Sixteen academics and staff members at the University of Manchester have signed a statement expressing their concerns about implementing the PREVENT counter extremism agenda.
The staff and academics say they are deeply concerned that their role as teachers is fundamentally compromised by the expectation that they “also assume the role of the security authorities (i.e. monitor the character of students’ opinions).”
Since last year it has become a statutory duty for Higher Education institutions to identify potential radicalisation amongst students.
The letter was signed by Dr. Sivamohan Valluvan, Dr. Virinder Kalra, Dr. Bethan Harries, Dr. Bridget Byrne, Dr. Richie Nimmo, Dr. Peter McMylor, Prof. Sue Heath, Dr. Vanessa May, Dr. David Evans, Dr. Shirin Hirsch, Dr. Aoileann Ní Mhurchú, Dr. Luke Yates, Prof. David Gadd, Dr. Carl Death, David Booton and Dr Stephen Ashe.
The statement says: “It is impractical for University lecturers to assume the role of surveillance. The PREVENT guidance regarding potential student radicalisation is dangerously vague, leading to a considerable uncertainty regarding the risk factors that lecturers are expected to monitor. This uncertainty will ensure that the role expected of lecturers is simply impracticable. By the terms set out in the PREVENT guidelines, it seems as though lecturers will feel compelled to police moral and/or religious beliefs (i.e. conservatism) as well as critique of current foreign policy as practiced by Western governments.
“Third, there is a risk that a variety of ordinary academic activities will become the object of unwarranted scrutiny as a result of the PREVENT guidance. Incidents at the Universities of East Anglia, Bath, and Staffordshire, alongside other domains outside of Higher Education (e.g. measures allegedly taken by schools in Lancashire and Waltham Forest respectively) suggest that the PREVENT programme is not sufficiently well-defined so as to ensure that conventional academic practice does not become compromised. This not only creates unnecessary scandal, but strongly imperils the ability of Universities to pursue academic scrutiny with the intellectual and political freedom traditionally accorded to it.
“There is a high risk that all students perceived to be Muslim become criminalised as a result of the PREVENT programme. If the current guidelines are implemented, it is the case that the lecturing community will begin to profile all Muslim students in their charge. Criminalisation is the attribution of a unique risk to a particular constituency due to their ethnic, racial, religious and/or class background – wherein a certain background is rendered a ‘suspect community’. This inevitable recourse to racial and religious profiling creates an unacceptable inequality in terms of how students are to be treated whilst at the University. Claims that this programme will not lead to racial and religious profiling are woefully naïve and lack empirical credibility.
“Fifth, and perhaps most problematically, we strongly believe that the increased risk of ethnic and religious profiling engendered by the PREVENT guidance significantly threatens the University’s broader ambition to recruit Muslim students as well as compromising its ability to provide a safe, inclusive and accommodating space for the Muslim students currently at the University of Manchester. This is a concern that is pertinent to the University’s ambition to develop a stronger local presence, as well as to its goals in Widening Participation from disadvantaged groups as part of its Social Responsibility agenda.”