University of Iowa plans to bring scholars at risk to campus

The University of Iowa formally joined the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund Alliance in March, opening the doors for at-risk scholars from various disciplines to come to campus


Sid Peterson

The Old Capitol is seen on Sunday, March 21, 2021.

Eleanor Hildebrandt, News Reporter

The University of Iowa will open its doors to provide sanctuary to at-risk scholars as it joins the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund Alliance.

The alliance was created in 2002 and has offered various scholars safety in a variety of situations. The Scholar Rescue Fund’s Grants and Communications Specialist Laura Ormsby wrote in an email to The Daily Iowan that the Institute of International Education was founded in 1919 and has supported temporary academic homes at colleges and universities since then.

“Protecting the lives and scholarship of threatened professors and researchers has always been at the core of IIE’s mission,” she wrote. “…For many scholars, they are coming from situations where their professional and personal circumstances have been very difficult, and many undertake their fellowship appointments in new and unfamiliar academic environments.”

She said some scholars are unable to retire home after their fellowships and the alliance continues to support them in relocation. In 20 years, Ormsby said the fund has assisted more than 900 scholars in partnership with more than 425 universities worldwide.

The UI is no stranger to the Institute of International Education, either. Christopher Merrill, the director of the UI’s International Writing Program, said his program has worked with the institute to bring writers to the university in their times of need.

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He said the UI and Iowa City have benefitted in the past from scholars like those sponsored by the Scholar Rescue Funds.

“The University of Iowa is not only a beacon of creativity, but a beacon of light for writers and other scholars living in oppressive conditions,” he said. “We hear pretty often from writers who are in trouble, and we want to help more people.”

Merrill said this partnership formalizes ways the “writing university” can help writers and scholars at risk for years to come. The fund allows the UI’s community to learn about parts of the world they rarely do, and it allows the university to be a safe haven for people in need, he said.

Dean of International Programs Russ Ganim said the UI is dedicated to open inquiry, and the Scholar Rescue Fund will help the university continue to expand.

“We want to be a place of refuge to these scholars,” he said. “We will need to find a departmental home and financial support for these scholars, and this can take time. As an institution dedicated to free thinking, we have to defend scholars in peril.”

Ganim said scholars will be matched with the UI through the fund and will be on campus for a year. Due to resource constraints, he said the university expects to sponsor one scholar per year.

While the details of the partnership are still being finalized, Merrill said he is extremely optimistic about the impact his program can have at the UI.

“These are the early days of this partnership, but I know this will be a good thing down the road and from time to time, I hope we can give a writer respite from fear in their own country,” he said.

Partnering with the Institute of International Education allows the UI to continue promoting inclusion and advance honest inquiry in a variety of disciplines, Ganim said.

“We are a welcoming institution, and we promote diversity of thought,” he said. “It is vitally important for institutions of higher learning to play this role because if we don’t take the lead in protecting scholars, I’m not sure anyone else will.”