The fourth annual American Studies in Central Asia symposium ended Saturday and my leading candidate for the most colorful (and offensive) character was a middle-aged ethnic Russian woman from a state university in the southern part of Kyrgyzstan. She was one of the three members of a panel I moderated entitled “teaching for the future.” At the end of the their presentations, I asked the panelists to move to the front on the room to field questions. This woman answered virtually every question directed to anyone on panel, even when they were identified by name. She represents a female archetype I have run across often in higher education here. On the basis of her career longevity, which means at least as many years under the top-down Soviet model before independence than under the top-down Soviet model after independence, she considers herself a detached and knowledgeable critic on the “old system” of education. The texts may have changed—she teaches American literature and pays lip service to post-Soviet pedagogy—but everything else appears unchanged. She is final authority and students are stupid unless they do exactly as she tells them.
The symposium concluded with a student-led presentation on “what is the future for the younger generation in Kyrgyzstan?” and she and her peers were dominating the roundtable discussion. I asked if we could limit the participation to students and was told by another representative of the same archetype that there were not enough students on the room—I estimated about a dozen—to limit it to just them A few students did manage to work a comment or two in between the windbags, who included a middle-aged, male administrator with an American flag necktie, but most of the student comments were dismissed as naïve or uniformed. The graying blowhards, on the basis of the 15 years since Kyrgyz independence, appear to have achieved little in making in the future brighter for Kyrgyz youth, yet they still claimed they had all the answers. Absolutely amazing.