance of knowing something about it.

Besides, he says, "Touro College was formed to give people in need an opportunity for advancement" -- apparently even if that may mean someday sacrificing his own job: "We hope one day we will lose our jobs," he says. "We want to transfer our knowledge to Russians, so they can better their lives. As far as philosophies go, that's one of the best."