The Russian Students and Professors

I have just finished my third day of teaching; we have gone through the US legal system at the speed of light, covered contract law just as fast, and now have begun the heart of my teaching mission: business law.  We have started our discussion of business entities: proprietorships, partnerships, corporations, LLCs.

I seem to have a core of about 50 students, and each lecture is attended by two translators and a smattering of law and English faculty, as well as sundry drop-ins (attendance at lectures is open).  I speak for 85 minutes without break; I lecture in English and the translators — well, they translate using copies of the lectures I sent previously.  If I vary much from the prepared text (for example, if I put something on the blackboard to expand on a point) the translators tend to get a little panicked, and pound out words on a translation program on their laptop).  I think some students are getting most of it, but by no means all.

I suggested to my faculty contact that, after I lecture, we post the English language version of each lecture on the internet;  I think many but not all students have computers.  I was told this was not necessary.  I never got to suggest the posting of the Russian translation and frankly I sometimes wonder how precise that translation might be.

I get virtually no questions during lecture.  If I ask if I have been understood I get a couple of nods and not much else.  I plug onward; what is the choice?

After class, I do get a rush of questions.  Some are oral from those best in English.  Others have been written in Russian and given to a translator to present to me.  They do reflect a general understanding of what I am saying; a couple have been very precise.  Some ask me to contrast the US system to what the students have been taught about Russian law, which they are patient to explain to me; these questions typically focus on criminal law, which many of the students are focused upon; likely the result of the lack of business focus and infrastructure in the country.

This afternoon we were escorted (me, my son, my wife, our translator and two professors) to the broad plains outside Belgorod upon which the battle of Kursk and related tank battles were waged during World War II.  (It would be hard to overstate the continuing topicality of the war; in three days we have been taken to two War museums and several battlefield stops.)  Faculty questions:

*As in Russia, is there a lot of land that does not belong to anyone?

*How often to union law cases end up in court (seems everyone in Russia is in a union, workers and professors and even the students; it was suggested that the lack of labor law protection gave rise to the union movement, not unlike earlier US labor law)?

*How many lawyers are there in the US Congress?  (Seems that democracy has resulted in popular election of a legislature

full of gymnists, actors, etc. and no lawyers, so the law faculty finds that the laws that exist are foolish.)

*Is it true that companies in the US actually have their own lawyers within the company? (Seems no Russian companies have in-house counsel.)

Both students and teachers constantly ask what we think of the Town (which reminds me of Worcester), the University (which is modern and attractive but without obvious US counterpart at least to me) and the student body.  These questions are so frequent that it is apparent that they all are seeking some signal of approval.  Frankly, the hardest area in which to give approval is the assessment of the student body.  As teaching is by lecture with few questions and (so far) very little after-class contact, it is hard to reach an honest general assessment.  Surely some students are very sharp and interested, and our translator (who was an advanced student as well as now a teacher/intern) is smart and passionate about everything, but I am not sure how I will reach an assessment of the quality of the bulk of the student body.

My teaching in the morning leaves afternoons and evenings free and an almost endless series of cultural and other events have been arranged for us by the faculty; today ended with a dinner replete with vodka toasts.  In coming days it seems we will have a concert, a theatrical review, a hike in the forest, etc.  These folks are truly totally cordial and committed to making our stay enjoyable and educational.  We are very much enjoying the experience, but at the end of each day we are all pretty tired.  Speaking of which, I will now sign off and prepare tomorrow’s lectures; I am not sure how to explain US corporate tax to students who don’t have an understanding of what a corporation might be….


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