Eyewitness

June 29, 2001

Some violations of academic freedom are clear-cut: a senior academic in Colombia is the victim of extra-judicial execution for his politics; an Egyptian social scientist jailed for critical research into the electoral process; academics of Chinese origin accused of spying in China.

Others are less easily defined: a researcher whose job offer is rescinded after criticising a funder of a research institute; a social anthropologist in South Africa loses her job after criticising her university's handling of a dispute with a senior colleague.

Violations of academics' human rights are easy to identify. The gradations of breaches of academic freedom are less easy: some human rights organisations will not take up disputes over tenure.

David Margolies, reader in English at Goldsmiths College, London and chair of the Association of University Teachers European and international affairs committee, said violations are becoming more common as universities rely more on commercial funders. "Non-academic criteria increase in importance, and management may give financial advantage priority over academic integrity."

Antoon De Baets, professor of contemporary history at the University of Groningen, said: "Academic freedom violations are not confined to non-western countries, but the worst violations (murder, torture, detention) are rare in the West. The record of 100-plus non-western countries is very uneven. If you include the big waves of German, Austrian and Spanish exiles in the 1930s or phenomena such as McCarthyism in the United States, the overall picture is even more complex."

Historian Shula Marks, of London University's School of Oriental and African Studies and chair of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics, said: "A country where we see more violations may not be as bad as those places from which we have absolute silence and we do not know what is going on.

"Scholars lives are not normally at risk in western industrialised societies, but there are worrying trends that change the relationship of the academic to his or her institution, to management, to students, to the state and to corporate activities."

VIOLATIONS OF ACADEMIC FREEDOM OR POOR INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS?

Saad Eddin Ibrahim , of the independent IbnKhaldun Centre for Development Studiesin Cairo, was jailed forseven years with hard labour because of charges arising from his research into elections.

Abdul Lalzad , professor of engineering at the University of Kabul, worked for the Red Cross after the Taliban shut the university. He was jailed on suspicion of passing information to anti-Taliban forces, but fled to Pakistan.

David Healy 's job offer at the University of Toronto was rescinded after he spoke about the dangers of a drug made by a pharmaceuticals company that helped fund the centre he was to join.

Caroline White of the University of Natal, Robert Shell of Rhodes University and Ted Steele of Wollongong University were all dismissed for disciplinary reasons.


AGENCIES THAT MONITOR VIOLATIONS

Amnesty International
http:///www.amnesty.org

Human Rights Watch
US-based body that exposes threats to academic freedom worldwide.
http:///www.hrw.org/advocacy/academic/index.htm

Council for Assisting Refugee Academics
London-based body set up in 1933 to help academic personnel dismissed under fascism. Helps academics who have lost their jobs because of political, racial or religious discrimination and have become refugees in Britain.
http:///www.academic-refugees.org

Chicago University Scholars at Risk Programme
Founded a year ago, Scholars at Risk arranges temporary positions for scholars needing sanctuary.
http:///scholarsatrisk.uchicago.edu

Network for Education and Academic Rights

Launched in Paris earlier this month to complement existing agencies.
http:///www.nearinternational.org

Also American Association for the Advancement of Science and other learned societies American Association of University Professors/ Association of University Teachers and other trade or professional bodies.

 

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