How to manage the oldest University in Russia, conduct research and find time for a hobby, overcome difficulties and stay happy with the career choice — shared the Rector of St Petersburg University, Corresponding Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Nikolay Kropachev on the eve of the 5th St Petersburg International Labour Forum.
What was the first success in life that you remember?
For me personal success is always related to a leap of faith, when you do something that you were unable to do before. This involves acquiring new skills, practices and knowledge. Probably, it was not by chance that 40 years ago my teacher Vadim Prokhorov gave me the following characteristic when recommending me as a party member at the party meeting: ‘First of all, Nikolay is continuously learning and developing. Secondly, he can take a punch.’
Who or what is the source of support and energy for you on your professional path?
In the first place, these are my daughter Lisa (aged 15) and my son Sergey (aged 33). As for the second and third place, it is hard to tell. These are my colleagues and students. Or students and colleagues. Whatever we do with our colleagues is eventually aimed at students. When I say ‘colleagues’, I mean the whole staff of St Petersburg University including the lawyers, in whose circles I acquired my profession as well as my teaching, research and managerial experience. I also mean the Rector’s office workers and the representatives of other University spheres, with whom we maintain the University reputation and provide for its development. If we unite students and colleagues, we will get the University itself, which is the object and subject of support, energy and many other important and valuable things.
Who is your role model among your contemporaries?
I have mentioned it many times before, but I’m not afraid to repeat myself. These are my two teachers — Professor Vadim Prokhorov and Member of the Russian Academy of Sciences Yuri Tolstoy. High professionalism, wisdom and intelligence, kind attitude to people, determination and optimism are their qualities that I try to follow in my activity. In 2020, we said our final farewell to Vadim Prokhorov. Nobody will affectionately call me ‘little son’ any more.
How can one measure success?
In my opinion, there are two dimensions of success. The first one is personal success in the professional career, public reputation, personal life and financial well-being. The second one is related to success in the cause that you serve. For the sake of this cause, you can even compromise on personal things and in the first place on personal time. The balance is very individual. However, if the first and second dimensions mostly coincide and complement each other, the person is truly successful.
Please, tell us about one or two situations that helped you to develop leadership qualities.
In 1991, the general staff meeting of the Faculty of Law elected the staff council of five people. A young assistant lecturer at that time, I was unanimously elected into the council. The general meeting gave me the task of organising the faculty of second feebased university education and fee-based additional education. The staff wanted not just to make money, but to save the faculty. At that time, the faculty library had been closed for several years; all staircases had no lights; only every second student had a chair to sit on; the dean’s office had been broken into three or four times in the previous year; young and middle-aged teachers were leaving the faculty (What I see is a man committed to his work...). Both the Ministry and the Rector’s office were against the creation of the new faculty. Many teachers at the Faculty of Law, who supported the decision at the staff meeting, in fact strongly opposed the creation of a private educational organisation affiliated with the Faculty of Law. A year later, an order on the establishment of a specialised faculty of law was issued. During the first years, following the decision of the Faculty Academic Council, over 85% of earnings were spent on upgrading the educational environment and conditions for students and teachers. Several years later, the first electronic library appeared in Russia and the teachers were provided with comfortable personal offices for scientific research and teaching. An electronic schedule was introduced (SPbU E-Services in Education: Past and Present), the first in Russia legal clinic was established, the first in Russia journal of legal practice was published (The biography of Nikolay Kropachev). Time showed that the graduates of the faculty did not just receive valuable knowledge, but also acquired professional skills. Many of them are well known today as deputies of the State Duma, members of the Council of Federation, deputies of St Petersburg Legislative Assembly, successful lawyers and businessmen. Among the graduates of St Petersburg University are Sergey Mironov, Igor Artemyev, Mikhail Mikhailovsky and others.
What or who are the main enemies on the way to personal fulfilment and development?
The main enemy is, probably, laziness. I’m also subject to it, but I enjoy fighting it. I have to admit that sometimes I lose. In these moments, I manage to suspend my work and listen to good music, read a good book or take a walk outside instead. Quite often, after some time off, when I can just listen to my favourite songs by Deep Purple or Uriah Heep (Smoke on the Water, Child in Time, Hush, July Morning, Lady in Black, Look at Yourself and others), I find solutions to complicated problems that would resist solution in the regular ‘work mode’.
What image in the cinema (films or series) describes well the characteristic features of a person of your profession?
I’m not aware of really insightful films and series about lawyers, where the protagonist and their actions would reflect the reality. A lawyer is required to have two qualities. Competence and human decency. As for human decency, the film ‘12’ by Nikita Mikhalkov can help to imagine a generalised character. The film characters — the jury in the murder case — have to take a difficult decision based on their personal life experience and understanding of human values. Finally, they come to a conclusion that is perceived well by the viewers. However, there is no competent lawyer among the film characters. Thus, it remains unknown what the decision would have been, if it had been based on the letter and spirit of the law. As for the films about deans and rectors, I just don’t know any.
Have you ever lost faith in yourself in your life?
I have never lost faith in myself. However, I have always tried not to mix it up with arrogance. Life offered me non-trivial tasks that were impossible to solve without believing in myself. I also set the goals for myself that seemed crazy at times, but selfconfidence helped me to move forward.
If you could change your specialisation or sphere of activity for one day, what would you chose?
I have asked myself this question, too. Here’s my answer: I have chosen the right profession. There is no better sphere of activity. In 2000–2005, I combined teaching and working as the Faculty Dean with the position of the Chair of the Statutory Court of St Petersburg. Those were wonderful years (Nikolay Kropachev: ‘A court decision always affects someone’s interests’).
For over ten years you have served as the Rector of the oldest university in Russia. What have you managed to achieve in this position?
Over the past years, the University has undoubtedly changed a great deal. I dare say that the best people work and study here. I don’t want to brag and take extra credit for my work, but I’m proud that together with my colleagues we have been able to create a favourable environment for that. We have the best Research Park in the country, the most cited scientists, and a wide network of international contacts with research and educational organisations, authorities and leading companies. At the University, we pay special attention to the interactions with future employers. This has enabled us to construct efficient social lifts and one of them is our annual ‘Career Days’ with large scale events attracting biggest employers from various fields. Thus, students that apply to the University from any region understand that they can count on an internship in an international company, for example, and will be sure to find employment upon graduation. Creating such possibilities for talented youth is one of our main achievements, in my opinion.
Could you name the three most interesting modern professions in the world?
I can’t speak for the whole world. To my mind, the most interesting profession is university teacher. This is a combination of not just three-in-one, but many more. A real teacher is an expert following the recent trends and discoveries in his or her field of knowledge, a scientist groping for new knowledge, a public speaker presenting the new material in an engaging and convincing manner, an educator providing students with academic materials, and recently also a specialist in the information and educational technologies.
In conclusion, I would like to wish courage, determination, and, just in case, stamina in response to temporal difficulties to all our current and future students. Look ahead with confidence and the success will be sure to arrive.