University rule change sought after Israel row

From the archive (legacy material)

Polly Curtis | The Guardian | 30 January 2003

The British university at the centre of a worldwide furore over a boycott of Israel by one of its professors should change its rules to enable it to discipline staff for bringing the institution into disrepute, a confidential report into the affair recommends.
The results of an inquiry for the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology, passed to, say that Mona Baker, professor of translation studies, was entitled to remove two academics at Israeli universities from the boards of two journals she owns and edits with her husband.
However, the inquiry team, headed by a lawyer, Peter Norbury, has called for a “thorough review” of university statutes relating to academics’ participation in outside activities “in order to identify any potential risk to Umist’s reputation”.
The report says: “Although the statutes and charter which govern procedures within Umist guard against immoral or scandalous behaviour, there is no reference to the potential harm that an individual’s external activities might cause to the reputation of the university.
“Umist should seek to include provisions to protect itself against the future possibility that the university might be brought into disrepute.”
The university was put on the defensive when Prof Baker “un-appointed” Miriam Schlesinger and Gideon Toury from the boards of Translation Studies and the Translator because they work at Israeli universities. Prof Baker said she was acting in line with a petition that she had signed calling for a boycott of Israeli universities.
Umist’s report says there is no evidence that she was anti-semitic and condemns “offensive” emails sent to her since the controversy began. It notes that the two Israeli academics remain friends with her.
The report also criticises a press statement issued by Umist which led Prof Baker and others to believe the university was accusing her of racial discrimination. The inquiry recommends that senior managers at Umist receive training to cope with hostile media questioning.
But the inquiry concludes that Prof Baker went “further than the aims and intentions of the boycott she signed”. Some of the signatories later criticised her move.
The report also expresses “deep regret” she declined to cooperate with the inquiry, after taking legal advice. It says Umist is entitled to insist she does not boycott Israeli academics when carrying out her duties at the university.
“The [inquiry] team was unable to determine whether or not her action was taken having in mind the harm that might be caused to Umist, nor could it reach firm conclusions as to whether the publicity attracted was one of the aims of her action. However, given Prof Baker’s academic reputation, the team is inclined to believe that her action was simply an expression of her individual conscience.
“The team does not believe that all expressions of opinion made by academic staff members are defensible under the principles of academic freedom … Umist should therefore consider developing appropriate guidance in this respect,” the report says.
Speaking from Spain, where she is currently lecturing, Prof Baker said she was confident no disciplinary action would be taken against her.
However, she said she had “no regrets” over her decision to sack the academics.
A Umist spokesman said that the university was discussing the findings. “We are hopeful the whole process will come to an end within a couple of weeks. Then we will make a statement.”