“I grew up in the Soviet Union. Even those universities valued merit more than some American schools do today”

Ilya Buynevich:

Walking near Temple University, I noticed a flyer advocating for “socialism in our lifetime.” The message from an outside group reads in full, “Socialist Revolution: Join the fight for socialism in our lifetime.” Having grown up in Soviet-era Ukraine and now a tenured professor at Temple, I feel strongly that most college-age Americans do not understand what they are saying when they advocate for socialism. 

Today, many American college students do not understand that they are advocating for a system that goes beyond what even the Soviets promoted. There is a real distinction that students do not appreciate between the romanticized idea of state socialism in Scandinavia and the reality of socialism – what I experienced as a student in the Soviet Union. 

Most student activists tout equity and many undergraduates champion socialism as a means to achieve equity – a process to engineer outcomes. Where I grew up, this would mean giving everyone the same grade, so it was never a factor in Soviet higher education. 

Soviet universities admitted roughly half of each cohort based on merit: grades in three placement exams. Yes, nepotism and bribes existed in the system, but applicants needed to be exceptionally smart to gain entrance in highly selective majors (international relations, law, or performing arts) at prestigious urban universities. The system prized engineered equality – nearly all were equally poor – but never used a concept of equity to fix results. 

My classmates and I were judged by our academic performances and faced high academic standards, especially during oral-style examinations (80-90% were in this format). I remain eternally thankful to my secondary school teachers and professors. They prepared us to succeed and graded us based on skill, and I was able to complete my education in the United States and earn a doctoral degree at Boston University.

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