The Times Higher Education Supplement has covered the terror arrests at Nottingham University extensively and much of this coverage has been sympathetic. This motivated outgoing Vice Chancellor Colin Campbell to write to the publication to restate the university’s position. Others have subsequently responded, leading to a debate in the letters section reprinted below.
Nottingham: why I have to speak out 1
26 June 2008
It is with regret that I feel compelled to write to counter the assertions made by Sir Colin Campbell, vice-chancellor of the University of Nottingham, about the arrest and subsequent release of the “Nottingham Two”: Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza (Letters, 19 June). I was Sabir’s MA supervisor and was questioned by the police for several hours in relation to his case. I am very far from the usual politics department “agitator”. I came to the sector after nine years as a “squaddie” in the Army, where I was used to keeping my head down and my mouth shut. In this case, I cannot keep my head down or my mouth shut. I believe an injustice has been done.
Sir Colin states that he authorised the release of “factually accurate statements”. When these first appeared in the university, and as I was a central player in the whole imbroglio, I took issue with them. I composed a four-page rebuttal to the university authorities stating why such statements contained elements that were, indeed, factually “inaccurate”. I received neither a reply to nor an acknowledgement of my letter.
Sir Colin also impugns my colleagues in the School of Politics who wrote an opinion article (“The Nottingham Two and the War on Terror: which of us will be next?”, 5 June). If Sir Colin had been fully au fait with the facts surrounding the issue, and if he had seen police statements in regard to the case, then I am sure he would not have said that my colleagues’ claims were “careless, entirely false and bear little relation to the facts”. A number of us who have been involved in, and affected by, this affair have been concerned that senior management will not discuss the issue with us. Since they are not open to discussion, and since they do not have all the details at their disposal, they have been prone to making maladroit statements. A brief meeting would have cleared up much of the misunderstanding. But instead of talking to those involved, Sir Colin has aired his views in public in the letters pages of Times Higher Education. I believe this to have been impolitic at this juncture.
I was an undergraduate at Nottingham. This is my university, I like it and I like working here. But I cannot sit idly by and do nothing while such inaccurate and unfair comments are made.
Rod Thornton, University of Nottingham.
Nottingham: why I have to speak out 2
26 June 2008
Sir Colin Campbell has not made the case for academic freedom reigning at the University of Nottingham. He needs to cite facts rather than relying on assertions. The answer sought remains: why waste police time and public money instead of investigating the matter internally? Furthermore, it is disingenuous for the vice-chancellor to suggest that the outstanding issues before the courts are related to the matter for which the police were called in. If Hicham Yezza’s visa papers were not in order it casts doubt on the adequacy of the university’s vetting procedures for job applications but it has nothing to do with the matter for which the police were called in.
Pat Brady, Chislehurst.
Freedom still reigns
19 June 2008
I was interested in your article “The Nottingham Two and the War on Terror: which of us will be next?” (5 June) but surprised by the interpretation of events that was offered.
Inevitably, any arrests of individuals on campus stimulate conjecture and speculation. For that reason, I authorised release of factually accurate statements of relevant events to the entire university community (including to the authors of the article) on 27 May and 3 June.
The second statement provided as full an account of events as was possible, given that some matters were (and still are) subject to legal process. Your readers can access the full statement entitled “Arrests on Campus” at https://my.nottingham.ac.uk/
No amount of scenario analysis of what might have been, aimed at reinterpreting events as an “academic freedom” issue (for whatever reason) can alter what actually happened. The incident was triggered by the discovery of an al-Qaeda training manual on the computer of an individual who was neither an academic member of staff nor a student and in a school where one would not expect to find such material being used for research purposes. We became concerned. The university had to make a risk assessment – no panic, no hysteria, just a straightforward risk assessment. Our responsibility to university students and staff, and our public duty to the wider community, led us to the conclusion that there needed to be an investigation. So our concerns were conveyed to the police as the appropriate body to investigate (no judgment was made by us). The matter has now been properly investigated and outstanding issues are before the courts of the land.
Much has been said on the matter of academic freedom. The University of Nottingham has always fully embraced this principle and continues to do so. Claims to the contrary in the Nottingham Two article are freely expressed and unconstrained. But they are careless, entirely false and bear little relation to the facts.
Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-chancellor, University of Nottingham.
Steve Clayton 19 June, 2008
Whilst Colin Campbell claims to have a direct line to all “factually accurate statements” in this case and accuses the three acadmics of lying – at least that is my interpretation of “entirely false and bear littel relation to the facts”. Having read the article, I am little puzzled as to what it is they have written that is false. It seems to be an opinion piece, not a description of events. Can Colin Campbell actually provide some evidence for his accusations?
Lee Jones 27 June, 2008
Sir Colin Campbell’s claim that the arrests of the ‘Nottingham Two’ is not a matter of academic freedom (letters, 19 June 2008) is not acceptable. Campbell essentially admits the charges laid at his door by three of his own academics – that Nottingham’s ‘risk assessment’ mentality led to two innocent people being wrongfully arrested and detained without anyone bothering to ask the tutors of the student concerned whether the possession of an Al Qaeda training manual (freely available online and in many bookstores) was legitimate for someone studying terrorism.
His tutors are, in fact, of the opinion that it was entirely legitimate, but according to a police notice issued to Rizwaan Sabir on his release on 20 May, ‘The University authorities have now made clear that possession of this material is not required for the purpose of your course of study nor do they consider it legitimate for you to possess it for research purposes’. Nottingham academics are still awaiting clarification as to what the University actually told the police, and under whose authority. They are also seeking clarification about concerns that police ‘stop and search’ powers were used illegally on campus. The police note threatened the possibility of ‘arrest and further detention’ if Mr Sabir looked at such material again. If it stands, can one imagine a clearer blow against the academic freedom of Mr Sabir, his fellow students, and anyone who wishes to conduct research on controversial subjects free from harassment and intimidation?
It is for these reasons that I and 34 fellow research students from the Universities of Oxford, London, Manchester, Westminster, and Kent, and the LSE, have written to Sir Colin Campbell to express our profound alarm at the way the ‘Nottingham Two’ have been mistreated by his administration and calling on him to give them support and to work with his own academics to ensure academic freedom is protected in the future.
Remarks by Lord Carlile, the government’s reviewer of terrorism legislation, that he would seek to restrict the online availability of terror-related material, raise the spectre of further limitations on academic freedom. Especially in the current political climate, this material must be subject to the most rigorous, critical academic scrutiny, not driven underground or glamourised by irrational and illiberal knee-jerk reactions.