A university dean acclaimed as “Tunisia’s unofficial ambassador of intellectual freedom” has been given the Scholars at Risk Network’s second Courage to Think Award at its global congress in Amsterdam.
The network brings together more than 330 higher education institutions committed to protecting threatened scholars and promoting academic freedom.
Its Freedom to Think, Responsibility to Act congress, held on 9 and 10 April, was set to include a keynote lecture by Craig Calhoun, director of the London School of Economics. Also featured were dialogues between scholars from around the world and Ahmed Shaheed, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Iran, and monologues telling the stories of endangered academics.
The award was presented to Habib Kazdaghli, dean of the Faculty of Letters, Arts and Humanities in Tunisia’s Manouba University.
Professor Kazdaghli, explained Jonathan Fanton, chair of the board of Scholars at Risk, is “a historian with an emphasis on contemporary minority rights, including Tunisia’s Jewish minority…His academic work is deeply rooted in issues of equity and fair access, which are central to the open, merit-based ideal of the modern university.”
This, said Dr Fanton, had made Professor Kazdaghli “a target for those in the extremist community”. Demonstrators from outside had “blocked access to the campus and tried to force the entire university community to adopt their vision of a less open university”.
In 2012 he was charged with “violence perpetrated by a civil servant” after reporting students who had entered his office and destroyed papers, and an extremist website named him among those targeted for assassination. (He was acquitted of the charges in 2013.)
Yet even though Professor Kazdaghli was “forced to live his life under the protection of bodyguards”, reported Dr Fanton, he refused to be silenced and “continued to speak openly about the importance of the values of the university, to the university itself, and to the emerging society in which education and educated young people will play a critical part”.
The 2014 Scholars at Risk award recognised “his courage and dedication to academic freedom and university autonomy”.