News: Nov 19, 2012
Scholars in non-democratic countries may encounter serious problems by asking the wrong questions. They can even be silenced just because they are scholars.
Sinead O’Gorman talked about this at a seminar held during Global Week at the University of Gothenburg. She is hoping that Scholars at Risk will get established also in Sweden.
Scholars at Risk, a network of higher education institutions that supports persecuted scholars in autocracies, was started at the University of Chicago in the year 2000. Today, it has over 300 members in 35 countries.
‘Our goal is to support all scholars who in one way or another are harassed in their home countries; who maybe are censored, get their computers confiscated or even risk being put in prison.’
The words come from the network’s Deputy Executive Director Sinead O’Gorman, main speaker at a seminar on Scholars at Risk held during under Global Week.
‘We require two things from the member institutions: that they acknowledge each scholar’s right to conduct research freely and that they appoint a representative who can communicate with the network. Other than these two requirements, each university is free to decide to what extent and in what way they want to get involved. We are of course hoping that the University of Gothenburg, and therefore Sweden, will join us soon.’
One concrete way to help is to host a persecuted scholar as a visiting researcher for one or a few semesters. Around 400 scholars have been supported in this way over the years.
‘But there are many other ways to help as well. Arranging workshops and seminar series are some examples. And several higher education institutions can cooperate and let the same scholar lecture at several different places.’
One higher education institution that joined the network already in 2001 is the University of Oslo. But they didn’t really do much in the beginning, according to Marit Egner, Senior Adviser.
‘But now we have decided that we’re going to host one threatened visiting researcher per year. In addition, last year Norway formed its own section within the network, and all Norwegian universities are members of it.’
Mezgebu Hailu is a researcher and journalist from Ethiopia. After writing articles for the newspaper Addis Neger about how the freedoms of researchers are becoming increasingly restricted, he was forced to leave the country.
‘First I fled to Uganda, where I and some colleagues continued publishing an online version of the newspaper. Then Scholars at Risk helped me get a one-year position as a visiting professor at the University of Cape Town. Now I’m working as an author in Stockholm thanks to the International Cities of Refuge Network.’
Is it perhaps time for Sweden to join the network? The seminar audience certainly seemed to think so.
‘I don’t understand why we are not already in it,’ said Andrew Casson from Dalarna University.
‘I think a lot of work to hep vulnerable scholars is already being done, but by joining the network we could cooperate more,’ said Noelia Ollvid at Uppsala University.
‘This could also be a way to utilise the students’ engagement for human rights,’ said Catharina Hiort from Chalmers University of Technology.
Social scientists such as political scientists and scholars within journalism are particularly vulnerable.
‘But there are persecuted scholars in all disciplines,’ O’Gorman explains.