Wednesday, May 28

More on Univ of Nottingham's freedom of speech issue

I was forwarded an email by a friend of mine who works in another university, I personally think this is too understated, but still...


Dear All,
Some of you will have heard of the shocking events in Nottingham over the past few weeks. For those who haven't, briefly, a student studying Islamic terrorism for his master's dissertation downloaded an al-Qaeda manual (from a US government website!), which he sent to an administrator friend to print. Another university employee saw this document, contacted university authorities, who then called the police. Both men were arrested and held for six days, before being released without charge. Of course, their homes were also searched, computers and phones seized and their families questioned (some say harassed).
Apparently, in talking to one Nottingham university academic, one police officer remarked that the incident would never have occurred if the persons involved had been 'blonde, Swedish PhD students' (the two men were of British-Pakistani and Algerian backgrounds).
The University of Nottingham's response was to suggest that the document was 'not legitimate research material'. (The student was studying for an MA in International Security and Terrorism!) The university has also been accused of complicity with police attempts to gain information about a student anti-war campaigning, e.g. a student newspaper Ceasefire.
Links to more reports are below.
I've written a letter to be sent to Colin Campbell, University of Nottingham VC. The text is below and the hard copy's in the print room: feel free to sign it. I guess I'll send it at the beginning of next week.

Dear Sir Colin
We are writing to express our grave concern at recent events concerning the detention of two members the University of Nottingham under the Terrorism Act, and, in particular, the University of Nottingham's role in these events.
We can just about understand the sequence of events that led to the police being called and their arresting the men. But, even here, alternative courses of action were possible. For example, a few questions and phone calls would have quickly established the connection between Hisham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir, and the latter's status as a student on your master's programme in International Security and Terrorism. Rizwaan Sabir had every reason to be interested in the downloaded document, a fact that could easily have been confirmed by his tutor Bettina Rentz, his programme director or head of department. (Moreover, this material was freely available on a United States government website.)
We feel your university's failure to support the two men following their arrest is inexcusable. Its response was essentially to ignore the plight of its student and its employee. Worse, your spokeman's statement that the document was 'not legitimate research material' could be taken as a de facto condemnation of the men.
We have also heard some reports that University of Nottingham spokespeople have made comments about stopping the activities of groups or individuals who 'unsettle the harmony of the campus', presumably a reference to peaceful student protest and activism. We have not been able to verify these reports, but if true, we would find them deeply disturbing too.
It appears that the University of Nottingham has failed both to defend academic freedom and in its duty of care to its students and staff. It is possible too that your university is attempting to limit political freedom.
The University of Nottingham has a fine reputation across many disciplines and for both its teaching and its research. Many of us here in the School of Management at University of Leicester have collaborated with your staff on various projects and we frequently advise our most promising students to continue their studies in one of your university's departments. Obviously, we fully expect our research connections with individual staff to continue. However, many of us feel that we would be neglecting our duty of care to our students and our adherence to the principles of academic freedom, were we not to mention these events to students who ask our advice on pursuing higher degrees at the University of Nottingham.
Yours sincerely,

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