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Last Updated: Wednesday, 30 May 2007, 14:14 GMT 15:14 UK
Campus extremism request rejected
By Hannah Goff
BBC News education reporter in Bournemouth

Muslim student
Lecturers say watching students would damage trust
Lecturers have voted unanimously to oppose government plans urging them to fight against extremism on campuses.

They had been asked to monitor and report suspicious behaviour amongst Muslim students.

But at the University and Colleges Union annual conference in Bournemouth, delegates rejected the demands, saying they amounted to spying on students.

UCU general secretary Sally Hunt said student trust would be undermined by fears of a "quasi-secret service".

In November, the government warned of what it described as the serious threat posed by radical Muslims and issued guidance to colleges and universities calling on them to monitor student activity.

'Demonisation'

But Ms Hunt said: "Lecturers have a pivotal role in building trust. These proposals, if implemented, would make that all but impossible.

"Universities must remain safe spaces for lecturers and students to discuss and debate all sorts of ideas, including those that some people may consider challenging, offensive and even extreme.

The strong message from this congress must be we will not spy on our Muslim or any other students
UCU joint general secretary Paul Mackney

"The last thing we need is people too frightened to discuss an issue because they fear some quasi-secret service will turn them in."

The motion, from the union's transitional arrangements committee, expressed outrage at the "continuing escalation demonisation of Muslim and other minority communities", adding that this threatened to impinge on education.

It opposed the ethnic profiling of students and staff, and pledged to challenge the "incursions of the security and immigration services to university and college campuses".

The union would also defend the right of members to refuse to cooperate with attempts to "transform education into an extension of the security forces".

'Witch-hunt'

A separate motion, put forward by university lecturers in London, argued increased surveillance of Muslims and other minority students amounted to a "witch-hunt".

Presenting the motion, law lecturer at London Metropolitan University Mark Snaith said academics were there to inform students not inform on them.

"I teach law, I do not impose or enforce law, especially not bad legislation," he added.

Seconding the motion, lecturer Mark Campbell said: "Our universities are not hot beds of Islamic extremism that need to be cowed."

That message needed to be challenged, he added

He cited the case of a student from Swansea who was arrested and treated as a suspected terrorist after taking a picture of Tower Bridge.

Canteen bomb plot

The reason for his arrest was because he possessed a book on Islamic Jihad against the West, Mr Campbell said.

But this book was on the reading list for one of his university courses, he added.

UCU joint general secretary Paul Mackney said staff had been asked to report if they heard them planning a bomb attack in the canteen.

It was obvious staff would report the matter if they overheard such a thing, he said, but to their managers not to MI5 officers.

The academics said that although they would report illegal activity, they would not act as detectives.

"The strong message from this congress must be we will not spy on our Muslim or any other students," Mr Mackney added.

But Professor Anthony Glees, who wrote a report in 2005 warning that extremists were operating on campuses, said the problem must not be ignored.

"A significant number of people, either convicted of terrorist offences or who have admitted a guilt or who've been murdered or killed in the carrying out of their terrorist offences, have been students at British universities and colleges.

"The evidence is overwhelming. The recent trial 30th of April this year - three of the people who got life sentences had been students at British universities and London Metropolitan University itself is frequently been cited as a place of Islamist extremism."


SEE ALSO
Campus radicals 'serious threat'
17 Nov 06 |  Education
Extremism advice 'could backfire'
17 Nov 06 |  Education



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