ADMINISTRATORS and professors at Russia's oldest and most prestigious university are finding their ivory tower can't withstand the tremors caused by the country's economic and political crisis.Moscow State University (MGU), founded in 1755, is being buffeted by the same problems that have beset the rest of society. Administrators have had to scramble to find money to keep it operating, and the university is engulfed in debate over its future direction. There is widespread dissatisfaction with the administration of Rector Anatoly Logunov, who critics charge is too conservative to lead the university as it adapts to the post-Communist era. While administrators try to sort out the problems, interest among students in continuing their education appears to be dropping. That trend could diminish the quality of higher education in Russia, says Igor Kotlobovsky, administrative assistant of the university's trade union. "We aren't preparing new professors to take the place of those who are growing old," Mr. Kotlobovsky says. The breakup of the Soviet Union brought on the budget woes at MGU, says assistant rector Viktor Sadovnichy. The university in the past was financed by the central government. But funds have become scarcer in recent years. The final budgetary blow followed the failed August coup, when central authorities said the university would have to fend for itself. By November the university had run out of money, but the Russian government of Boris Yeltsin intervened, providing emergency funds to keep MGU open through the end of the year, Mr. Sadovnichy says. The finance problems have already taken a toll. More than 1,000 of the 12,000-member faculty, from professors to teaching assistants, have left the university in recent years in search of high-paying jobs abroad or in the growing Soviet private sector, Kotlobovsky says. An assistant professor currently earns only 500 rubles per month (about $11), while a full professor receives upwards of 700 rubles (about $15). The faculty met Nov. 20 to deal with the crisis. In addition to calling for a wage increase, faculty members adopted a resolution seeking the university's transfer from central control to Russian jurisdiction, and a majority approved a vote of no confidence in the leadership of Mr. Logunov. Administrators say the Russian government is willing to provide the estimated 500 million rubles ($11 million) for the 1992-1993 operating budget. To raise additional revenue, MGU plans to charge tuition of up to $4,000 for foreign students, Kotlobovsky says. But such a move will squeeze many of the 1,500 foreign students, most of whom are from third-world countries. Currently there are no plans to start charging Soviet students tuition. Some of the more radical faculty members say the university's crisis has more to do with outdated ideology than with money. For example, although many ideology courses have been dropped, some students complain they're still required to take a course in Marxist philosophy. "The majority of the courses aren't as interesting as they could be," says Alexander Dubrovsky, a physics major. Vladimir Voyekov, an assistant professor of biology, says the only way MGU can prepare students for the new world of the market economy is by getting rid of the conservative thinkers at the top, especially Rector Logunov. "The only solution is to let people be free to teach what and how they want," Mr. Voyekov says. "When people are free, they flourish." Defenders of Logunov, including Viktor Guskov, head of the university trade union, say a total and immediate overhaul of the administration would do more harm than good. "We need to change gradually, so the transition process will go as smoothly as possible," he says. Kotlobovsky is confident the university will regain its lost luster. "I have no doubt we'll survive," he says. "After all, we survived during the war [World War II]."