Report: 333 attacks on higher education since 2011

Failure to protect academic freedom drags 'everyone into a never-ending cycle of violence'

Targeted attacks against higher education communities threaten scientific progress and academic freedom globally—and countries must take action "to ensure freedom to think," according to a new report by Scholars at Risk Network.

Based on New York University's campus, the organization found that from January 2011 to May 2015 there were 333 attacks against staff, scholars, and students in 65 countries. The 48-page report said there were: 

  • 111 events of violence, disappearances, and deaths;
  • 67 wrongful imprisonments;
  • 47 wrongful prosecutions; and
  • "Dozens" of intimidation tactics.

In April, gunmen killed 147 students at Garissa University College in Kenya, and 42 students from a rural Mexican teacher's college remain missing—though one of their classmates has been confirmed dead.

Not all attacks involve violence though. For example, in August 2014 a Khon Kaen University student and an activist in Thailand were sentenced to two and a half years in prison for "insulting the crown" by attempting to produce a satirical play.

"Overall incidents involving prosecutions and imprisonments threaten the heart of higher education by deploying coercive legal force to target academic speech, content and conduct," the report says.

In a statement, Robert Quinn, executive director of the network, stressed the importance of implementing protective measures "in fragile and volatile places," such as Pakistan, Venezuela, and Egypt.

"In conflict countries, like Syria and Iraq, failure to protect higher education will cripple any efforts to rebuild those societies when the fighting eventually stops, dragging everyone into a never-ending cycle of violence," he says (Anderson, "Grade Point," Washington Post, 6/23). 

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