Scholars at Risk is an international network of institutions and individuals whose mission it is to protect scholars and promote academic freedom.

“I feel a great gratitude to you and your network that welcomed me from the beginning… Your help, your generosity, is a moral debt that I will carry in my mind and my heart.”

By arranging temporary academic positions at member universities and colleges, Scholars at Risk offers safety to scholars facing grave threats, so scholars’ ideas are not lost and they can keep working until conditions improve and they are able to return to their home countries.

Scholars at Risk also provides advisory services for scholars and hosts, campaigns for scholars who are imprisoned or silenced in their home countries, monitoring of attacks on higher education communities worldwide, and leadership in deploying new tools and strategies for promoting academic freedom and improving respect for university values everywhere.

Institutions and individuals who share in these values are invited to join the Network and get involved in SAR’s opportunities for engagement including hosting threatened scholars, advocating for imprisoned academics, monitoring attacks on higher education and joining working groups, among others.


SAR's Founding Conference at the University of Chicago

SAR’s Founding Conference at the University of Chicago

Scholars at Risk began at the University of Chicago in 1999. The Network launched with a major international conference at the university in June 2000. (To read SAR’s Bylaws, click here.) Since then, scores of universities have joined the Network and helped to defend thousands of scholars around the world.  (To see if your institution is a SAR member, visit our membership directory.) This video illuminates the origins of our work and features a number of the courageous scholars we have been honored to support over the past twenty years.

In 2001, Scholars at Risk joined with other international education and human rights organizations to launch the Network for Education and Academic Rights (NEAR). NEAR was a clearinghouse of information on academic freedom and education rights. When NEAR disbanded SAR continued this work through its Academic Freedom Media Review, Scholars-in-Prison Project and Academic Freedom Monitoring Project.

In 2002, SAR partnered with the Institute of International Education which was then establishing IIE’s Scholar Rescue Fund. The Fund provides vital financial support to scholars facing grave threats so that they may escape dangerous conditions and continue their academic work in safety. Scholars at Risk is delighted to partner with IIE in helping many scholars, and since the Fund’s founding many SAR member universities have hosted scholars supported in part by fellowships from the Scholar Rescue Fund.

In 2003, the network headquarters relocated from the University of Chicago to the New York City campus of New York University (NYU). In 2005, SAR and partners began organizing SAR ‘sections’ and ‘partner networks’ around the world, building a global community pledged to help scholars and promote academic freedom everywhere. SAR sections were established in Israel (2005, now dormant), the United Kingdom (2006, with CARA), the Netherlands (2009, with UAF), Ireland (2009, with Universities Ireland), Norway (2011), Canada (2012), Switzerland (2015), Sweden (2016), Germany (2016), Finland (2017), United States (2018), Denmark (2019), Italy (2019), and Slovakia (2019), while partner networks were formed with pre-existing higher education networks in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.

From 2007 to 2010, SAR led a series of workshops to provide a safe, open forum for academics and advocates from around the world to discuss the regional dimensions of academic freedom and the challenges faced, and to develop joint responses. Workshops were held in Istanbul, Turkey; Accra, Ghana; Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Vilnius, Lithuania; St. Petersburg, Russia; and Amman, Jordan. These led to the development of an academic freedom curriculum and in 2011 to the Academic Freedom Advocacy Team, which researched protection for academic freedom under international human rights law.

In 2012, SAR launched its Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, a collaboration of volunteer researchers who document attacks on higher education in specific countries or regions. The project tracks key types of attacks with the aims of protecting vulnerable individuals, promoting accountability and preventing future violations.  In 2015, SAR released Free to Think, the first report of the monitoring project which analyzes 333 attacks on higher education communities in 65 countries from January 2011 to May 2015, demonstrating the pressing need to raise awareness and document attacks on higher education. SAR has since published Free to Think annually, highlighting ongoing and emerging trends around the globe (find each edition here).

In 2014, SAR formalized its Student Advocacy Seminar, through which SAR offers faculty researchers the chance to help students develop research and advocacy skills while investigating attacks on higher education communities, in cooperation with the SAR Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, or alleged cases of unjust restriction, prosecution or imprisonment of scholars or students, in cooperation with the SAR Scholars‐in‐Prison Project.

Since 2014, SAR has organized working groups from within and outside the network to shape the content and strategy for new projects including a project on promoting higher education values in international higher education partnerships, a project on protecting student expression, and an advocacy campaign against wrongful prosecutions of scholars based on their research, teaching or publications.

SAR also organizes numerous workshops and events each year and a biennial SAR Global Congress—an international gathering for SAR’s global movement and prospective new partners to share experience, discuss critical issues, and shape SAR’s research and advocacy strategies for the coming years—which has been held in Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Vilnius, Amsterdam, Montreal and Berlin.

Throughout this history SAR has seen continuous growth in the number of participating member institutions, sections, partner networks, faculty, students and other friends who help SAR to assist more scholars each year and to play a leading role in developing new, innovative strategies for responding to attacks on higher education communities.

The 20th Anniversary Report marks SAR’s first 20 years of protecting threatened scholars and promoting everyone’s freedom to think, question, and share ideas. The report highlights the stories of SAR-assisted scholars and provides an overview of the work the SAR Network has accomplished in each of SAR’s three program areas: protection, advocacy, and research and learning. It also highlights the continued growth of our international network which shares in our collective mission to protect scholars and promote academic freedom. A financial summary indicating increased demand for SAR’s work and services is also included.