Scholars at Risk invites participation in “Free to Think 2020: Responding to Attacks on Higher Education,” a virtual conference marking SAR’s 20th anniversary and the release of our annual monitoring report, Free to Think 2020.
“Within the COVID-19 crisis we see increased threats to scholars, students, and universities—even to truth itself,” says SAR’s Executive Director, Robert Quinn. “We see scholars threatened for sharing evidence-based research that contradicts official sources. We see growing pressures on scholars documenting gaps in response efforts. And we see authorities use the pandemic to hide crackdowns on free inquiry and expression generally. COVID-19 shows us the imperative of responding forcefully to these threats—our lives literally depend on it.”
The event will also feature the presentation of SAR’s 2020 Courage to Think Award, which may be given to an individual or group, including those who have experienced threats personally, those who have worked to assist them, or those who work to promote a wider understanding of, and respect for, academic freedom and related values.
This year’s report draws on data from SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project, which documented more than 195 attacks on higher education between September 1, 2019 and August 31, 2020. These include violent attacks on higher education communities; wrongful imprisonments and prosecutions of scholars; pressures on student expression; legislative and administrative threats; and COVID-related issues.
The virtual conference will feature six panel sessions discussing these issues globally, and with particular emphasis on situations highlighted in the report including China and Hong Kong, Yemen, India, Turkey, and recent developments in Europe.
“Since 2011, SAR has reported over sixteen hundred attacks on higher education in over one hundred countries. These attacks challenge everybody’s freedom to raise difficult questions and share ideas,” says Clare Robinson, SAR’s Advocacy Director. “Free to Think demands urgent action from governments, higher education leaders, and civil society to actively protect higher education communities and defend academic freedom.”
The report recommends steps that stakeholders—states; higher education institutions, associations, and societies; faculty, staff, and students; media; and the public—can take to promote and protect academic freedom. These include calls for more states to endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration; higher education institutions offering temporary positions of academic refuge for endangered scholars; and faculty and students participating in SAR Academic Freedom Legal Clinics and Student Advocacy Seminars.
COURAGE TO THINK AWARD
The virtual conference will also feature the presentation of SAR’s 2020 Courage to Think Award, which may be given to an individual or group, including those who have experienced threats personally, those who have worked to assist them, or those who work to promote a wider understanding of, and respect for, academic freedom and related values. The Courage to Think award was last presented in 2018 in Berlin to Turkey’s Academics for Peace (Barış İçin Akademisyenler), for “extraordinary efforts in building academic solidarity and in promoting the principles of academic freedom, freedom of inquiry, and the peaceful exchange of ideas.”
The virtual conference will begin on November 19th. It will be organized around three regional schedules, serving three world regions: Asia/Pacific, Americas, and Europe/Africa/MENA. Each schedule will include some “live” sessions, plus replays of sessions offered live in other regions. All sessions will be recorded and replayed for those in the other regions, with closed captions in English. The virtual conference is free but pre-registration is required.
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