By Michael Lynk & Clare Robinson
When I published my first book, they withdrew my passport. They banned me from leaving … Then they put secret police under the building where I lived.”
These are the words of a well-known Syrian scholar of human rights and democracy. The scholar was describing the events that eventually led to his forced exile from his home country where he had co-founded a human rights center and had published extensively — and often critically — on the situation in Syria.
Inspired by stories like this scholar’s, an event will be held in June in Toronto to launch a domestic outreach of Scholars at Risk
, an international network of higher education institutions dedicated to promoting academic freedom and defending the human rights of scholars worldwide.
Throughout the world scholars are attacked because of their words, their ideas and their place in society. Too often, governments or other political, cultural and religious groups seek to limit access to information and new ideas by targeting scholars, restricting academic freedom and repressing research, publication, teaching and learning. This is a strategy to attain or consolidate power and control.
With an alliance of more than 270 member institutions from 34 countries around the world, including seven from Canada, Scholars at Risk seeks to bridge the gap between the human rights and higher education communities, building local, regional and global capacity to defend the intellectual space.
To this end, Scholars at Risk provides direct assistance to gravely threatened intellectuals; builds capacity, in the form of a global support network of and for intellectuals and higher education institutions; and conducts education and advocacy to target root causes of intellectual repression and to promote systemic change.
Since its founding in 2000, the organization has received more than 1,000 requests for assistance from scholars in more than 100 countries and has offered direct assistance to more than 400.
Canadian higher education institutions have long been active in this important work, raising awareness about academic freedom issues, offering temporary academic opportunities to at-risk scholars and contributing to advocacy projects on behalf of scholars and academic communities. Massey College at the University of Toronto was a founding member of Scholars at Risk, and members now also include Centennial College, Concordia, McGill, the University of Western Ontario, the University of Winnipeg and York.
Canadian member institutions are working to launch the Canada section of the Scholars at Risk network at Massey College on June 22. Domestic network development is a means of engaging national institutions in the wider effort, and of enhancing organization and coordination of local activities in support of academic freedom, university autonomy and related values.
The Canada section will partner with Scholars at Risk to identify opportunities for joint activities, to share advice and to identify and address section-wide priorities. Most important, the existence of the section demonstrates Canadian higher education institutions’ commitment to the principle that scholars should be free to work without fear or intimidation.
The June launch in Toronto will bring together higher education and human rights leaders to build solidarity to support these values. Lloyd Axworthy, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Winnipeg, is scheduled as keynote speaker for the event. The event will also provide attendees the opportunity to contribute to discussions about the activities of the Canada section and to hear directly from scholars assisted by the network, from Canadian universities and colleges active in this work, and from Scholars at Risk staff. Join us in Toronto to celebrate this event and to learn more about Scholars at Risk and how your institution might get involved.
Michael Lynk is an associate professor of law at the University of Western Ontario.
Clare Robinson is senior program officer of the Scholars at Risk Network.
For further information and to register for the launch, please
To join the Scholars at Risk network contact firstname.lastname@example.org
To learn more about a Canadian institution’s experience with Scholars at Risk, email
CAUT is a supporter of the Scholars at Risk initiative.
CAUT welcomes articles between 800 and 1,500 words on contemporary issues directly related to post-secondary education. Articles should not deal with personal grievance cases nor with purely local issues. They should not be libellous or defamatory, abusive of individuals or groups, and should not make unsubstantiated allegations. They should be objective and on a political rather than a personal subject. A commentary is an opinion and not a “life story.” First person is not normally used. Articles may be in English or French, but will not be translated. Publication is at the sole discretion of CAUT. Commentary authors will be contacted only if their articles are accepted for publication. Commentary submissions should be sent to Liza Duhaime