US academics detained, removed from Russia over visa mix-up

Five academics from the University at Buffalo are back in the United States after being ordered out of Russia for giving a lecture

The two School of Management faculty members, two staffers and one alumna arrived back in the United States on Thursday following what was to have been a routine visit to the Moscow Polytechnic University.

“The (UB) faculty and staff viewed it as an open discussion but it appears the Russian university interpreted it as a formal lecture,” a statement from UB said.

The Soviet District Court of Ryazan, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) southeast of Moscow, determined such a lecture did not correspond with the declared purpose of their visit to Russia, Buffalo said.

The group was fined and left the country Dec. 11 in what the court termed an “administrative expulsion in the form of a controlled independent exit,” according to Buffalo.

“Faculty and staff often travel abroad on research trips, or to present at conferences, and this kind of situation is one that all of us in higher education dread," said Frederick Kowal, president of the United University Professions, the union representing State University of New York faculty.

“We are grateful to the U.S. embassy in Russia for its help in securing the release of our colleagues,” Kowal said.

The University at Buffalo said that the trip aligned with the School of Management's goal of deepening its understanding of global business and that tourist visas are commonly used for such overseas visits.