A joint Fermilab/SLAC publication
S2B: Fighting for academic freedom
Fabricio Sousa, SLAC

Fighting for academic freedom, one scholar at a time


Herman Winick thought making synchrotrons was his life’s work, but life had a few surprises in store.

A recent symposium honoring Herman Winick’s illustrious career in synchrotron development boasted a stellar guest list.

It included friends and colleagues from across SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory, where Winick has spent the lion’s share of his 50-some-year career, and from across the world, because when Winick wasn’t building experimental facilities at SLAC, he was busy convincing other scientists in other countries of the worth of synchrotrons—both as tools for discovery and as teaching tools that could help strengthen a local academic community.

But Winick learned decades ago that an academic community is only as strong as the freedom of its scholars. So in addition to advocating for synchrotrons, he advocates for his colleagues, both in science and beyond. A special guest at the symposium was Natalia Koulinka, a Belarusian journalist who faced danger in her home country due to her work. Hearing of Koulinka’s plight through colleagues, Winick, working with the Scholars at Risk Network hosted by New York University, was instrumental in bringing her to safety in the United States.

Scholars at Risk is an international network of higher education institutions that promotes academic freedom and protects threatened scholars. Its work includes helping arrange temporary academic positions in safe locations.

“Through this program hundreds of careers, and undoubtedly some lives, have been saved,” Winick says. “These are extraordinary people who have taken great risks to promote freedom and democracy in their home countries. Working with SAR enables universities such as Stanford to give them a safe place to continue their important work, while at the same time contributing to teaching and research at the host university.”

Winick’s own work with the network has resulted in five scholars finding sanctuary. He is now working with the Stanford Development Office to fund an endowment at the university to ensure that additional scholars can find sanctuary when necessary.

Still, it’s Winick’s personal touch that has had the biggest impact. Koulinka says she’s grateful for the institutional and individual donations made on her behalf. “But my gratitude to Herman is very specific—he took personal care of me,” she says. “He didn’t have to, but he did.” Now Koulinka is working with Belarusian colleagues to document the brief flowering of journalism in her country between its independence in 1991 and when the current regime took power in 1994.

“Someday I’d like to go back and share all the knowledge I’ve gained here,” she says. Thanks to organizations like SAR and people like Winick, Koulinka may have that chance.

Above image, from left: Belarusian journalist Natalia Koulinka with three of the people who helped bring her to Stanford University and safety: Herman Winick, Nadejda Marques and Larry Diamond.