Academic freedom in turbulent times

Prof Homa Hoodfar
Monday, November 6, 2017 - 11:00

In this current time of upheaval, when millions of people are risking their lives to flee oppression, there are among them a record number of university academics and students, according to Sinead O’Gorman, European Director at Scholars at Risk.  Speaking at Maynooth University’s Scholars at Risk Conference, Ms O’Gorman said: “The demand for help has never been greater, with Scholars at Risk receiving over twice as many appeals for help this year as last year.”
Keynote speaker Professor Homa Hoodfar, renowned anthropologist, was imprisoned in Iran’s notorious Evin Prison while undertaking research on behalf of Concordia University in Canada. The experience has taught her to “see academic freedom as a collective right and responsibility.” Imprisoned for 112 days, Professor Hoodfar decided to use her experience to undertake fieldwork on the “anthropology of interrogation” by collecting data on her observations.
“Every night I would write with my toothbrush on the wall, because the act of writing helps you to think, memorise and analyse,” she said.  It was only after she was released that she realised that turning the experience into her own project “also helped me to survive.”
Today, Professor Hoodmar is calling on academics to: “take our role as public intellectual more serious and find ways and means of the effective promotion of critical thinking and academic freedom.”  Scholars at Risk (SAR) works to protect scholars, because they are at the frontline in protecting the space for thought in society, primarily by arranging temporary positions of professional sanctuary at networked institutions.  Scholars at Risk is present in more than 500 universities, including Maynooth University, across 37 countries.