Campus & Community

Two ‘scholars at risk’ fellows selected

4 min read

President Lawrence H. Summers has announced that Harvard University is participating in the “Scholars at Risk Network” and has selected its first two visiting fellows, Mehrangiz Kar and Wolde Mesfin, for the academic year 2002-03.

“In the 1930s,” Summers said, “certain institutions stepped forward and made strenuous efforts to help at least some of the scholars who were threatened by Nazism. Not only were innocent lives saved, but also the institutions that hosted these refugee scholars were in many cases profoundly enriched, as was the scholarly community at large. Harvard is determined to be one of the leaders in the comparable effort in our own time.”

Kar, a distinguished legal scholar from Tehran, Iran, has been offered a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study and will come for the spring semester 2003. She will also have an affiliation with the Women’s Studies Program, the Islamic Legal Studies Program, and the Center for Middle East Studies. Kar’s work focuses on questions of democracy and constitutional reform in Iran, and on dismantling legal barriers to women’s and children’s rights in particular. Kar has, as a result of this work, been arrested and imprisoned in Iran.

“I am pleased that the Radcliffe Institute is able to support the Scholars at Risk program by hosting Mehrangiz Kar next spring,” said Radcliffe Dean Drew Gilpin Faust. “Her presence and her work on women and the law will greatly enrich our fellowship program.”

Mesfin has been offered a fellowship at the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research in collaboration with the University Committee on Human Rights Studies. He is one of Ethiopia’s leading geographers. His scholarly research led him to conclude that the country’s famine was caused more by political than by natural forces, and that the Ethiopian peasant is in a persistently vulnerable state because of poor governance. As a result of his work he has been threatened and harassed. A year ago he was arrested and imprisoned for addressing a meeting on academic freedom.

“The Du Bois Institute is absolutely delighted to participate in the Scholars at Risk Network,” stated Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of Harvard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for Afro-American Research. “The important work of Harvard’s Committee on Human Rights Studies will undoubtedly make a significant contribution to intellectual freedom and human rights globally. We so look forward to welcoming Dr. Mesfin and Dr. Kar to Harvard’s community of Fellows and to their distinguished presence in the academy as a whole.”

The “Scholars at Risk Network” was founded at the University of Chicago three years ago by Jacqueline Bhabha, who is now the executive director of Harvard’s University Committee on Human Rights Studies and a lecturer at Harvard Law School.

The network’s purpose is to promote academic freedom and to defend the human rights of scholars worldwide. Its mission is rooted in both compassion and solidarity – a general desire to help people in distress and a particular sense that there is a special appropriateness in scholars helping other scholars. The network cherishes the values that all scholarship draws upon: a spirit of untrammeled inquiry, access to documents, a willingness to venture unfamiliar or unpopular views, and freedom of expression. These hard-won values are essential to democratic cultures, and they are routinely targeted by democracy’s enemies.

The network’s principal activity is to identify scholars who are unable to work in their home region because of displacement, discrimination, censorship, harassment, or violence or threats of violence and to provide these scholars academic positions at universities and colleges in the United States. The academic positions are temporary: They are a kind of life line, something for a scholar at risk to grasp onto while he or she rides out the storm. And the network hopes that the heightened awareness these individual placements will produce will help to reduce the impact and frequency of attacks on scholars. Repressive regimes often count on a curtain of international indifference or ignorance. When that curtain is torn open, these regimes are more likely to face opprobium.

Scholars from any discipline are eligible for placement, including such nontraditional scholars as artists, poets, and “public intellectuals.”

Harvard’s selection was made by the Scholars at Risk committee: Professors Stephen Greenblatt, chair (Department of English), William P. Alford (Law School), Jacqueline Bhabha (Law School), John H. Coatsworth (History and Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies), Melissa Franklin (Physics), Stephen Marks (School of Public Health and François Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights), Barry Mazur (Mathematics), Roy Mottahedeh (Center for Middle Eastern Studies), and Tim Scanlon (Philosophy).