University Of Glasnost: A Dissident’s Dream Comes True

Out of the throng of dark-suited and (yes, still) somewhat grim-faced Soviet officials in the lobby of the Madison Hotel yesterday morning there suddenly emerged a smiling, peppy Yuri A. Ossipyan, member of Mikhail Gorbachev's inner circle and his top science adviser. With outstretched hand, Ossipyan greeted Edward D. Lozansky, the physicist emigre living in Washington who made national headlines in 1982 with the success of his six-year effort to force Soviet authorities to allow his wife, Tatiana, to join him here.

They shook hands happily — the official and the dissident, two beings inhabiting different worlds who have come now to consider themselves friends as they work quietly toward their goal of establishing a new Soviet-American university. By the end of the day the project had been formally announced at a fund-raising reception at the National Academy of Sciences attended by American businesspeople, academicians, politicians and Soviet officials.

“Even in our wildest dreams we didn’t expect there would be an official Soviet-American university,” said Lozansky. “I had thought in terms of a dissident activity, that American professors would go to Russia and meet young people in an apartment somewhere, or outside of town. And we had already started doing this.”

But after October 1988, when Lozansky visited the Soviet Union after 12 years of exile in response to an invitation by the Soviet Academy of Sciences and met Ossipyan — also a physicist — the possibility of a two-sided deal emerged. The idea took shape as the men made more than a dozen trips back and forth (Ossipyan, at one point, hanging out in Dupont Circle, won $75 in pickup chess games).

Ossipyan said yesterday that he had talked with Gorbachev about the university idea, and the Soviet president endorsed it. Then last month, attending the White House conference on global warming, he discussed it with President Bush at a reception. “I told him we need the moral support of the American government, and he said, ‘This is a great idea — keep me informed.’ “

Actually, according to Lozansky, Bush was first briefed on the idea by conservative political activist Paul Weyrich after Weyrich’s trip to Moscow last November to train Soviet dissidents in political organizing. This led to a meeting in February with Vice President Dan Quayle, in which Ossipyan and Lozansky outlined their plans.

“Now we are looking for financial backers, and we have to establish a joint board of trustees,” Ossipyan said yesterday. “The main idea is that the university has to be private. In the Soviet Union, we have only state universities, so this will be the first private one in the history of the country.” Asked how this could happen, Ossipyan said, somewhat vaguely, that changes in Soviet society will allow this in time and that even now the Soviet trustees can be “independent.”

The plan, as the two men have scoped it out so far, calls for establishing campuses in both countries — a town house in Washington and a building in Moscow — by the end of the year, with 50 students and five professors going each way. Soviet professors will teach in their areas of strength (analytical mathematics, theoretical physics, Slavistics and philology) and the Americans in theirs (business, management, economics and computer science).

The first American academic to accept a position in the new university is Edwin G. Dolan, a Yale PhD in economics who has taught at George Mason University and Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” he said in a telephone interview. Describing himself as a “free-market economist,” Dolan said he plans to depart Sept. 1 for Moscow, where he and his wife, Kitty, a political scientist, will live in an apartment provided by “the Soviet side.” So far, no Soviet professors have been chosen.

Simon Fireman, formerly a director of the Export-Import Bank and now a private consultant in international fund-raising, hosted the reception last night. He had learned of the university project only two weeks ago when he happened to have lunch with Lozansky, and hopes to raise funds from “American industrialists” and others to buy the campus building in Washington by the end of the year. “This summit is an opportunity for me to be somewhat related to sponsoring this,” Fireman said by telephone. “It opens the doors and kicks off a relationship which is extremely positive.”

“When I told him about the university he got excited,” said Lozansky. “He moved so fast! I thought maybe he was just talking about it, but later I realized he was serious.”

Lozansky is a tall, confident and friendly man whose forced exile from his homeland in 1976 and subsequent struggle to free Tatiana became a Cold War classic. It resulted in his 1984 book “For Tatiana,” which he said earned him enough to buy an expensive apartment on Connecticut Avenue and is now being made into a television miniseries by a British producer.

He drives a snow-white Cadillac Seville with white leather interior and runs an educational exchange business, International Educational Network. “Our business is doing well,” he said, “with all the {Soviet-American} conferences and exchanges. I enjoy America very much. In America, I have an idea and I just go ahead and implement it! In Russia I was told, ‘Shut up, go away.’ “

In the Soviet Union, he had worked as a nuclear physicist, married Tatiana (a top general’s daughter) and lived the good life until he became disgusted with the cynicism and materialism he saw all around him. He began speaking out, and soon became known as a Jewish dissident intellectual and enemy of the communist system.

His original idea was to urge American intellectuals and politicians traveling to the Soviet Union to give talks to groups of dissidents, terming this activity a “university” of sorts. He did this with Harvard professor Richard Pipes in June 1988, and again with Sens. Phil Gramm (R-Tex.) and Robert Kasten (R-Wis.) a year later.

But after meeting Ossipyan in Moscow, he took a new tack. “The idea moved quite slowly at first,” he said. ” … Then gradually we began to understand better what we want. After the summit is over, we will select other professors and do the fund-raising. We want representatives of different American universities to join the effort.”

Interest in the project is high, and several Soviets in town for the summit have taken the time to see Lozansky. Nikolai Karlov, president of the Moscow Physical Technical Institute, dropped by his office the other day.

“It’s vitally necessary to develop close links between individuals in science, technology and the humanities,” Karlov said later in a telephone interview. He said he thinks mankind is “facing disaster” and that a Soviet-American university will help avoid this.

Such a university, he said, will help in “the humanitization of the technocratic mind.”