SCHOLARS AT RISK UNIVERSITY VALUES BULLETIN
-- Arab upheavals trigger new sensitivities in Gulf funding for Western universities.
By Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen
-- The implications of politicized education for academic Freedom in Ethiopia.
By Semahagn Gashu Abebe
-- New Amnesty International campaign to take on repression of students and scholars in Iran.
By Elise Auerbach
-- Risks of international scientific cooperation: towards a framework for decision-making.
ByThe Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW)
-- Scholars at Risk Network calls for monitors
Arab upheavals trigger new sensitivities in Gulf funding for Western universities
By Kristian Coates-Ulrichsen
Associate Fellow, Middle East and North Africa Programme, Chatham House, and Visiting Fellow, Middle East Centre, LSE
In February, a conference jointly organised by the London School of Economics and the American University of Sharjah was cancelled after the authorities in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) refused to permit discussion of my paper on the uprising in Bahrain, and subsequently turned me back when I arrived in Dubai. The decision to deny me entry was not altogether surprising, as I have written critically about the security crackdown in the UAE over the past year. With such high levels of funding for academic research on the Gulf coming from the region, the episode raises urgent questions relating to intellectual freedom and integrity.
The threshold of ‘legitimate criticism’ that governments across the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are prepared to tolerate has fallen dramatically in recent months. Increasingly, the Gulf monarchies are reacting to the transformative online power of new media and social networking sites by attempting to restrict these spaces for free discussion and reminding would-be detractors of the coercive power at their disposal.
The unwillingness of Gulf governments to accept criticism reflects multiple factors. One is a sense among the oil- and gas-rich regimes that external partners need them more than the other way around; hence, the donor or investor countries can threaten to turn companies and nations against each other to secure compliance or engagement on their own terms. Another factor is a lingering unease that the Gulf States certainly are not immune to the contagious wave of Arab Spring upheaval. Moreover, economic challenges are compounded by societal tensions and unease as nationals of GCC states question their rulers’ breakneck development strategies. This is most in evidence in the freewheeling cities of Doha, Abu Dhabi, and Dubai.
In his book After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of Gulf Monarchies, Christopher Davidson notes how many donations “tend to have the effect of steering academic debate away from the Gulf monarchies” toward “safer topics of study” while a “culture of self-censorship” takes root as academics and students feel uncomfortable “pursuing sensitive topics relating to the donor country.” This feeling was captured in a June 2012 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled “NYU-Abu Dhabi Behaves Like Careful Guest in Foreign Land,” detailing the tensions between students and staff in Abu Dhabi keen not to rock the boat and the mounting concerns among NYU faculty in New York for reputational risk.
Over the past decade, the UAE has invested heavily in cultivating a sophisticated international brand. This has included a significant soft power component based around creating links with prestigious and world-leading cultural and academic institutions, with Abu Dhabi attracting NYU and branches of the Guggenheim and Louvre museums, and major UK universities – including the LSE, Durham, and Exeter – in receipt of large amounts of Emirati funding. Particularly in the current age of austerity and budget-slashing in the West, Gulf funding has increasingly become important to universities struggling to cope financially, yet this exposes academics and students to new pressures and vulnerabilities.
Given their commitment to opening minds and intellectual creativity, universities now are caught in the crossfire of the Gulf rulers’ growing intolerance of criticism. This latest example of attempted intervention in a university’s affairs marks the culmination of a depressing pattern that has seen the UAE authorities take closer control of domestic academic institutions, close down branches of international think-tanks and research institutes, expel an American professor of media and communications, and – now – seek to control research and conference agendas. Nor is this a pattern necessarily unique to the UAE; an international conference on The Arab Spring and the Gulf that was supposed to take place at the LSE on 25-26 March 2013 was abruptly cancelled at one week’s notice following pressure from the event’s Kuwaiti funders.
Denying me entry may have been a sovereign right, but it signifies that the gloves are off, and that the UAE currently is a problematic place for the values that universities are supposed to uphold. Proponents of academic engagement with the UAE and other Gulf States will face difficult choices as they try to balance the competing pressures of funding gaps and freedom of thought. The LSE-AUS conference may have been the first, but will by no means be the last, casualty in this looming clash.
This looming clash seems inevitable, but only because it is difficult right now to imagine rulers in these states doing what is necessary for a truly great higher education sector, namely guarantee unfettered academic discourse, including research, teaching, publications, events and travel to and from them, for international and domestic scholars alike. But imagine the regime that allowed open academic discourse to exist within its borders. This would go far to dispel the impression of house-of-cards regimes afraid of the slightest breeze of independent thought.
The implications of politicized education for academic freedom in Ethiopia
By Semahagn Gashu Abebe (PhD),
Irish Centre for Human Rights, National University of Ireland, Galway
Despite the formal recognition of fundamental human rights and freedoms under the 1995 Ethiopian constitution, freedom of association and expression have been seriously restricted in Ethiopia in the last few years. Particularly after the controversial general elections in 2005, the Ethiopian regime has used different pretexts to restrict freedom of association and expression. For instance, the regime passed a new charity law that prohibits local civil society groups from engaging in the promotion of human rights and democratic rights. [i] In addition to this, the regime has enacted a sweeping Anti-Terrorism Law that targets political opponents, human rights activists and journalists. [ii]
Why has the country’s democratic transformation and protection of human rights deteriorated even by African standards? Many Western observers of the Ethiopian situation do not have a deep insight into the nature of the current regime and its ideology. Despite the problems posed by the absence of a democratic culture and the existence of poverty in the country, currently the most serious impediments to democratization and protection of human rights in Ethiopia are the leftist ideological tendencies of the ruling Ethiopian Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF). Despite the party’s outward recognition of fundamental human rights and democratic values, it runs the country with leftist-oriented ideological principles that largely contradict the principles of freedom and democracy recognized under the constitution. One of the major ideological policies pursued by the regime is a revolutionary democracy that does not permit the existence of any independent institutions in the country or any real separation of powers, since all institutions of government are ideologically entrenched in thestate apparatus. In addition, the political space has been further restricted in Ethiopia since the 2005 general election through the reinvention of the ‘developmental state model’. The model presupposes the wider role and competence of the government in controlling social, economic and political measures to realize economic prosperity.
The ideological policies adopted by the regime have affected academic freedom and the quality of education in Ethiopia. Since universities have been historically epicentres for political movements, EPRDF has used different mechanisms to stifle political movements in higher education institutions. One of the serious measures undertaken by the regime to weaken academic freedom in the country was to dismiss 41 highly qualified professors from Addis Ababa University in 1993. The professors were expelled from their work due to their critical opinions on the country’s political situation. The regime has also prevented any move to make the universities autonomous in administering their own affairs. To this day, university presidents and other university officials are directly appointed by the Prime Minister rather than elected by the university community. The major task of the university officials is basically to hamper any political movement in the universities rather than working to bring about quality of education. [iii]
The regime also controls the content of classroom sessions through its party networks in the universities. Government officials have publicly stated that teachers do not have the right to say anything outside the issues indicated in the curriculum. [iv] This has created an overwhelming burden on teachers to apply self-censorship to avoid reprisal from the regime. In high schools and primary schools, teachers are openly required to be members of EPRDF. There are cases where teachers who refused to be members of the party have lost their job. In the last five years, university students have been told that they will not be employed by government agencies unless they become members of EPRDF. [v] Since the government is the major employer in the country, students are therefore obliged to register for party membership. Once they become party members, they stop criticizing the government and are expected to spy on their teachers and other students who are not friendly to the regime. Such systematic application of party ideology has seriously undermined academic freedom and quality of education in the country and injected an atmosphere of fear in the education system. Unless the regime guarantees administrative autonomy to the universities and refrains from politicizing education, the quality of education in the country will further deteriorate in the coming years leading to a deeper social and political crisis.
[i]In February 2009 the Ethiopian parliament passed into law the Charities and Societies Proclamation (No.621/2009). The law places severe administrative restrictions on the work of human rights non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Ethiopia. Only Ethiopian charities and societies may work on human rights issues in Ethiopia. International NGOs are prohibited from working on them. The law also explicitly prohibits Ethiopian charities or societies who may work on human rights from receiving more than ten percent of their funding from foreign sources. Since many of the local charities are supported by international donors, the law has practically banned the former from engaging in human rights activities.
[ii]In 2009 a controversial anti-terrorism law was established in Ethiopia. The law criminalises any contact or reporting that encourages individuals or groups which the government labelled ‘terrorists.’ By broadly defying acts of terrorism, the Ethiopian government is using the law to crack down on journalists and opposition leaders who are critical of the regime. Several journalists and opposition political leaders are currently serving long prison sentences after they have been charged with terrorism related charges.
[iii]See Taye Assefa, Academic Freedom in Ethiopia, Perspectives of Teaching Personnel, Forum for Social Studies, 2008, p. X; Lessons In Repression: Violations Of Academic Freedom In Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch, 2003; The anguish of higher education students in Ethiopia, http://freedomfororomo.wordpress.com/2013/06/13/the-anguish-of-higher-education-students-in-ethiopia/; The Unhappy Legacy of Meles Zenawi, Freedom House, August 22, 2012 http://www.freedomhouse.org/blog/unhappy-legacy-meles-zenawi; Alemayehu G. Mariam, Edu-corruption and Mis-education in Ethiopia, http://open.salon.com/blog/almariam/2013/05/11/edu-corruption_and_mis-education_in_ethiopia
New Amnesty international campaign to take on repression of students and scholars in Iran
By Elise Auerbach
Iran Country Specialist, Amnesty International USA
This September, Amnesty International will launch a new campaign to address the pervasive repression of academic freedom in Iran. Iranian authorities use a variety of means to punish students and academics for their perceived dissenting views and activities, as part of their all out assault on academic freedom.
One method is the use of a system of assigning stars (from one to three) by the Iranian Ministry of Science, Technology and Research together with the Ministry of Intelligence. Students assigned these stars are excluded from participation in higher education solely because of their political activities or beliefs or their assumed political beliefs. Students banned from study because of their peaceful exercise of their rights to freedom of expression, association and assembly are deprived of their right to education as guaranteed by Article 13 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to which Iran is a state party.
Other methods include the imposition of harsh prison sentences on student activists and scholars, the harassment and detention of teachers for involvement in teachers’ associations, and the expulsion or hounding of academics from their university positions. Meanwhile, members of Iran’s Baha’i religious minority are systematically excluded from higher education and female students encounter restrictions on their ability to enroll in certain degree programs in which the government wants to limit their representation.
Iranian authorities have created a system whereby only those who pass their litmus test of acceptability are entitled to participate in higher education. Denial of access to higher education is a powerful weapon used to enforce ideological conformity. Those who fail to comply face a life of dashed dreams and greatly diminished professional and economic opportunities, or else they have been compelled to join the vast brain drain of Iranians who have left their country.
As Amnesty International’s new report will make clear, the scope of the situation is sobering. In the past few years many hundreds of students have been banned from further study solely for exercising their rights to freedom of expression, association, and assembly by expressing their opinions, participating in demonstrations, or membership of an independent student organization critical of government policies. Dozens of student and alumni association activists, including Majid Tavakkoli, Bahareh Hedayat and Zia Nabavi, are currently serving long sentences in prisons notorious for their squalid and overcrowded conditions. Many of the healthy young people who enter these prisons develop serious and chronic health problems and do not receive proper medical care, nor are they granted the medical furloughs that are permitted by Iranian law.
The Iranian authorities have dismissed over one hundred academics from their posts since the 2009 election on the basis of their political views or expressing dissenting opinions. [i] The Ministry of Science, Technology, and Research declared the country’s largest independent students’ association, Daftar-e Tahkim-e Vahdat, an “illegal” union in 2009, on grounds that it “engaged in activities that endangered national security.” Furthermore, independent teachers’ associations were banned by the Ministry of the Interior in 2007 following the nationwide strike by teachers protesting against their conditions of employment.
As they eject or exclude large numbers of students and scholars from institutions, the authorities also seek to impede the independent pursuit of knowledge and lines of inquiry by ordaining that large swaths of academic disciplines are off limits. For instance teaching and conducting research in the humanities and social sciences have been restricted because they allegedly generate attitudes that are considered to be insidious and even subversive by Iran’s Supreme Leader.
Amnesty International is looking forward to working together with concerned activists, academics, institutions of higher education and partner organizations to shine a light on the widespread persecution of students and academics and to urge the Iranian authorities to comply with the international treaties and covenants guaranteeing freedom of expression and the free exchange of ideas that they have pledged to uphold.
Risks of international scientific cooperation: towards a framework for decision-making
By The Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) - Committee for the Freedom of Scientific Pursuit
Chairman Prof. dr. Pieter Drenth, former president of the KNAW
In 2006, the UN Security Council Resolution 1737 called upon “all States to exercise vigilance and prevent specialized teaching or training of Iranian nationals, within their territories or by their nationals, of disciplines which would contribute to Iran’s proliferation sensitive nuclear activities and development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.” [i] In 2008, the Dutch national implementation of the Resolution meant for students with Iranian passports that they were being refused at several nuclear science and rocket engineering related master programmes at Dutch universities. Many Dutch scientists, foreign academies as well as the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences (KNAW) protested against the supposedly discriminatory measures. Eventually, as a result of legal proceedings, the measures were declared illegitimate by the Dutch Supreme Court on 14 December 2012.
Rather than a one-off incident, this case shows a potential vulnerability in arguments by the academic community for broad international scientific cooperation. In this case, the academic community largely argued against discrimination against a particular nationality, while the Dutch government claimed the measures were necessary to comply with the UN Security Council Resolution. Both sides had valid arguments, and both largely failed to address the valid elements of the other’s conflicting position.
In many other cases of international scientific cooperation with individuals or institutes from questionable regimes – including (semi-)authoritarian states and democratic states that have policies or practices that are objectionable to the international scientific community – various scientific, political, moral, economic and personal security elements play a role. Questions that can be asked in this and other cases are:
· Do we, researchers and research institutes, know with whom we will be collaborating?
· Are we legitimizing a regime or supporting resistance by cooperating with particular academic institutions or individuals?
· What is the real threat of scientific and technological espionage?
· In cases where something goes wrong during international cooperation – for instance scientific espionage – who is responsible? The individual researcher, the university or the government?
· Are we morally obliged to help a researcher from a questionable regime, when his or her (academic) freedom is severely threatened? And might this moral obligation sometimes count more heavily than the scientific relevance of cooperation?
· What statement do we make by choosing for cooperation or declining it? What does it mean for its critical values?
These and other questions arise at different levels of cooperation: individual, institutional or governmental. This makes the weighing of pros and cons of a possible cooperation with a student or researcher from states with repressive regimes even more difficult. At the individual level students or senior researchers are exchanged, can travel freely and take part in educational or research programmes. At the institutional level, the official cooperation is formalised at a higher level, for instance between universities or research institutes. Thirdly, there are official agreements for cooperation at a national (academies or national funding organisations) or governmental level, for instance memoranda of agreement. Within these levels a wide range of forms of cooperation can be specified. Cooperation at the different levels can have several (dis)advantages and benefits and can raise various objections with respect to the scientific, political, moral, economic and personal security aspects that were illustrated by the abovementioned questions.
The KNAW strongly advocates for well-informed, well-considered and consistent decisions to engage in or to refuse possible international scientific collaboration with students, researchers, or officials from particular states. A more explicit and conscious framework for decision-making on these matters is desirable and could take away possible uncertainty and ignorance about the benefits and drawbacks of such cooperation.
Therefore the KNAW is planning to publish a short, practical brochure on this issue for researchers and research institutes. The objective of this document is explicitly not to catalogue the countries with which scientists and institutions should or should not enter into cooperation. Instead, the brochure intends to open the subject for discussion and to increase awareness within the scientific community about the relevant considerations and arguments that can influence the decision to engage in collaboration at various levels involving questionable regimes.
Through this announcement in University Values we seek relevant cases and literature or other comments and suggestions.
ANNOUNCEMENT - Scholars at Risk Network calls for monitors
Scholars at Risk’s monitoring project invites academics, researchers and advocates to identify, track and report incidents of widespread or severe attacks on higher education institutions and their members worldwide.
Researcher‐monitors report on defined areas of coverage, either on an ad hoc or regular schedule, using a protocol developed by Scholars at Risk. Most monitors report on a single country or territory, but some report on multiple countries or territories within a single region or sub‐region. Scholars at Risk staff process and consolidate reports into regular email digests and publish incidents to a project website.
Monitors are anonymous and not identified in email digests, the website or other materials (unless expressly agreed in advance with the researcher). Where monitoring from within a country or territory is not advisable for security or other reasons, monitors outside of the country may be engaged. The purposes of the project are to raise awareness of the frequency and severity of pressures on the higher education sector and to generate data which will support education and advocacy aimed at increasing security and accountability for past incidents.
Scholars at Risk invites higher education partners and researchers to join the project as:
• Individual country monitors
• Team leaders
• Research centers
• Faculty‐led student research teams
• Media & advocacy partners
• Funding or in‐kind project sponsors
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