Princess Ghida Talal of Jordan, PrezBo and scholars from around the world are in Lerner 555 today discussing academic freedom in places where scholars are imprisoned, executed and oppressed in other ways. Bollinger began the event talking about the precarious nature of scholarship in the world and on the other side, Columbia’s commitment to the study of human rights (with the creation of the CSHR in 1978).
Some governments, even democracies, he said, are geared towards allowing only a few viewpoints and that limits the scholarly project to seek truth. Novel ideas from the academy, by their very nature, commonly conflict with the traditional views that these governments hold and in a fight between the government and the scholar, the government always wins.
Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, described the Scholar Rescue Fund, a project that finds intellectuals under persecution and makes safe havens for them around the world. This is where Princess Ghida comes in–she worked with an offshoot of the SRF, the Iraqi Rescue Fund, to find places for hundreds of persecuted Iraqi academics in Jordanian universities. She, a scholar in her own right (she holds two degrees from Georgetown), described the purpose of keeping the scholars in the Middle East to prevent the kind of brain drain that is occurring around the world where academics head to Western Europe and the US.
After these introductions, a panel of scholars from the SRF spoke about their experiences in persecution and the fragile state of academic freedom in the world today.