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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Friday, February 23, 2024

Tufts expands Scholars at Risk program to help Ukrainian scholars

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Tufts community members gather and walk around the campus to rally in support of Ukraine on March 2.

Tufts announced its commitment to increasing its contributions to the international Scholars at Risk network to support Ukrainian scholars in an email to the community on March 4. Now, faculty and administrators are considering how best to support these scholars and are exploring additional ways to help them beyond SAR. The university joined the SAR network in 2011 to help threatened scholars, defined broadly by the program to include private researchers, writers, artists and practitioners.

Tufts Senior International Officer and Associate Provost Diana Chigas clarified the nature of the program in an email to the Daily.

SAR helps to arrange temporary positions (6 months – 2 years, usually around 1 year) for scholars whose lives may be at risk in their home countries because of their work,” Chigas wrote. “They also provide support to the scholars to help them restart their lives and figure out how to continue their careers in their new location.”

Chigas said that the Office of the Provost has expanded its SAR program in light of Russia’s attacks on Ukraine, offering funding to help Tufts’ schools cover the cost of hosting up to four scholars at risk and three to four postdoctoral researchers.

In March 2022, the University extended this program to include scholars who are at risk because of the war in Ukraine because they are displaced or are in danger because of their personal situation, their work, or their views,” Chigas wrote, adding that the program also offers support to Russian and Belarusian scholars who may be in danger of persecution for their opposition to the war.

Chigas explained that Tufts connects with threatened scholars in two ways. First, the university collaborates with the SAR network, which has a list of vetted scholars whom it helps to place at partner institutions.

Alternatively, Chigas wrote, Tufts can connect directly with scholars, “either through nominations by Tufts faculty, staff, or students, or by direct application/inquiry to Tufts.” The Office of the Provost has assembled a faculty committee to help place scholars at Tufts. If Tufts cannot accommodate a scholar, it will help place the individual at another university participating in the network.

Chigas emphasized the value of collaboration with other participating institutions.

Given the number of universities in the Boston area, we are also in touch with our colleagues at those universities to see how we can work together to provide support, share resources, and refer potential candidates to each other,” Chigas wrote, noting that Harvard University has a particularly large SAR program.

Chair of the Division of Nutrition Data Science Elena Naumovanoted at a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month that scholars face significant risks in reaching out to the SAR network.

Speaking with faculty on the ground, I would say it’s also [an] extremely high level of fear. If they start any processes with [getting a] visa, they know that they will lose a job practically immediately,” Naumova said. “We need to have at least some kinds of tips and suggestions internally [for threatened scholars] even how to frame this type of a conversation [about connecting with the network].”

Tufts Associate Professor of Political Science Oxana Shevel, a member of the committee assembled to help coordinate SAR participation, commended the university’s involvement in the program but raised a caveat.

I think participation in the Scholars at Risk is definitely a worthwhile initiative,” Shevel said in an interview with the Daily. “I think it should take into account also the fact that many Ukrainian scholars actually don’t want to leave or cannot leave.” 

Shevel suggested that Tufts offer Ukrainians “non-residential remote positions” as research assistants or to teach one- to two-SHU remote courses.

Chigas commented to the Daily about her view of partial appointments such as the ones Shevel suggested.

We have considered offers of partial appointments, and have done that in the past.” Chigas said. “It’s not ideal … Having to put together a lot of part time jobs, and not having a really integrated community to support them personally and professionally makes that more difficult.  That being said, as we talk with our colleagues in the other universities in the area, we do keep open the possibility of helping scholars put together a full time position by combining a few part-time appointments.

Shevel also suggested that Tufts’ centers in Europe, such as Tufts in Talloires, could play a role in helping Ukrainian scholars.

Given that most displaced scholars are in Europe[,] using centers in Europe would allow [the university] to reach more people, [it] would be easier logistically … [it would offer an] easier relocation process for displaced scholars, [making it] easier to stay closer to Ukraine,” Shevel wrote in a longer communication to the University Faculty Senate containing suggestions for initiatives that would help Ukrainian scholars. Shevel told the Daily that she plans to discuss this proposal at the first meeting of the faculty committee working with the provost on the university’s SAR program.

In addition, Shevel suggested that the university expand the Scholars at Risk program to include Ukrainian students. University Faculty Senate President Jette Knudsen, a professor of policy and international business at The Fletcher School, agreed that the program should include students, telling Chigas at a Faculty Senate meeting earlier this month that she has been in contact with students from Moscow interested in coming to Tufts.

Chigas responded to this suggestion.

Students are a little tougher … We’re just full,” Chigas said during the meeting. “So it’s easier for us to bring in scholars quickly than it is for students where we have to go through some of the admissions and some of those other kinds of things and look at the financial aid.”  

Chigas added that Tufts is also considering investing more resources in its SAR program.

“[We have started] to really think about if there’s interest in having a sort of more permanent fund where we could actually draw on this in [different] situations so that we’re not scrambling completely every time [foreign conflicts break out], and we have some capacity to kick-start something,” Chigas said.