Santa Clara considers aiding displaced scholar
THE SANTA CLARA
January 14th, 2016
A Middle-Eastern scholar seeking refuge from a war-torn country such as Syria could one day teach on the Santa Clara campus.
Though the university has hosted many international scholars, it has never brought an academic to campus who was at risk in his or her home country, but Santa Clara hopes to break this reality.
According to Susan Popko, associate provost for international programs, the Institute for International Education Scholar Rescue Fund (IIE-SRF) and the Scholars at Risk Network are the two programs that exist in the United States to bring at-risk scholars to American universities. Both work to protect international scholars and coordinate with universities to create visiting positions for academics whose ability to work has been threatened or completely taken away by war and other forms of persecution.
“Being involved can provide a bridge time for people to come here and it can be really really important for them to continue their scholarly life–their intellectual work–in a real capacity,” Popko said.
The university’s Global Engagement Office has been working to build its international scholars program in recent years, according to Popko. Just this past fall, when Popko and her staff discussed the possibility of bringing a scholar at risk to campus, Pope Francis issued a statement urging Europe’s Catholics to take in and shelter refugees. Popko said that within the network of American Jesuit Colleges and Universities (AJCU), the Pope’s call to action spurred intense discussions.
“That notice from the Pope in particular led to a lot of interest in universities jumping into see what they could do,” she said.
For a scholar to be placed at an American university by IIE-SRF, the individual must submit a detailed application which includes a personal statement, letters of reference, copies of degrees and samples of current writing or research publications. According to its website, IIE-SRF accepts applications on an ongoing basis and reviews them quarterly. But in addition to this application process, there are legal and immigration hoops to jump through.
“If scholars are coming from Iraq or they’re coming from Saudi Arabia, there can be a very complex VISA process that can take a lot of time. It can take easily six months for that to happen,” Popko said.
Jane Curry, a political science professor who has spent years studying the conditions of refugees, said that the alternative for these scholars–those not taken in by another university–is no different than the thousands of others fleeing their countries of origin. If they cannot find a position at other institutes of higher education, they are likely to end up in refugee camps.
University President Fr. Michael Engh, S.J. has expressed support for providing a safe haven for academics at Santa Clara, Curry said. The Office of the President did not return a request for comment on the matter.
Both Popko and Curry said that bringing an at-risk Syrian scholar to campus is about living up to the university’s mission of social justice and an integral part of increasing global perspectives on campus.
“This is someone who will have something very interesting to say about another part of the world, will be a scholar in some field and can contribute to that,” Curry said.
Sophomore Trent Carlson, president of the Santa Clara University College Republicans, noted the benefits of bringing an at-risk scholar to campus. He said that if the scholar was thoroughly screened, he would not take issue with it.
“As long as they vet the backgrounds and (origins) of the professors that we’re bringing over here so obviously we’re not just gonna bring over someone random,” Carlson said. “I think it’s important that they look through and they make sure that it’s someone who is qualified for the position.”
Presently, there are no formal plans to bring a specific scholar to campus, but Popko is hopeful that her office will revisit the topic in the spring and continue the discussion.
“I think we see it as something that we’re going to continue to pursue on an ongoing basis as part of developing Santa Clara’s international scholars program,” Popko said.
Contact Jenni Sigl at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (408) 554-4852.