When Public Scholarship Is a Crime

American professor in Denmark says she’s being targeted by immigration officials for doing what academics do: sharing her findings with the public.

November 28, 2017
 
Brooke Harrington

Brooke Harrington, an American professor of business and politics at Denmark’s Copenhagen Business School, travels the world studying tax havens and sharing her findings with academics, policy makers and the general public. Demands for her lectures only increased last fall after Harvard University Press published her book Capital Without Borders: Wealth Managers and the One Percent, which became popular in Denmark and abroad.

Harrington sees public scholarship as an essential part of her work as an academic. But Danish immigration authorities are calling it something else: a crime.

“As unfair as this is, if this were a civil matter, I’d pay the fine and be done with it, this has eaten up so much of my life,” Harrington said in an interview Monday. “But this is a criminal charge. So as someone who would like to be employed and travel in the future, I can’t.”

Harrington’s research is controversial in that it deals with tax loopholes and offshore accounts of kind documented in the so-called Panama Papers. Yet that isn’t what Danish officials find problematic. Citing a series of lectures Harrington delivered -- ironically -- to members of the Danish Parliament, Danish tax authorities and a law class at the University of Copenhagen this year and last, they’ve charged her with working outside her university and therefore the parameters of her work permit.

Denmark has taken a relatively hard line against immigrants in recent years. The charges against Harrington are notable, however, in that she is an internationally recognized scholar, not a refugee or a low-skill worker -- those who are more typically criticized in the country. Her case is also part of a bigger reported crackdown on foreign academics sharing their research in Denmark.  Some 14 foreign researchers across Denmark's eight public universities have been accused of violating their work permits on similar grounds, according to Politiken, a major newspaper.

Harrington faces $2,000 in fines and a much bigger problem: paying up simply to move on would mean admitting to a crime, with major repercussions for the rest of her career. Job applications and even travel visas often have a box asking whether one has ever been convicted of a crime, she said. There’s little room for nuance in answering a yes-or-no question, Harrington added, so “yes” applications typically get tossed in what she called “the round bin.”

“For someone who does international research -- my work on tax havens took me to 18 different countries -- this would literally be the end of my career,” she said. Even staying in Denmark would be next to impossible after a criminal conviction, since she’d be barred from applying for permanent residency for 15 years as a result, she noted. At that point, she'd be 64 and likely discriminated against as someone approaching the age of retirement in a country protective of its generous pension system.

“If I’d known what I was getting into, I really would have had second thoughts about coming here,” Harrington said of her move to Denmark eight years ago. “Anyone in higher education considering moving here should be aware they’ll have to confront this.”

Laws barring nonpermanent Danish residents from holding side jobs, paid or unpaid, have been in effect for some time. But Harrington said public scholarship is hardly a side job for an academic. Moreover, a separate Danish law mandates that university faculty members publicly share their research. Ironically, on the day Harrington learned of her criminal charges, she was notified that she’d received an award for research dissemination from the Danish Society for Education and Business.

And no matter that Parliament invited Harrington to speak -- it’s facing scrutiny, too, for being unaware of laws preventing academics from speaking outside their universities without first obtaining explicit permission to do so from the Danish Agency for International Recruitment and Integration. That permission process is lengthy, by the way; Harrington said applying for a recent one-day work permit to give lecture to a political group took 15 hours. 

Policy makers and other Danish academics have publicly defended Harrington, as has Per Holten-Andersen, president of the Copenhagen Business School. Yet the charges remain. Harrington said two uniformed police officers even came to her home and banged on her door to speak with her about them last month.

Her options few, Harrington said that she has to fight. Yet the legal process to do so will be long and draining, financially and otherwise -- unless something changes. She hopes her work won't suffer in the interim.

“The really awful thing about this is I’ve gotten all this feedback, professionally and personally, that in my research is useful," especially to those trying to prevent tax evasion to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars per case, Harrington said. “Now with a criminal charge, all of my credibility is vaporizing.”

Holten-Andersen said in an emailed statement Tuesday that it is "deeply worrying that international researchers in Denmark risk fines or problems with residence permits for having relevant sideline occupations that their European Union colleagues can have without any trouble." Rules and regulations must be followed, he said, "but this represents the worst form of bureaucracy. We stand 100 percent behind our employees who are experiencing problems and offer advice and support." 

Copenhagen Business School will "work perseveringly for and support, also publicly, that the rules are changed as fast as possible," he said. Holten-Andersen noted that the institution, in collaboration with other universities, is in talks with public authorities to "find a solution." The Danish Rectors’ Conference also will ask Ministry of Higher Education and Science to intervene, he said.

 

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