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Comment on University Communication on Recent Events

Concerned Academics | 27.05.2008 16:31 | Education | Repression | Terror War

As concerned academics at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham who have been involved in the campaign for academic freedom and the release of Hicham Yezza in the wake of the false terror arrests at our university last week, we request that the Registrar, Dr. Paul Greatrix, amends the statement that he is currently circulating in response to letters of concern sent by academics from across the world to the University of Nottingham. The statement contains a number of inconsistencies, and we feel it necessary to point these out, both to Dr. Greatrix, and to the wider public.

Firstly, Dr. Greatrix seeks to label the coverage of the incident in the media, and in the Times Higher Education supplement in particular as inaccurate. However, all the evidence he provides for this claim are the two minor points that the administrative member of staff involved in this case was not working at the Department of Engineering, and that there was no armed response by the police during the arrests at the university. These facts, however, are in themselves irrelevant when compared to the fact that the academic freedom and civil liberties of a student and a member of staff have been grossly violated. Indeed, it should be noted that the Times Higher Education supplement was substantially correct in its coverage of the case. Finally, it should also be noted that the claim that there was an armed police response to the campus stems from the BBC news reports on the incident last week, which do not seem to have attracted a correction from the university.

Secondly, Dr. Greatrix claims that this was a low-level investigation. This claim, however, does not stand up to scrutiny. Students had their bags searched by uniformed police before entering the Trent Building the day after the arrests. The student and member of staff that was arrested was held from Wednesday May 14 until Tuesday, May 20 without charge, in spite of the fact that Rizwaan Sabir’s supervisor and personal tutor both confirmed to the police that the document they had downloaded and printed was legitimate research material on Friday, May 16. The homes of the two men were raided; they had their computers impounded and they have still not been returned; the family of Rizwaan Sabir was ejected from their home during the police’s search; several colleagues in the School of politics were interviewed for hours by the police. A low-key investigation would have resolved this matter within hours by contacting the relevant members of staff at the School of Politics and International Relations; indeed, a low-key investigation, to use Dr. Greatrix’s term, would have been conducted by the university itself, without any police involvement at all.

Thirdly, Dr. Greatrix claims that the university has contacted those involved in this matter to offer support and discuss the incident that took place. In fact, none of the staff members interviewed by the police have been contacted by the university with the offer of support. Moreover, the university has offered nothing in terms of official support or counsel to Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza, thus neglecting the welfare and well-being of its staff and students. To the extent that Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza have received support it has been from the members of staff and the students that Dr. Greatrix’s statement appear to be slurring.

Fourthly, the claim that the Times Higher Education supplement is wrong in its claim that the university does not deem the document that led to the arrests to be relevant research material is unconvincing. The university did in fact state that it deemed the document illegitimate, and only at a later stage retracted this and replaced with the modified statement that it was appropriate for academic members of staff to be in possession of such materials. This is of course in itself a deeply problematic argument, due to the simple fact that the material is available to the general public via perfectly respectable web-sites. We find it surprising that a university would express such disregard of the rights of engaged citizens to educate themselves on issues of public concern.

The conduct of the university in this matter stands in stark contrast to Dr. Greatrix’s claim that the university is committed to ensuring that its staff and students “are free to study and work in a safe, secure and tolerant environment” and that the university works towards ensuring “that everyone at Nottingham is able to enjoy freedom of speech and expression within the law”. In fact, the university has been deeply reluctant to enter into any kind of dialogue with students and staff that are concerned about the status of academic freedom and civil liberties.

It is clear to us, therefore, that the University of Nottingham will not be an “open and free arena for debate and dissent” until an apology is offered to Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza, and until the university guarantees the academic freedom, civil liberties and human rights of its staff and students.

Alf Nilsen

Bettina Renz

Vanessa Pupavac

Concerned Academics
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