News and Events

IIE President and CEO Dr. Allan Goodman's Remarks at the 2008 World Congress

I appreciate very much the invitation to address this World Congress. The schools represented here make education accessible at a time when in many countries around the world it is becoming less so. Your colleges have also been closely connected to my own Institute’s history. The first president of IIE was a professor at CCNY; many of our best division directors now serving Fulbright cut their eye teeth at your institutions. And in the world in which we work, where all-too-often there is no more room in the megaversities for the next generation and too little teaching for those that do make it in the door, your colleges are a model of how higher education can respond to challenges that are global and growing.

Like many of you, I do not worry about a shortage of students but of teachers.

Perhaps that is why George suggested I speak about the activities of the Institute’s Scholar Recue Fund, and especially its recent work on behalf of Iraqi professors.

In too many countries, the ravages of disease, war, terrorism, and repression are proliferating threats to scholars. Unfortunately, the murder of scholars is as old as civilization and as current as today’s headlines. Socrates and Galileo both fell victim to the politics and inquisitions of their time; and the earliest books of Scripture make the rescue of those who are “upright and speak freely” the duty not only of God and kings but of us all. And while England’s poet laureate John Masefield never went to college, he regarded “few earthly things more beautiful” in part because they are places that “welcome thinkers in distress or in exile.”

Scholar rescue has been a part of the Institute’s work since its founding in 1919.

Then scholars were caught in the crossfire of the Bolshevik Revolution. Today they are prime targets of terrorists, political antagonists, and regimes who would press into service those who have the knowledge to build weapons of mass destruction. In the last century we probably helped 10,000 to find safe haven in the midst of war and revolution. In this century, we have already had close to two thousand requests for help from scholars in over a hundred countries. Some parts of the world, like Iraq, remain a dangerous place for scholars from every discipline.

In others, scholars face demands from regimes that, if not met, threaten imprisonment or worse. Today a scholar from Belarus is able to continue his work at Rice University in Houston on a device to detect and kill cancer cells with virtually no side effects. If he had not been rescued, he told me recently, “I would have been asked to work on lasers to shoot down airplanes or got to jail.” I have met physicists from Iran now teaching at Princeton who were asked to build a bomb or face prison. And I have met a physicist from Ethiopia who was threatened with death unless he joined a political party because the regime wanted the most respected academic to endorse its politics. Sometimes all it takes is to have an advanced degree from a Western country. And some disciplines, especially in the sciences and in law, are actually being targeted by regimes and terrorists for complete elimination because they are too secular, or teach about history as it actually happened, or train pubic officials to be better investigators or judges.

In our work, the impact that saving one life has consequences for many.

A scholar from Zimbabwe recently put it this way at another conference here in New York. “The average age of the 8 scholars here is 40 years, suggesting that they have up to 20 more years of teaching and research ahead of them. On average, each of the 8 will probably teach 100 students in their home countries. This means that collectively, the scholars will teach 800 students per year. If you multiply the 800 students by the 20 years of shelf life left for us, you will come up with a total of 16,000 students who will benefit in the future from the preservation of the 8 scholars here today.”

The scholars we have helped continue to teach students back home through the internet and I am so struck by their profound wish to return once conditions are safe. About a third have already done so.

It is not very easy to save scholars’ lives. They tend to wait far too long before recognizing the danger and contacting us. They feel profound obligations to their current students. They do not have the mindset of asylum seekers or refugees, so they reluctant to think that they need to seek safety. And they often have large families and want to make sure that their children can be placed in school so that they, too, will have a future. So often this “after-care” aspect of our work involves a whole community at the host institution.

In the case of Iraq, and in the wake of lists being circulated that named over 300 professors that that been assassinated, we were actually approached by the Minister of Higher Education last spring to rescue 400 scholars. We have secured public and private funds, from the U.S. Congress and Department of State, the Bill and Melinda Gates, Richard Lounsbery, Lloyd Fry, and Starr foundations, the Open Society Institute, and several individual donors to help at least 200. With this support, we have been able to make 90 grants and anticipate being able to make at least another 100 in the next 6 months. Our aim is to place as many of the Iraqi scholars as possible in nearby countries so that they can better monitor when it is safe for them to return and also reach out to the Iraqi students who may be refugees in those countries.

Over 300 colleges and universities have hosted our rescued scholars in this country and around the world. Some, like Harvard, take several at one time and actually devote a portion of their endowment to doing so. Community colleges and polytechnic schools also provide our scholars haven. Many find it a way to help introduce their students to the world and to get world class faculty as visitors in the process.

At the Scholar Rescue Fund we cannot yet estimate either the size of the problem or the duration of the need for Iraq or elsewhere. We do not yet have requests for help from North Korea or Cuba, for example. We do not yet have enough data to predict all the surges in sectarian and ethnic violence that will require special and extraordinary injections of funds, as has been the case over the past year in Iraq. And we still do not know how best to deter attacks on academic freedom.

But what I can say for certain is that each college represented here can join us in saving professors’ lives and thereby in the rescue of science and learning. By welcoming “thinkers in distress,” we can also assure that at least in this century, no war, no terrorist, and no ideology can ever again destroy ideas.