Row after university suspends lecturer who criticised way student was treated
Rod Thornton accused Nottingham University of trying to discredit student, who downloaded an al-Qaida training manual
Jeevan Vasagar, education editor
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 4 May 2011 19.09 BST
A view of Nottingham University’s Jubilee campus. The suspension of lecturer Rod Thornton has led to a row about academic freedom. Photograph: Zander Olsen
A university has been plunged into a row over academic freedom after suspending a lecturer who criticised its treatment of a student who researched al-Qaida.
Rod Thornton, an expert in counter-insurgency at Nottingham University, was suspended on Wednesday after he accused the university of passing “erroneous evidence” to police and attempting to discredit a student who downloaded an al-Qaida training manual from a US government website.
A member of staff at the university also lobbied successfully for Thornton’s article to be taken down from an academic website, arguing that it contained defamatory allegations.
The masters student, Rizwaan Sabir, was arrested and detained for six days for downloading the al-Qaida material.
A university administrator was also arrested after Sabir asked him to print the document because the student could not afford the printing fees. Both were later released without charge.
In the paper, Thornton wrote: “Untruth piled on untruth until a point was reached where the Home Office itself farcically came to advertise the case as ‘a major Islamist plot’ … Many lessons can be learned from what happened at the University of Nottingham.
“This incident is an indication of the way in which, in the United Kingdom of today, young Muslim men can become so easily tarred with the brush of being ‘terrorists’.”
Thornton’s article was prepared for the British International Studies Association (Bisa), which promotes the study of international relations and held its annual conference in Manchester last week…. (continues)
Honorary Fellow sacked for supporting Millbank occupiers
I am a founder member of the University of Kent Law School and Kent Law Clinic and principally responsible for its international reputation as a critical law school. I was appointed an Honorary Fellow in January 2007 as part of a settlement for breach of contract.
I was interviewed by the media after the Millbank occupation by students opposed to the rise in fees and gave unconditional support to the actions of the students. My comments appeared on the University of Kent’s Centre for Journalism website and in consequence the university demanded the article be taken down. The Centre’s director, Tim Luckhurst, refused to do so.
The university then sought to terminate the Honorary Fellowship and ordered me to remove Kent Law School as the mailing address of the National Critical Lawyers Group (NCLG) (founded in 1987 with this address, see http://www.nclg.org.uk). I was ordered not to associate myself in any way with Kent Law School and to leave my office with one day’s notice. Kent Law School then suspended the NCLG mailing list of over 3,000 and ordered the removal of NCLG from university internet servers.
Before the suspension, over 60 members of NCLG emailed the Vice Chancellor and Kent Law School head of department protesting strongly at my sacking – the protests came from barristers, solicitors and professors, staff and students at other law schools.
No one in Kent Law School staff and students has dared to say anything about these events, fearing the consequences, although there have been private messages of support. The university is in fascist mode, as are many other universities at this time.
I have received limited support from my union UCU, consisting of one visit to the Vice Chancellor who refused to talk. The union has failed to take any other action. The student union has a no victimisation policy but has also failed to support me, even though I was the legal adviser to the magnificent Kent occupiers who kept their occupation going from 8 December to 5 January.
UCU legal committee is meeting on 4 February to consider whether to support me legally, but this is not the best option.
I am a supporter of the RCP – now the Spiked Group – but have received no support whatsover from my former comrades; one at Kent Law School has worked actively against me. The SWP know about these events but they have so far failed to give any support. Similarly Dave Nellist of the Socialist Party and the Coalition of Resistance, including Clare Solomon, have not supported me.
The university has cancelled our booking for the NCLG bi-annual conference in March at Kent University and we have found it impossible to get a booking in London. SOAS accepted our booking then cancelled under pressure from some of their law professors. I suspect the NCLG has been blacklisted.
I would like to thank FRFI for their comradely support.
In solidarity and onwards to a better world,