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August 19, 2001

Addressing Human Rights Violations of U.S. Scholars

In a unanimous resolution, the Council of the American Sociological Association (ASA) called upon the U.S. government to strengthen its resolve to protect the safety and well-being of scholars engaged in scientific research in countries where basic freedoms do not exist. In a strongly worded resolution, the ASA expressed a sense of urgency about the sharp increase in the detainment of scholars around the world, and the chilling effect that these arrests and convictions have on the conduct of independent social research. The resolution urged the U.S. State Department to take a more vigorous stand on behalf of scholars working under repressive political systems, and to speak out assertively in support of academic freedom.

ASA President Douglas Massey announced the resolution at a press conference on August 20th at the Annual Meeting of the ASA in Anaheim, California. The Council resolution emphasizes the urgency regarding the threats to the academic freedom of the social sciences, especially sociology, in China, Egypt, and other countries. Massey said that recent positive developments-particularly the releases of Li Shaomin, Gao Zhan, and Qin Guangguang-are by no means the solution to the underlying problems. Many other social scientists remain incarcerated, such as the Egyptian-American research and human rights and democracy advocate Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim and several of his colleagues. The threats to sociological and other social science research have not receded. If anything, they have grown.

The press conference was moderated by ASA Vice President Richard Alba who underscored the importance of the action of taking a strong stance in defense of U.S. scholars undertaking research and academic work abroad. Dr. Craig Calhoun, President of the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), and also a member of the ASA Council, strongly endorsed the Council Resolution and ASA's resolve to challenge these egregious violations of human rights. He said that this is not only an issue of individual rights but of the free production and circulation of knowledge vital to both science and democracy. It affects not only American-based scholars conducting research abroad but all social scientists, including indigenous researchers who may be subject to more pressure with less protection.

Massey, Alba, and Calhoun emphasized that convictions of sociologists on charges ranging from spying to national defamation are certain to have a chilling effect on others, as they are no doubt intended to do. President Massey explained that the American Sociological Association is very concerned that sociologists are most at risk because the issues they study inevitably touch on the distribution of power and resources in society and the methods they use frequently involve contact with ordinary citizens, as in surveys or observational studies. Therefore, in this resolution, the ASA calls upon the State Department to go beyond merely working behind the scenes to secure the release and departure of social scientists once they are jailed. The text of the resolution states that

“The ASA calls upon the State Department to go beyond merely working behind the scenes to secure the release and departure of social scientists once they are jailed. It is imperative that the State Department protects foreign-born scientists who are naturalized citizens or permanent U.S. residents with the same vigor it would apply on behalf of U.S.-born citizens; that it asserts and defends the values of free scientific investigation of human society, both for its intrinsic worth and for its ultimately positive consequences for the nations under study; that it does not stand passively by while academic freedoms are systematically repressed abroad, and that it must not itself act to curb research and thereby become a tacit participant in repressing those freedoms.”

In concluding remarks, President Massey and Vice President Alba stated that the U.S. must not stand passively by while academic freedoms are systematically repressed abroad. The U.S. government is well positioned to protect scholars and the free flow of knowledge that undergirds an open society.

The Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association is being held from August 18-21 at the Hilton Anaheim, Anaheim Marriott, and the Anaheim Convention Center. The American Sociological Association is a non-profit membership organization dedicated to advancing sociology as a scientific discipline and profession serving the public good. The purpose of the Annual Meeting is to meet the scholarly, teaching, training, and practice needs of sociologists and social scientists at every career stage.

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About the American Sociological Association
The American Sociological Association (, founded in 1905, is a non-profit membership association dedicated to serving sociologists in their work, advancing sociology as a science and profession, and promoting the contributions to and use of sociology by society.