Taking a global look at academic freedom

Western President Amit Chakma asserted the importance and fragility of academic freedom around the world at a reception held at Western Law Jan. 22, celebrating professor Anna Dolidze, Western’s first Scholar at Risk.

“Today’s event recognizes that the work we do as members of the global academic community can – at times – be a risky and dangerous business,” Chakma said. “Western has an opportunity and a responsibility to play a leadership role in helping to protect academic freedom, wherever it may happen to fall under threat.”

Western stands among six Canadian universities, including McGill and Toronto, that are members of the Scholars at Risk Network, an international organization dedicated to getting scholars out of danger and back into the classroom and academic research

Western Law has become the first faculty of law in Canada to invite and host a legal scholar through the Scholars at Risk program. Dolidze joined Western in July 2012 to teach and research in the area of international law.

Dolidze worked as a public interest advocate in Georgia and was chair of the Georgian Young Lawyers Association (GYLA), the leading human rights organization in that country. She became a vocal critic of the Georgian government’s abuse of power and faced threats and intimidation. Dolidze left Georgia in the spring of 2007 and received a fellowship at New York University as part of the Scholars at Risk program.

In thanking Western for its support, Dolidze emphasized the important role the Scholars at Risk network plays. It provides a safe haven and conditions that nurture scholars’ talents, which often result in “an explosion of creativity,” Dolidze said. She referenced some notable refugee scholars, including Hannah Arendt and Albert Einstein, who went on to make distinguished contributions to the world.

Dolidze, who holds an LLM from Leiden University in The Netherlands, has been a Podell Global Scholar at New York University School of Law and a Visiting Fellow at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute for Russian, Eurasian and Eastern European Studies. She earned a doctorate from Cornell University in December 2012.

Each year, some 250 member institutions in 30 countries host as many as 60 “scholars at risk” on their campuses, while providing another 1,000 scholars in dangerous situations with advice and other forms of support.

“I’ve greatly enjoyed my time at Western. I’ve benefitted from significant institutional support, mentorship and encouragement from the Law School’s faculty, and opportunities for intellectual exchange with students. I hope my year at Western was as beneficial for the Western community as it was for me.”

Chakma acknowledged and thanked Western professors Joanna Quinn and Michael Lynk, as well as Brian Timmey, Social Sciences dean, John Capone, vice-president (research), and Julie McMullin, vice-provost, international, for their work in championing the initiative.