Chelsea Blackburn Cohen

Chelsea Blackburn Cohen

Dr. Chelsea Blackburn Cohen is Senior Program Officer at Scholars at Risk, where she works with colleges, universities, and associations to promote academic freedom and core higher education values.

Location New York, NY, USA


  • This gets at the heart of many issues related to academic freedom and international collaboration. What's most important is that there is transparency about limitations to values in those contexts, and that there are certain events/circumstances that would be outlined from the outset that would disrupt the collaboration. Having alignment on shared values--even...

  • Absolutely. Some universities have implemented trainings for the university community - some mandatory, some not. Though most of these trainings are not accessible to the public (which is a shame), I suspect they may, at least in the US context, be more about Free Expression than academic freedom and related core values.

  • Agreed - and opportunities to ritualize these values in education and training so that everyone can have a vocabulary around these values and responses to challenges when they arise.

  • This is great. Thank you for sharing.

  • Which question are you referring to?

  • The challenge with the contemporary, which is touched on throughout the course, is that it gets trickier and more difficult to define. Defining what is and isn't protected by academic freedom in the limited view is easy--IN the classroom, IN the syllabus, IN the academic paper or presentation. But it does get more complicated when a professor posts on their...

  • On to something interesting here...I definitely think there is more room, in research ethics courses and IRB-related trainings, to better educate researchers on the limits to academic freedom in the places they ask them.

  • This is so spot-on! --And a big part of the course in Week 3. At SAR we often refer to this as "ritualizing understanding of academic freedom". In an ideal world, the core values of academic freedom, institutional autonomy, equitable access, and social responsibility would all be tough as an introduction to college during students' first years, as well as...

  • So much so, Amina. Since academic freedom is inherently part of the right to education, this is reflective of a large-scale threat to academic freedom.

  • Thanks for your comment, Steven! Academic freedom, by all legal standards and human rights frameworks, does protect the right for a trained scholar to teach, conduct academic research, and share the results of that research, on topics relevant to the scholar's discipline. So a scholar employing the use of critical race theory would be protected by academic...

  • Thank you, Susana!

  • So glad you found this one helpful!

  • I like the way you have framed this!--as it's not necessarily the question itself but the implications of the answer(s).

  • Great question! We cover this later in the course, as you may have already seen, but the "line" is often drawn in accordance to a university's or institution's values. However, where the line is drawn, how, and by whom are important questions to ask. Especially the last one!

  • Welcome, Amina!

  • Welcome to the course! Please take a moment to comment and share why you are here and where you are from.

    My name is Chelsea and I am a Senior Program Officer at Scholars at Risk (SAR), where I work to support universities in promoting academic freedom and advancing educational opportunities to expand understanding of academic freedom issues. As part of...

  • very interesting way to frame this! I especially appreciate what you shared about academic freedom and responsibility. I think it's important to think about it this way, too!

  • Thanks, Robyn! In traditionally more democratic spaces we certainly see the "free speech vs academic freedom" debate play out in a variety of ways, but often leading to the conflation of the two. Aside from the differences between the legal definitions provided earlier in this course, I think it is always important to frame the conversation within the context...

  • Thank you all for this feedback! We are offering this course year-round (as opposed to more limited, short-term runs), so that individuals wishing to access the course materials can do so immediately, though participation and facilitation has less "live" components. We will work to determine the best way to adapt the content to make it more regularly...

  • Welcome, Mitchell!

  • @SandyKinninmonth Thanks! The pressures you describe are represented in some of the more extreme cases you note in your first comment in SAR's Free to Think report - as you know, threats to academic freedom can come from within and outside the institution. But I think it's helpful to be clear about what we are describing when talking about the institution...

  • Hi Sandy, can you clarify what you mean by "The overall effect from the systemic knowledge throughout the academic world of these consequences, is to silence others by subjugation"?

  • Agreed, Eduardo!

  • @SandyKinninmonth Thanks for letting me know - this is the first time we've received this feedback and we will look into it.

  • Hi Sandy, can you share what issues you were having with accessing the exercises?

  • Hi Marie - if interested, you can read more about SAR's reporting on the state dismissal of thousands of academics as a result of signing the 2016 Academics for Peace petition in the 2017 Free to Think Report:

  • Thanks for this Sandy! I think the AUUP Statement of Principles fit with the contemporary or socially-engaged view of academic freedom.

  • Very good questions, Kylie! I hope the course helps address some of these, but I welcome to hear from you throughout the course on these ideas! I'd also be interested to get a better understanding of what you mean by 'academic staff are viewed as acceptable fodder?'

  • Thank you, Elisabeth. If you are interested, you can learn more about Scholars at Risk's response to the evolving crisis in Afghanistan here:

  • Thank you for sharing this experience, and your perspectives, Gill.

  • Welcome everyone to "Dangerous Questions: Why Academic Freedom Matters". My name is Chelsea and I am a Senior Program Officer at the Scholars at Risk Network and a mentor for this course. I am excited to learn with and from you all, and encourage everyone to utilize the comments section for discussion with one another. Like academic freedom itself, at the...

  • Thank you, @JillHind! I look forward to reading more...

  • Hi Maria - we explore "equitable access" in this course

  • Hi Frances - I would be interested in hearing your thoughts about the course as it relates to your role at ISC.

  • I appreciate this discussion. When considering engaging with external programs or partners, an apparent lack of aligned values or academic freedom doesn't necessarily necessitate isolation or estrangement, since learning and knowledge doesn't exist in a vacuum of course. What would seem to be the most important is transparency - transparency about limitations...

  • Thanks, Theresa! Is there a publicly accessible link to view the Code of Ethics?

  • This is pretty common - and then presents challenges when various forms of expression are challenged. Scholars at Risk will be exploring this topic soon in a series of online webinars - please do sign up for our mailing list if you're interested - we'd love to hear your insights.

  • Hopefully they are accessible in a vision, mission or values statement.

  • Hi Jill, can you share more re: your last observation?

  • Thanks for the feedback Wayne! If you have any specific suggestions for making the course more engaging, please do share!

  • Thanks for this Wayne. This certainly rings true where threats to academic freedom are on the more subtle end of the spectrum, but concerning nonetheless.

  • Thanks for this, Bill. Scholars at Risk (SAR) is grateful to have Cara as a partner. If you're interested in reading more about the more extreme infringements, SAR monitors attacks on higher education communities and compiles them into an annual report called Free to Think:

  • This certainly is a trend we can see in many cases where academic expression in challenged.