SAR responds to COVID-19: Now more than ever

Posted April 13, 2020

We share our best wishes for your health and well-being in these challenging times, together with our hopes for a speedy and safe resolution of the crisis and our thanks to the many experts, inside and outside of higher education, in an extraordinarily broad range of disciplines, who are playing a vital role in responding to the epidemiological, economic, political and cultural dimensions of the response, as they will to the eventual recovery and restoration of essential functions and services. We need your work now more than ever.

We also want to thank our global SAR network, partners, donors and friends for your support as we navigate together the uncertainties regarding the coronavirus (COVID-19). It has been an eventful month since our last newsletter, to say the least. With extraordinary support from our co-hosts, sponsors, speakers, network members and staff, we transitioned the 2020 SAR Global Congress to a virtual format and delivered a high-quality, two-day online program on March 26-27, including appearances Johns Hopkins University President Ronald Daniels and Wellesley College President Paula Johnson, and the launch of the first global Academic Freedom Index, an important new tool for future advocacy. The Congress videos are now on the SAR website. We invite you to view and to share the links with friends as a way of introducing them to our work.

As with so many, the SAR offices have gone to fully remote operations. Remote technologies are at the heart of our global network, so the transition has not been too difficult. That said, we have begun assessing the possible impacts on our work of a prolonged period of social distancing, reduced travel, and few in-person meetings. Our priority is the impact on SAR-assisted scholars and their hosts, including those currently in positions which may be expiring, in which cases we are exploring possible extensions or transfers to new positions at other institutions in the same territory, and those not in positions seeking urgent help, in which cases we are exploring remote fellowships and other distance options. Advocacy for scholars-in-prison, especially those affected by COVID-19, and Free to Think monitoring are ongoing, and the Dangerous Questions MOOC on academic freedom has a session starting on April 20, 2020.

As we look forward 30, 60, 90 and 120 days, data points will emerge that will allow for longer-term planning, and we will share more as the situation develops. At the same time, we are seeking out the opportunities in the current situation. What systems, processes or materials have we wanted to improve? What new services or modes of engagement with network members have we contemplated (e.g. a virtual speaker series), but not yet tried? What have we wanted to try, but just never had time? We would love to hear any suggestions you may have. Please send them to me at

Finally, allow me to share with you, as I have with the SAR staff and Board, that now is the time for us to take care of ourselves and each other, including giving ourselves professional and personal “slack”; making sure we are sleeping and eating well; getting exercise (while maintaining social distancing); reaching out to each other for contact and support; and comforting those most impacted.

As I said in my opening remarks in the first virtual Congress session, our work and our network are at their core about resilience. We exist to help colleagues and the higher education sector overcome pressures and threats. That work matters now more than ever. That resilience was on display the last few weeks. I thank you for being an important part of that resilience, and look forward to sharing more in the coming weeks, just as I look forward to meeting together in-person as soon as conditions permit.

Until then thank you, be well, and let us know if we can be of any service.

Robert Quinn
Executive Director
PS: Reminder to save the week of November 16-20, 2020. Conditions permitting, we hope to see you in New York for the release of SAR’s annual Free to Think report and the close of SAR’s 20th anniversary year.