George Mason University has its first endangered scholar.
As a founding member of the New University in Exile Consortium, the Northern Virginia-based higher education institution is obligated to host at least one scholar who faces persecution or other conditions that make it difficult for them to work in their home country.
Dr. Ararat Osipian is that scholar.
A native of the Ukraine, the economics researcher arrived at George Mason’s Arlington campus on Dec. 31, 2018 before officially joining the university in January as an Alexander Mirtchev visiting professor, a position named after the Bulgarian-born American economist who currently works at Mason as a professorial fellow and a distinguished senior fellow.
Osipian specializes in studying corruption and will continue that research during his one-year stint with the GMU Schar School of Policy and Government’s Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center. He will also teach two courses in the fall.
“Dr. Osipian’s expertise on political corruption is a perfect fit for the high-impact work being done in our research center,” Schar School Dean Mark J. Rozell said. “…This relationship is a win-win for all, as he gets to be a part of a thriving academic community doing important research in his field, and we get the benefit of his expertise for the time he is here.”
In an effort led by New York City’s The New School, the New University in Exile Consortium is a revival of the University in Exile started in 1933 to help academics whose professional or personal wellbeing was threatened by the rise of Nazism in Europe.
George Mason announced on Oct. 1 that it had agreed to host at least one endangered scholar for a minimum of two years as one of the New University in Exile Consortium’s 11 founding colleges and universities.
The consortium now includes 13 participating institutions with Amherst College and Yale University joining GMU, The New School, Barnard College, Brown University, Columbia University, Connecticut College, Georgetown University, Rutgers University, Trinity College, Wellesley College, and Wayne State University.
Like the other endangered scholars who found hosts through the consortium, Osipian’s path to George Mason began with an application for the Institute of International Education’s Scholar Rescue Fund, which provides fellowships to academics whose freedom or safety is threatened due to their work.
Osipian first visited the U.S. almost 20 years ago when the U.S. Department of State accepted him for its Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program in 2000. He was placed at Vanderbilt University, where he ultimately received a master’s in economics and a doctorate in economics of education and human development.
Upon completing his fellowship at Vanderbilt in 2013, Osipian returned to the Ukraine only for war to break out in Kramatorsk, the city where he happened to reside.
“It was an absolutely crazy time for someone who spent 13 years at Vanderbilt to find himself in the midst of a war somewhere on the other end of the planet in eastern Ukraine,” Osipian said.
The conflict between Ukraine and pro-Russian separatist forces in the country’s eastern Donbas region remains ongoing.
Unable to properly work in wartime conditions, Osipian applied for the IIE Scholar Rescue Fund and, as the nonprofit told him, became the first person from the Ukraine to earn a fellowship.
The institute found Osipian a host in the University of Wisconsin – Madison, where he arrived in January 2018.
While at Madison, Osipian wrote two books on corporate corruption in Russia as well as 14 opinion articles that appeared in publications like Times Higher Education and University World News.
Because the Scholar Rescue Fund fellowships last for only one year, Osipian had to reapply in order to stay in the U.S., and when it was renewed, he was given a new host, which turned out to be George Mason.
Osipian says GMU is an ideal location for him to continue his research because of the Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center, the first center in the U.S. devoted to examining the connections between those three issues.
According to the center’s website, its research touches on topics ranging from human trafficking and organized crime to nuclear proliferation and environmental crimes.
With headquarters in Arlington, the center shares a campus with not only the Schar School, but also GMU’s law school, school of business, and school for conflict analysis and resolution.
“That’s very helpful if they think of [students] as future public administrators, state bureaucrats, lawyers, etcetera,” Osipian said. “Corruption is part of it…You have to learn it in order to resist it, in order to eradicate it, in order to offer to the people good governance and not bad governance, so I think they’re going to benefit a lot.”