Harvard's Russian Research Center will be forced to eliminate some of its major programs within the next several years if it does not receive a substantial infusion of outside financial support, scholars associated with the prestigious study center said yesterday.
The center's recent financial difficulties, which reflect a national trend among elite Soviet studies institutes, have prompted officials to organize a crucial private fundraising drive and to redouble efforts to win competitive foundation grants.
"After next year, unless additional funds are received, it will be impossible to continue to run [the center] in the future," said Economics Professor Abram Bergson, who gave the most pessimistic prognosis for Soviet studies at Harvard.
Other professors predicted that the center will survive in some form, although all agreed that research programs are threatened by a sharp decrease of interest in the field among universities, the federal government and private money-granting foundations.
At Harvard, which had until recently boasted the nation's preeminent Soviet studies curriculum, the major problems include a lack of fellowship money to train young scholars and a shortage of funds for general physical maintenance.
Having surrendered clear leadership in the discipline to Columbia University, according to most experts, Harvard must also battle against the perception that as a university it no longer considers the Soviet Union a key subject for research.
Fewer American scholars have chosen to specialize in Soviet studies recently, professors said, and replacements are badly needed for those who have been leading authorities since the 1950s.
Without funds to support junior researchers, however, centers such as Harvard's have failed to attract large numbers of graduate students.
Marshall Goldman, associate director of the Russian Research Center, said the organization now sponsors fewer than 10 master's degree candidates each year, compared to about 30 a year in the 1950s.
"The money we have now, about $35,000 a year, is enough for one" graduate researcher, said Goldman, "but here it has to be divided among 10 people."
The center, which includes seven faculty researchers, receives that $35,000 from a share of the interest from Harvard's endowment. Like other branches of the University, however, the center must survive on an independent budget for all additional costs other than professors' salaries.
A special $5 million fund drive for the center is scheduled to begin this school year under the auspices of Harvard's $350 million capital funds campaign. "The drive is necessary in order to bring us back to our original strength of 20 years ago," said Adam Ulam, the center's director.
Professors here downplayed the role of Harvard's decentralized financial system as a factor in the center's recent struggles, although other small institutions within the University have in the past criticized the structure.