Yale expands efforts to protect scholars at risk
By Mike Cummings
Yale is expanding its Scholars at Risk program, which welcomes scholars facing dangerous conditions worldwide to campus so they can continue their work.
In a demonstration of its commitment to academic freedom, Yale will enhance and expand its Scholars at Risk (SAR) program, which provides temporary professional appointments and a welcoming community for scholars, writers, artists, and activists worldwide who face persecution or other dangers.
President Peter Salovey and Provost Scott Strobel have initiated several measures to extend the program’s reach across the university, improve its infrastructure, and boost its funding.
Overall, the university has increased the program’s funding by $2.6 million, allowing it to bring approximately seven additional scholars at risk to campus each year, doubling the number of scholars supported by the program.
“Given the many global crises that are endangering scholars around the world, Yale will build on its existing efforts to provide a safe haven for imperiled researchers, artists, and thinkers,” Salovey said. “These new investments in the program will strengthen our ability to bring at-risk scholars to campus so that they can safely continue their work in a supportive environment. Their presence here enriches our intellectual community and reminds us of the importance of academic freedom and free expression.”
Yale currently brings scholars at risk to campus in two primary ways: first, through area studies councils and global programs at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies at Yale and, second, through Yale Law School’s Schell Center for International Human Rights. In recent years the university has offered about six SAR appointments each year, and about half the scholars invited were able to come to Yale. They have come from warzones and countries ruled by oppressive regimes. Yale has invited scholars from Afghanistan, Iran, Ethiopia, Myanmar, Ukraine, and elsewhere.
Bringing these scholars to campus is challenging as they can face significant hurdles to leaving their countries of origin, including difficulty obtaining visas and dangerous circumstances, such as warfare, that prevent them from leaving.
The temporary SAR appointments at Yale provide time for scholars to find their footing and explore new opportunities. Typically, the primary host departments pay the visiting scholars’ salaries and support their professional development. Scholars receive a broad range of support, including help with visas and other immigration challenges, physical and mental health services, professional guidance, and assistance in finding housing, community networks, and schooling for their dependents. The scholars’ safety is paramount throughout their participation in the program.
Program participant David Thang Moe came to Yale from Myanmar last July at the invitation of the MacMillan Center and the Council of Southeast Asian Studies. Moe, a postdoctoral associate in Southeast Asian studies, appreciates the ability to conduct research, teach classes, and interact with colleagues without government-imposed restrictions or fear of persecution, he said.
“First and foremost, this program has given me academic freedom,” said Moe, whose is working on a book about the politics of religion, Buddhist nationalism, and ethnic conflict in Myanmar. “In my home country, I do not have such freedom.”
Moe, who consented to being identified by name, is teaching a course, “Religion, Conflict, and Reconciliation in Southeast Asia,” at the Yale Divinity School this semester and co-teaching “Colonialism, Nationalism, and Identity in Myanmar” in the Department of History. He said Yale provides the perfect environment for his interdisciplinary interests.
“Seeing myself as an academic, advocate, and activist, Yale provides the best opportunity for exercising my scholarship and voices within and beyond academic community,” Moe, the university’s first postdoctoral scholar from Myanmar, said. “I am truly grateful to Yale for the chance to teach these much-needed courses and to amplify the too-often unheard voices of Myanmar.”
In May 2022, Salovey convened a 10-member committee of faculty and staff to review the SAR program and make recommendations on how to improve it.
After gathering facts about Yale’s program and studying similar initiatives at other colleges and universities, the committee presented its recommendations in a Nov. 30 report. It advised the administration to increase the program’s central funding for a period of three years; establish a committee, with appropriate staff support, to allocate the funds, match SAR nominees with schools and departments on campus, and assist in addressing logistical issues involved in bringing scholars to Yale; increase the funding level to allow for up to two years of support to help SARs to secure better positions after Yale; and for the university to make a commitment to fundraise to help sustain these efforts beyond the next three years.
In their reply to the committee, Salovey and Strobel accepted its recommendations and outlined a path forward.
“The primary emphasis of this program is on supporting these scholars and their valuable work,” Strobel said. “The Yale community, in turn, is strengthened by their presence. We learn from them about the challenges in other parts of the world that we might not otherwise see or understand. We are proud to further expand this symbiotic partnership.”
First, the Office of the President, the Office of the Provost, the MacMillan Center, and the Yale Jackson School of Global Affairs will all contribute to the $2.6 million in new funding for the program.
Second, the administration will appoint a SAR committee composed of faculty and staff with relevant experience and interests to help coordinate the university’s efforts and allocate the new funding. The committee will be allocated staff from the Office of International Affairs, which will augment staff support already provided by the Law School and MacMillan Center.
“We are delighted that Yale has accepted all of our recommendations to improve what we do for Scholars at Risk at Yale,” MacMillan Center Director Steven Wilkinson, who chaired the review committee, said. “This new process and the SAR Committee it creates will allow schools and units across the university to nominate scholars at risk and provide a source of funds that can supplement and leverage local efforts. The fact that Yale is putting its own resources in will also, we hope, leverage foundation and donor support that allows us to do even more.”
Finally, the university will seek to secure donor funds during the next three years to put these efforts on a more sustainable foundation, Salovey and Strobel said.
“This level of investment in the SAR program puts Yale at the forefront of advancing global academic excellence at a time when current world events increasingly threaten some of the most vulnerable of scholars,” said Christine Ngaruiya, an assistant professor in the section of global health and international emergency medicine at the Yale School of Medicine, and a member of the review committee. “Having enhanced and dedicated support for beneficiaries of the SAR program at Yale will be invaluable, so too will be processes to help ensure equitable resource distribution and accountability through implementation of a designated committee to oversee the program.”
For further details, including contact information, please visit the Scholars At Risk page at the Yale and the World website.