May 25, 2000
Vol. 19 No. 17

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    Human Rights Program conference in June to launch national Scholars at Risk Network

    By William Harms
    News Office

    Academics subjected to persecution abroad could find safe havens at American colleges and universities through a network being organized by the University’s Human Rights Program.

    A conference to launch the initiative, the Scholars at Risk Network, will include universities from around the country. Scheduled for Tuesday, June 6, and Wednesday, June 7, the event will be preceded by a public reception at 6 p.m. Monday, June 5, at the Gleacher Center, 450 N. Cityfront Plaza Drive.

    At the reception, Hanna Gray, President Emerita and the Harry Pratt Judson Distinguished Service Professor in History, will talk about the history of scholars seeking refuge.

    Among the other speakers at the opening event will be people whose own life stories explain the need for the network. Yuri Orlov, a high-energy physicist at Cornell University, was imprisoned in the former Soviet Union for his human rights activities and emigrated to the United States in 1976. Yongyi Song, an expert on China at Dickinson College, was released in January after being detained in China while doing research. Sergey Piontkovki, a marine biologist from Ukraine, faced false charges and the threat of imprisonment until he fled to the United States in March. Sowore Omoleye, a student leader in Nigeria, fled as a refugee in 1998 after he said he was tortured for his pro-democracy activities.[]

    “This is a trend-setting event,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, Director of the Human Rights Program. “We will have representatives from more than 30 universities here,” she said. “There was considerable attention to the dangers facing academics prior to and during World War II, but since the 1940s, there hasn’t been a coordinated effort on their behalf.

    “The great response we’ve received to the conference is due to the need and to the leadership shown by the University, including Provost Geoffrey Stone, who has spoken about the Scholars at Risk Network to his colleagues around the country. This program will give universities an opportunity to bring scholars from diverse backgrounds to their campuses and also enable them to perform a humanitarian deed that is fitting and appropriate for an educational institution.”

    The conference will begin at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, June 6, in the Swift Hall third-floor lecture hall with a keynote address by Jonathan Fanton, president of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and co-chair of the Human Rights Watch Committee on Academic Freedom.

    A panel discussion is scheduled from 10 to 11 a.m. on the topic “Scholars at Risk: Forms of Attacks on Scholars and Academic Freedom.” Burns Weston, professor of law emeritus and director of the Center for Human Rights at the University of Iowa, will moderate the session.

    Professor Srbijanka Turajlik, a member of the Alternative Academic Educational Network in Belgrade, Yugoslavia; professor Juan Fernando Guitierrez of the Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia; professor Ebrima Sall of the Council for the Development of Social Science Research in Africa, Dakar, Senegal; and professor Zar Ni of the Institute for Community and Institutional Development in Burma, will be the panelists.

    From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Michael Kennedy, vice provost for international affairs and director of the International Institute at the University of Michigan, will moderate a second panel discussion titled “Responses: A Comparative Look at Initiatives to Aid Scholars.”

    John Akker, general secretary of the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics in London; George Caffentzis, coordinator for the Committee on Academic Freedom in Africa at the University of Maine; Sage Russell, senior program associate for the Science and Human Rights Program of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; Judith Freidlander, dean of graduate faculty of political and social science at New School University, New York; and Sharon Schierling, program coordinator for Democracy, Human Rights and Peace in Colombia at the University of Notre Dame, will serve as panelists.

    Joining them will be Joseph Stork, advocacy director for Middle East and North Africa Division of Human Rights Watch and co-chair of the Committee on Academic Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa of the Middle East Studies Association; Morton Winston, chair of the Standing Committee on Organization and Development of Amnesty International USA; and Diana Ayton-Shenker, director of the Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center.

    From 2 to 4 p.m., Thomas Kennedy, director of the human rights project at Bard College, will moderate a roundtable discussion on a proposed charter for the Scholars at Risk Network. Robert Quinn, director of the Scholars at Risk Network, will report on its status. Respondents will be J. Paul Martin, executive director of the Center for the Study of Human Rights, Columbia University, and Manuela Carneira da Cunha, Professor in Anthropology at Chicago and Board Member of the Human Rights Program.

    From 4:30 to 6 p.m., Henry Perrit Jr., dean, and Ronald Staudt, associate vice president for law, business and technology, at Chicago-Kent Law School, the Illinois Institute of Technology, will present “New Tools: Distance Learning Technology and Academic Freedom,” a demonstration of how the Internet could be used to assist scholars and promote academic freedom.

    The program on Tuesday will conclude with a reception in the Swift Hall courtyard.

    On Wednesday, the conference will continue with working group meetings and a concluding plenary session.

    People interested in attending the public reception on June 5 should call (773) 834-4659 by Monday, May 29, while those wishing to attend the conference program should contact Quinn at (773) 834-4408 or via e-mail at rquinn@uchicago.edu.