Free to Think 2016: States must do more to respond to crisis-level attacks on universities, scholars, and students

Posted October 31, 2016

Scholars at Risk (SAR) has released Free to Think 2016, a report analyzing more than 150 reported attacks on higher education communities in 35 countries, from May 1, 2015 to September 1, 2016. This is the second installment in a series of reports produced by SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project.

“In the last year we have seen a broadening crisis of attacks on higher education communities, not only threatening the safety and well-being of scholars, students, and university personnel, but ultimately shrinking the space for all of us to think, question, and share ideas,” said Robert Quinn, SAR’s Executive Director. According to Mr. Quinn, Free to Think 2016 and the Monitoring Project, more generally, “shine a spotlight on this crisis, and offer leverage to demand relief for threatened individuals and more meaningful efforts by states and civil society to ensure the security and well-being of the university space.”

Free to Think 2016 summarizes 16 months of data collected by the Monitoring Project, and highlights four key, negative developments facing higher education around the world:

  • continuation of violent attacks on the university space by armed groups and individuals, demonstrating the extent to which this space is not only exposed within societies plagued by conflict, but is often a focal point for such conflict;
  • crippling actions against higher education communities in Turkey by state and university officials in apparent retaliation for the peaceful public expression of dissenting views;
  • increasing restrictions on the university space in Egypt, including violence, arrests, continuing long-term detention of thousands of students and hundreds of scholars, and travel and administrative restrictions, all in apparent retaliation for the peaceful exercise of free inquiry and expression; and
  • violent repression of organized student expression around the world.

SAR’s report calls on stakeholders, including responsible states, higher education leaders, and civil society to recognize publicly the problem of attacks on higher education communities, to reject the use of violence to restrict student expression, and to reaffirm publicly their support for the principle that critical discourse is not disloyalty, that ideas are not crimes.

Download the report

Download the executive summary