Mellon / SAR Academic Freedom Workshop & Fellowships

Made possible by the generous support and partnership of the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, the Mellon/SAR Academic Freedom Workshop and Fellowship program provides a research stipend and supportive professional community for researchers to develop and share related work on academic freedom and/or related higher education values leading to a publishable article; new course offering; workshop, webinar, or conference presentation; or other identified end product.

Over the course of the eight-month program, fellows complete their proposed project and participate in regular virtual workshop sessions during which they will be asked to present the progress of their work and to offer feedback on the work of other fellows.
In the second half of the program, fellows are expected to prepare and deliver an online talk or webinar presentation of their work for SAR staff, network members, and guests. Fellows receive a stipend to cover research expenses, publication, or other related costs. In addition, participants have the opportunity to gain exposure to SAR’s programming and to network with SAR partner-experts on academic freedom issues.


The University of the Free State, South Africa

Edward Mboyonga PhD is a postdoctoral research fellow in the Higher Education and Human Development (HEHD) research group, at the University of the Free State, South Africa. He graduated with a PhD in Development Studies from the same university. Previously, he earned a master’s degree in education (awarded with distinction) from Trinity College, the University of Dublin, Ireland, and a bachelor’s degree (education and history) from the University of Zambia. Edward’s areas of work and research focus on higher education policy, access and equity, academic freedom, Pan-Africanism, and history education.

Academic freedom and the public good in Zambia, 2011-2021: A comparative analysis of provisions and practices in public and private universities: This project aims to examine the state of academic freedom in Zambian universities and its role in advancing public good values using the framework of the Kampala Declaration on Intellectual Freedom and Social Responsibility in Africa. It specifically focuses on the period between 2011 and 2021 because Zambia was among the top six countries or territories in the world with an Academic Freedom Index (AFi) score that deteriorated by 0.15 points in 2021. The project will further provide insights into the institutional policies and practices related to safeguarding academic freedom by drawing on the experiences of lecturers from both public and private universities. The inclusion of private universities is quite novel as many studies on academic freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa focus more on public universities, even though private higher education institutions now outnumber public universities in many countries.



Independent Researcher

Güllistan Yarkın is an independent researcher who completed her Ph.D. in the Sociology Department at the State University of New York at Binghamton in 2017. The title of her dissertation is “The Making of National-Racial Formation and Coloniality in Turkey: Turkish-Kurdish Relations in a Working-Class District of Zeytinburnu in Istanbul, 1950-2017.” In 2020, her application for doctoral diploma accreditation/equivalency to the Interuniversity Board in Turkey was rejected. The claim was that the concepts and expressions she used in her dissertation “may constitute a crime” according to the second paragraph of Article 7 of the Anti-Terror Law and Article 301 of the Turkish Penal Code. Her research areas include racism, anti-racism, colonialism, social movements, urban studies, Kurdish studies, and Turkish-Kurdish relations.

Academic Freedom as a Transnational Issue: Turkish State’s Intervention in Kurdish Studies Conducted Abroad and Scholars’ Coping Strategies Academic freedom is not only a national issue but also an international concern. This project examines the impact of the Turkish state’s authoritarian politics on the transnational processes of knowledge production, with a particular focus on Kurdish Studies. The following questions lie at the core of this research project: How does the Turkish state which holds power over the knowledge production in Turkey, seek to exert its influence on knowledge production processes about Kurds in international universities? How do academics and doctoral students, who are also citizens of the Republic of Turkey, cope with the transnational state policies while working in universities in North America and Western Europe? By answering these questions, I will analyze to what extent the state-controlled academic policies of Turkey shape the knowledge production processes within international academic establishments.


University of Toronto, Canada

Zahra Jafarova is currently pursuing her Ph.D. in the Higher Education program at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto, with a collaborative specialization in Comparative, International, and Development Education. Her research primarily centers on the policy and politics of higher education, with a specific focus on academic freedom and university autonomy. Before embarking on her doctoral journey, Zahra acquired a Master of Arts in Public Policy from King’s College London, honing her expertise in the public policy research.

 Academic Freedom during Rising Authoritarianism, Illiberalism and Populism: Conformity, Contestation or Transformation? This research examines the dynamics of academic freedom in the context of rising authoritarianism, illiberalism, and populism, specifically focusing on how higher education institutions (HEIs) respond to political pressures. With a case study design in Turkey, I seek to uncover how different HEIs within the same system exhibit varied responses to similar political pressure. This research not only highlights the contemporary challenges faced by HEIs in politically volatile environments but also contributes significantly to understanding the nuanced interplay between education, politics, and shifting political landscapes.


University of Richmond, USA

Volha Chykina is an Assistant Professor of Leadership Studies in the Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. Prior to joining the University of Richmond, she spent two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Donia Human Rights Center at the University of Michigan. Volha researches how exclusionary attitudes and policymaking intersect with education, often determining who gets to study or say what, when, and how, and who gets to succeed.

Academic freedom and populism: In this project, I will examine what drives the general decrease in academic freedom that marks many countries around the world. More specifically, leveraging data from 1916 to 2020 from multiple countries in Europe, Asia, and Latin America, I will investigate whether a rise of populism leads to a decrease in academic freedom. Since populism is likely to continue to challenge countries across the world in the years to come, these findings will have implications for our understanding of how academic freedom will evolve around the globe. If I find that populism does drive down academic freedom, scholars and policymakers should expect greater curtailment of it in the future, and calls for protecting academic freedom should become even more prevalent.


University of the Philippines, Philippines

Sol Iglesias, PhD., is an assistant professor of Political Science at the University of the Philippines-Diliman (UP Diliman). She was the inaugural Justice in Southeast Asia Laboratory’s fellow-in-residence from August to September 2023, at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The American Political Science Association’s (APSA) Democracy and Autocracy Committee selected her as an Emerging Scholar in 2020 and she won an APSA Asia Program fellowship and research grant in 2021.  She was selected as a Southeast Asia Research Group Fellow in 2017. Sol is a convener of the Women in Southeast Asian Social Sciences and an elected member of the UP Diliman Committee on National Policies and Programs. She is a core member of the Network in Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom and a founding member of Scholars for Peace. 

Watching Academic Freedoms Erode? Democratic Backsliding and Resistance in the Philippines My research seeks to answer two questions: is academic freedom diminishing in the Philippines; if so in in what manner? How have scholars been resisting democratic backsliding in their research, as well as in their activism? Evidence will be gleaned and analyzed through data collection of incident reports through an online survey and field research as well as in-depth case study of selected episodes. This study will complement existing monitors of academic freedom globally, and in Asia, including the annual Free to Think incident monitoring by Scholars at Risk itself (to which I had previously contributed a Philippine case study). This research also expands on my on-going work in monitoring and advocacy of academic freedom in the Philippines as a member of the Network in Defense of Historical Truth and Academic Freedom, formed by educators and researchers in response to concerns raised during recent presidential elections that elected Ferdinand Marcos, Jr., son and namesake of the ousted dictator. Marcos, Jr. ran on a campaign of historical distortion and disinformation about his father’s legacy. A specific output of this project will be the establishment of a publicly-accessible online platform documenting violations against academic freedom. The project will involve monitoring cases, incident reporting, field validation, and disseminating findings. This initiative will also enable the Network to make timely reactions to incidents like the red-tagging of academics, arrests, or policies hindering free speech. This project will contribute to our understanding of democratic backsliding and resistance more broadly, and the specific dynamics of academic risk in a hybrid regime like the Philippines.



LAST ALFANDIKA | Collaborative Study with Job Mwaura

Great Zimbabwe University, Zimbabwe

Last Alfandika is a lecturer at Great Zimbabwe University in the department of English and Media Studies, in Zimbabwe. Last holds a Ph.D in Media Studies from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. Previously he earned a Master’s degree in Media and Society Studies from Midlands State University, Zimbabwe, and Special honors degree in Media and Communication Studies from Zimbabwe Open University, Zimbabwe. Dr. Alfandika’s area of research interest is on media democracy, media activism, media policy, broadcasting media, digital media studies, and academic freedom.

Exploring academic freedom in Kenya and Zimbabwe: A comparative study | Our research aims to examine the extent to which Academic Freedom has been recognized in Kenya and Zimbabwe. Guided by the four indicators identified in the UNESCO recommendation for academic freedom which are institutional autonomy, institutional governance, individual rights and freedoms, and tenure, we question the autonomy and the right of academic self-governance in the two countries selected. The research is comparative research between two postcolonial states – Kenya and Zimbabwe and hopes to contribute to discussions around academic freedom, which in the end, will help in finding solutions to associated problems.




Universiti Malaya, Malaysia

Khoo Ying Hooi, PhD is an Associate Professor at the Department of International and Strategic Studies, Universiti Malaya (UM). Her research lies at the intersection of human rights, democratisation and civil society actors focusing on Southeast Asia. Ying Hooi is actively engaged in both academic scholarship and practical initiatives concerning human rights and democracy in the Southeast Asia region. She also leads the UM Research Group on Human Rights.

The nexus of academic freedom and state repression in Southeast Asia | What are the existing policies protecting academic freedom in Southeast Asia? Is there any direct nexus between the threat to academic freedom and state repression in Southeast Asia? These two questions lead to the main aim of this research. This research aims to provide an overview of the academic freedom situation in Southeast Asia, looking at the policies, identifying their gaps, and engaging the debates between academic freedom and state repression. This research has two contributions. First, from the academic lens, this project contributes to the scarce literature examining the discourse of academic freedom in Southeast Asia. Second, from the policy and advocacy lens, the finding hopes to highlight the issue of academic freedom in Southeast Asia and to provide reference points to those working in restrictive research environments.





Passau University, Germany

Nwet Kay Khine is a post-doctoral researcher at the Chair of Development Politics of Passau University, Germany. She is a former journalist and a writer from Myanmar. Nwet has also been an active member of civil society movements for environmental and social justice in Myanmar since 2008. Nwet is also an alumnus of International Research Group on Authoritarianism and Counter-strategies and her recent research had a focus on understanding the strategies of the authoritarian governments and forms of restrictions on different elements of ideological state apparatus.

The state of freedom: How the democratic decline affects university life in Myanmar | At present, Myanmar is in the middle of intense civil war. Even though all universities are opening, many have been boycotting returning to the class since the coup of February 2021. The university boycott left over 160 campuses half empty since the coup in February 2021. In 2021, report of the Academic Freedom Index ranked Myanmar as one of the D countries, among the worst performers. This project will employ a qualitative study that examines the state of freedom of expression in universities of Myanmar at time of democratic transition and its recent failure.




University of Ghana, Ghana

Chika Mba is Research Fellow at the Institute of African Studies, University of Ghana, where his teaching and research cut across the broad domains of African philosophy, decolonial thought, human rights and global justice. His work centres the understanding of Africa and Africans in key debates in philosophy and the humanities more broadly, raising challenging questions to hegemonic discourses about human nature, global justice, (global) culture and human rights. He holds a Ph.D in Philosophy from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He is the recipient of many international research fellowships and sponsorship awards, including the African Humanities Programme by the American Council of Learned Societies; Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa (CODESRIA’s) Small Grants Programme for Thesis Writing; the Unit for the Humanities at Rhodes University’s (UHURU) Postdoctoral Fellowship. In August 2022, he formed the Forum for the Advancement of Academic Freedom in Africa (FAAFA) and convened a series of panel discussions on Academic freedom at the University of Ghana, in the same month.

Academic freedom, neoliberal marketisation of higher education, and democracy in Africa | Focusing on the specific contexts of higher education in Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, this project raises and tackles reflexive questions about the relationship between academic freedom and democracy in Africa, in the neoliberal marketisation milieu. Is there a causal link between weak democratic ethos/institutions on the one hand, and the overall lack of institutional freedoms and autonomy in many African higher educational systems? In which direction does causality flow? Is it that weak democracies or undemocratic state institutions cause weak traditions of academic freedom in African universities or is it the other way round? Can we determine the extent to which flourishing traditions of academic freedom may in fact lead to better overall growth of democracy, and vice versa? In the longer haul, this project will help to expand and strengthen the work of FAAFA and its contributions in target societies.



JOB MWAURA | Collaborative Study with Last Alfandika

Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Job Mwaura is a Research Fellow at the South African Research Chair in Science Communication, at the Centre for Research on Evaluation, Science and Technology (CREST) at Stellenbosch University in South Africa. He is also an affiliate Faculty member at George Mason University in the United States, as well as an Adjunct Lecturer of Media Studies at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa. He  serves as a member of the Executive Committee of the Association of Internet Researchers (AoIR). He holds a PhD from the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), South Africa. He researches and publishes on digital media in Africa, African studies, digital activism, digital cultures and social justice.

Exploring academic freedom in Kenya and Zimbabwe: A comparative study | Academic freedom is a fundamental right for research and teaching at universities. It creates opportunities for universities to benefit the public through independent research, freedom of thinking and expression of ideas, and the creation and distribution of knowledge. Despite its importance, the extent to which Academic Freedom has been recognised and practised in Kenyan and Zimbabwean universities remains a highly contested area. The overall aim of this comparative study study is to examine the extent to which Academic Freedom has been recognised in Kenya and Zimbabwe in the midst of their unique contextual issues.




University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

Dinesha Samararatne is a law academic with a focus on public law at the University of Colombo, Sri Lanka. She studies public law issues in Sri Lanka including public participation in constitution-making, constitutional resilience, women and constitutional law, fourth branch institutions. Beyond the Sri Lankan jurisdiction, Dinesha has an interest in public law in South Asia and in the study of the concept of the global south. Dinesha has published extensively in leading journals in her field.

Developing a course on academic freedom and institutional autonomy for academics and knowledge institutions in Sri Lanka | What is the doctrinal scope of academic freedom and institutional autonomy in higher education in Sri Lanka? How do academics experience and perceive academic freedom? How does the doctrinal scope compare with lived experiences of Sri Lankan academics? What are the normative implications of doctrine and experience to the concept of academic freedom? I intend to focus on these four questions with the aim of achieving two interrelated outcomes. One is to develop a course offering on academic training for staff development at the level of higher education in Sri Lanka. The second is to develop a scholarly analysis to offer answers to the questions I focus on. The first can be completed within the timeline of the grant and the second will extend beyond the timeline of the grant. Through this project, I intend to contribute to scholarship, policy and practice on academic freedom in Sri Lanka and beyond that to the discourse on academic freedom in the South Asian region and more broadly in the Global South.


FRANK FERNANDEZ 2021-2022 Alumni Fellow

University of Florida, United States

Frank Fernandez is Assistant Professor of Higher Education Administration & Policy at University of Florida. He writes about educational policy and equity issues. His work on free speech rights and academic freedom includes co-authoring The Contested Campus: Aligning Professional Values, Social Justice, and Free Speech and articles in Penn State Law Review and Belmont Law Review.

Investigating the empirical relationship between academic freedom and STEM research production  |  For this project, I will use longitudinal, cross-national data to address two research questions. First, I will consider: Is there a positive relationship between country-level academic freedom and research production (number of STEM publications)? Second, Is there a positive relationship between academic freedom and research production as measured by quality of STEM publications (i.e., journal ranking)?



ROSARIO FIGARI LAYÚS 2021-2022 Alumni Fellow

Justus Liebig University of Giessen, Germany

Rosario Figari Layús is post-doctoral researcher at the Chair of Peace Studies at the Justus Liebig University of Giessen in Germany. She also collaborates as a researcher with the German-Colombian Peace Institute – Capaz in Colombia. Rosario holds a PhD in Political Science from the Phillips University of Marburg. Previously she earned a Master degree in Social Sciences from Humboldt University of Berlin and a degree in sociology from the University of Buenos Aires. Her areas of work and research focus on human rights protection, academic freedom, political and gender-based violence, transitional justice and peace and conflict studies.

Protecting scholars at risk and academic freedom in contexts of extreme violence: The cases of Colombia and Brazil  |  This project analyzes the current trend of growing attacks against academic freedom in Colombia and Brazil as well as the protection strategies implemented by universities to provide support and protection to scholars. The project pursues the following objectives: to identify and analyze patterns of violence against scholars in Brazil and Colombia; to evaluate university responses and procedures in dealing with scholars at risk; to develop  recommendations (as guidelines) for universities responding to cases of attacks and intimidation of researchers; to raise awareness of the situation of scholars at risk in Colombia and Brazil in national and international fora.



KATARZYNA KACZMARSKA 2021-2022 Alumni Fellow

University of Edinburgh, Scotland

Katarzyna Kaczmarska is a Lecturer in Politics and International Relations at the School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh. In her research, she focuses on knowledge construction among scholars and practitioners of international politics, the role of the socio-political context in knowledge production, and the challenges to academic freedom. Her regional expertise is in the post-Soviet area, with special reference to Russia. Prior to joining the University of Edinburgh, she was a Marie-Skłodowska Curie Fellow at Aberystwyth University and St Petersburg State University. 

Grassroots resistance to academic freedom violations in Russia  |  This project focuses on four grassroots initiatives that have among its aims the promotion of knowledge about academic freedom, countering and counteracting academic freedom violations in Russia. I analyze how those organizations promote knowledge about academic freedom, how they organize resistance against academic freedom violations, and how effective they are in meeting their goals.



DAVID NGIRA2021-2022 Alumni Fellow

Mount Kenya University

Dr. Ngira is a former Postdoctoral Research Associate at Cardiff University where he researched on Covid 19, the African state and human rights. Currently, he works as a Lecturer at Mount Kenya University Law Campus where he teaches Legal Theory, Sociology of Law, Law and Development and Human Rights. He holds an LLM in International Development Law and Human Rights from University of Warwick (UK) and a PhD in International Human Rights Law from Utrecht University in the Netherlands.

The implication of criminalization of homosexuality, traditional and religious values on the teaching of social sciences in Kenyan Universities  |  This project seeks to document the experience of lecturers teaching law and social sciences in faith-based universities in Kenya especially with regard to the issue of homosexual rights. In this regard, the project will explore how religious values, that are mainstreamed in employment contracts, teaching and research within these institutions, affect scholarship on LGBT rights. Through this strategy, the project will act as a platform for conversation on academic freedom in Kenya and will highlight the potential risks of the criminalization, cultural and religious sanctioning of homosexual rights on the teaching of human rights and social sciences generally.



ALIDA BINTE SAQI | 2021-2022 Alumni Fellow

University of Asia Pacific, Bangladesh

Alida Binte Saqi is a socio-legal researcher and an educator with nine years of experience with field research. Her professional background includes  working with the tea workers’ community, readymade garments (RMG) sector workers’ rights, the dalit (Untouchable) community and hijra (Transgender) community in Bangladesh. She is skilled in academic writing, legal writing, report writing, in-field research management and lecturing. Ms Saqi has a Master’s Degree specialized in Comparative Law from McGill University. She is currently working as a Lecturer of Law with University of Asia Pacific, Dhaka, Bangladesh.

Academic freedom in the Indian Subcontinent, current challenges, and potential solutions: Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan as case studies  |  Focusing on academic freedom in the Indian Subcontinent, this project will explore the current challenges and probable solutions on the basis of data gathered from Bangladesh, India and Pakistan (BIP). Interviews with scholars and students from the BIP will facilitate an understanding of the situation of academic freedom in these countries. Following data analysis, a guideline will be developed for the three countries in order to enshrine academic freedom as a right in their constitutions, state- and national-level laws, and interpret academic freedom based on the findings of this project.



CAMILA NOBREGA | 2020-2021 Alumni Fellow

Free University of Berlin

Camila Nobrega is a Ph.D Candidate at the Free University of Berlin and a researcher alumni fellow from Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Heinrich Böll Foundation, among others. She is currently writing her Ph.D on power relations behind the implementation of megaprojects in Brazil at the Gender Divison ain the Political Science department at Free University of Berlin. Camila is also a transmedia journalist and writer with more than ten years of experience on environmental debates, mostly in its intersection with social inequalities, gender and human rights, working in the beginning as a full time reporter at O Globo newspaper in Brazil, having contributed after that with different media vehicles, such as The Guardian, Mongabay, Le Monde Diplomatique, among others. Nowadays she develops a project called Beyond the Green from the perspective of social-environmental justice and gender.

Academic freedom in the research of social-environmental conflicts: a case study with a focus on women scholars at risk in Brazil from non-heteropatriarchal approach | How can we understand the role of concepts as bodies and territories as part of academic freedom? This question is also an invitation to a trajectory of research. Therefore, from a perspective that combines the concept of academic freedom with mainly Latin American feminist lenses on social-environmental conflicts, this research proposes looking at scholars working in two regions in Brazil on issues related to these conflicts to understand which challenges they face and how it affects their academic investigations. The project was developed also in partnership with Prof. Dr. Maria do Mar Castro Varela at the Alice Salomon Hochschule Berlin.