Arryman Scholars find an institutional home as NU plans collaboration with an Indonesian university


Daily file photo by Evan Robinson-Johnson

Buffet Institute plans collaboration with Universitas Gadjah Mada. Arryman Scholars will find an institutional home there as well.

Anushuya Thapa, Reporter

Sari Ratri, a 2017 Arryman Scholar, described the program as an “oasis.”

As young scholars in Indonesia, Ratri said she and her colleagues used to be tasked with bureaucratic jobs like assisting senior lecturers and “unproductive” scholarship. The Arryman Program is run by the Equality Development and Globalization Studies program at NU in partnership with the Jakarta-based Indonesian Scholarship and Research Support Foundation. Ratri said it offered her freedom from “the feudal system of education” in Indonesia.

Established in 2012, the program trains 20 promising Indonesian scholars in a social-science based doctorate program at Northwestern. As a group, they would have returned to a new academic institution in Indonesia, built by private partners and NU with no direct connection with the Indonesian government.

However, the proposed School of Social Sciences and Public Policy was not built and the scholars, the first of whom will be obtaining their doctorate this June, will now move to a new research institute within an established Indonesian public university, Universitas Gadjah Mada (UGM). The new research institute will be called Institute for Advanced Research (IFAR).

Northwestern is also planning a broader research collaboration with the same university independent of the Arryman Scholars program.

“We wanted to have intellectual freedom, to be respected, to have high quality theoretical research, not only practical research. But, as you know, building an institution is not an easy job,” Ratri said.

Jeffrey Winters, the director of the Arryman Scholars Program and EDGS said funding an independent institution would cost between $200 to 400 million. In addition, a newly built educational institution would not have the accreditation and prestige that established universities in Indonesia hold, he said.

“Being separate as an enclave and not engaged in the core of Indonesian higher education was not as effective or impactful as actually being inside of and operating within one of the most powerful universities in the region,” Winters said.

Unlike in America, privately-funded universities in Indonesia are not as highly regarded as public institutions like UGM, which tend to be highly competitive.

However, being an educational institution connected to the government in Indonesia raises concerns over intellectual freedom and other barriers to academic development. This holds true for both the Arryman Scholars and Northwestern’s planned collaboration with UGM.

“We just want to make sure that, as a university, (UGM) abides by the same principles of academic freedom and support for students and quality research that NU does,” said anthropology Prof. Jessica Winegar.

Winegar, who attended a meeting between delegates from UGM and Northwestern faculty to discuss possible joint research projects, said the collaboration being discussed was in the realm of millions of dollars in research grants. Upwards of 50 different faculty members across the different schools at NU would be seeking to collaborate with their UGM counterparts, Winegar said.

Winters confirmed University President Morton Schapiro signed a letter of intent with the Dean of UGM. Though the letter is not a finalization, Winters said it expressed a “very serious desire by both sides to move forward” with their plans.

For the Arryman Scholars, protecting their intellectual freedom and ensuring steady job development is a key concern. To address those gaps, the scholars often hold meetings that go on into the night and strategize with NU faculty and each other.

“It’s not going to be easy for my colleagues who are doing research that would fall into the category of sensitive research,” Ratri said.

Atmaezer Hariara Simanjuntak, a member of the 2019 cohort, is researching palm oil plantations and the movement of indigenous people in Indonesia. He said a public university’s pressure to “manage the message” could impact his research. The government might want him to suggest that palm oil is good for the environment despite contrary evidence, he said.

However, UGM has proven its commitment to academic freedom, Winters said. He said at UGM and elsewhere, research on sensitive matters, such as the 1965 massacre of individuals associated with the Communist party, has been successfully conducted.

“When the police or the military push back and don’t want, for example, a conference or the showing of a film that has to do with that subject,” Winters said, “The university has stood up and said, ‘This is an academic institution, we are free to analyze these questions no matter how sensitive.’”

In addition to academic freedom, histories of sexual harassment at Indonesian universities have also been a concern for some.

In 2018, UGM student journalists published the story of a woman who, on a university field study program, was assaulted by a classmate while sleeping. University officials reportedly told the girl she should “repent,” the Jakarta Post reported.

“The sexual harassment case was very prominent, and I would say UGM and the police mishandled this case very badly,” Winters said.

Since the incident, a task force was formed to produce a policy through the university’s senate for addressing issues of sexual harassment, and that policy was passed and implemented.

Sabina Puspita, an Arryman Scholar currently doing doctoral research on the politics of women’s empowerment, was selected by Indonesia’s Minister of Education and Culture to be a member of an expert team to examine sexual misconduct on university campuses and make policy recommendations. The team will be looking at UGM’s newly adopted policy as a possible model other universities can emulate.

Many of the proposed mechanisms in the new institute would be a break from long-standing traditions in Indonesian higher education. For example, prestigious universities in Indonesia typically hire their own graduates.

Ratri said she is looking forward to teaching and researching at a different university than the one she graduated from, bringing new dynamics to the education field in Indonesia alongside the other Arryman scholars.

“(The idea) was not just to train people and get them PhDs, but to create an integrated group of scholars who would create an academic ecosystem amongst themselves when they get back,” Winters said. “The idea was to have them form the core of an educational institution.”

In addition to the academic aspirations of Northwestern and UGM, the broader research partnership and the development of IFAR has stakes for the Indonesian government, who has a state goal of developing a “world class” education system by 2025.

Amid these entities, Simanjuntak said the scale of the co-operation is huge and a lot of interests are at stake. Arryman scholars are responsible for ensuring quality publications as a result, he said.

“Because then when you talk about IFAR,” said Simanjuntak, “you’ll talk about UGM and Northwestern’s partnership — which means there’s a lot on our shoulders.”

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