Editor’s note: This is the lead article in a package on the prevalence and consequences of academic self-censorship in Arab higher education, based on a survey conducted by Al-Fanar Media and the Scholars at Risk network. See other articles and commentaries in the package at this link.
About 75 percent of professors at Arab universities practice academic self-censorship in their professional lives—stopping themselves from saying what they believe to avoid getting in trouble—according to an online survey by Al-Fanar Media and Scholars at Risk. And considering the restrictions that officials in some countries place on what professors can say or do, actual levels of academic self-censorship could be much higher. This suggests that freedom of expression, one of the hallmarks of university education, is at risk
“The tendency to self-censor, which these key findings suggest, also matches with the data of the latest edition of the Academic Freedom Index, where the MENA region scores lowest in global comparison,” Benjamin Schmäling, director of the regional office in Amman of DAAD, the German Academic Exchange Service, wrote in an email. (See a related article, “Arab Region Scores Lowest in the World for Academic Freedom.”)
Self-censorship can have a drastic impact on the free and open exchange of ideas and information, said Mahmoud Naji, a researcher in the Academic Freedom Program of the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, a human-rights advocacy group based in Cairo.
“It reduces the area of freedom granted to professors during discussions with students,” said Naji. It also “limits their possibility in transferring knowledge to the student first, and in working on developing research.”