Championing academic freedom

York’s President and Vice-Chancellor Lorna R. Marsden (right) is one of a group of leading educators from the United States, Canada and Europe who are forming an international committee to support the European Humanities University (EHU), a Belarusian “university-in-exile” which will be based in Vilnius, Lithuania.

The university, originally located in Minsk, was founded in 1992 and soon gained a reputation as the leading independent institution of higher education in the former Soviet republic of Belarus. In the summer of 2004, the government of Belarus forced EHU to cease operations, a move that was widely condemned by the international community as a violation of academic freedom. In the fall of 2004, EHU was re-established as a university-in-exile located just across the border from Belarus in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania.

The International Support Committee for EHU is comprised of internationally prominent educators and includes 19 current and former university heads. “Academic freedom is the cornerstone of all the freedoms we enjoy as democratic citizens and I am proud to be one of the two Canadian university presidents involved in this important project.” said Marsden.

The committee’s co-chairs are Jonathan Fanton, president of the Chicago-based John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, and Lloyd Axworthy, president of the University of Winnipeg and former foreign affairs minister of Canada.

“The members of this impressive group will serve as goodwill ambassadors for EHU,” said Fanton, who announced the committee on May 9 during a meeting of the university’s Board of Trustees. “They will support the university and help amplify its message of academic freedom and hope for a better future for Belarus.”

EHU offers a broad undergraduate liberal arts curriculum through both classroom instruction and distance learning, along with a number of graduate programs and research centres. Its nearly 1,000 students include residents of Belarus, who participate via distance learning, and Belarusian nationals living in Vilnius. In February 2006, the government of Lithuania granted EHU official university status. Classroom space in Vilnius is currently provided by the Mykolas Romeris University. EHU receives financial support from the MacArthur Foundation, the Open Society Institute, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the European Commission, the US Department of State and several European governments.

In addition to Marsden, the EHU International Support Committee includes: Lord Ralf Dahrendorf, former director of the London School of Economics; Ariel Dorfman, the Walter Hines Page Research Professor of Literature, Duke University; Yehuda Elkana, president and rector, Central European University; Bronislaw Geremek, Chair of European Civilization College of Europe; Vartan Gregorian, president emeritus, Brown University; Susan Hockfield, president, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Paul LeClerc, president emeritus, Hunter College; Walter Massey, president, Morehouse College; Rev. Joseph A. O’Hare, SJ, president emeritus, Fordham University; Neil Rudenstine, president emeritus, Harvard University; George Rupp; president emeritus, Columbia University; John Sexton, president, New York University; Gesine Schwan, president, European University Viadrina; Judith Shapiro, president, Barnard College; Michael I. Sovern, president emeritus, Columbia University; and Rolf Tarrach, rector, University of Luxemburg.

For more information, visit the European Humanities University Web site.