SAR’s Academic Freedom Monitoring Project investigates and reports attacks on higher education with the aim of raising awareness, generating advocacy, and increasing protection for scholars, students, and academic communities. Learn more.

Date of Incident: May 24, 2022

Attack Types: Loss of Position

Institution(s):University of Warsaw

Region & Country:Europe | Poland

New or Ongoing:New Incident

On May 24, 2022, media reported that Polish President Andrzej Duda had refused to approve the promotion of genocide researcher and head of the Center for Research on Prejudice at University of Warsaw, Dr. Michał Bilewicz, apparently due to the nature of his research.

Bilewicz, currently an associate professor, has written extensively on anti-Semitism and Poles’ role in the Holocaust, and its aftermath – topics considered sensitive by the country’s ruling right-wing government.

Under Polish law, In order for a scholar to be named a full professor after earning the required degrees, a central committee must approve the appointment based on external reviews of the scholar. Then, the final step is the President’s signature. For more than three years, Duda has reportedly refused to sign off on Bilewicz’s committee-approved appointment, with a number of observers arguing that his refusal to do so is driven by the fact that Bilewicz’s research findings conflict with Duda’s party’s nationalist views. They point out that Bilewicz’s appointment is one of two in Poland that Duda has refused to sign off on – the other is the appointment of Walter Żelazny, an outspoken opposition sociologist and activist. Duda has claimed that he refused to sign off on Bilewicz’s appointment because too many of the reviewers were from Bilewicz’s university.

Scholars at Risk is concerned about the denial of an appointment or related professional advancement based not on academic merit but instead on the subject or outcome of a scholar’s peer reviewed research. Likewise, Scholars at Risk is concerned about final decisionmaking authority over an academic appointment resting not with members of the relevant higher education community, but instead with outside political actors. Obstruction of professional advancement by a political actor harms academic freedom and directly undermines university autonomy and democratic society generally.