A leaked goverment memo from the DFES has led to worries that students could be under surveillance from professors, based on their ethnicity. The report encourages the monitoring of “Asian-looking” students and states that campuses can be a bredding ground for extremism. Professors and students have reacted with anger to the alleged proposals.
A leaked memo sent from the Department for Education and Skills to university lecturers and support staff encouraging them to monitor the activities of Muslim and “Asian-looking” students has drawn harsh condemnation from all corners of the academic community.
The guidance, distributed to universities across the UK and reported in The Guardian last month, advises that “universities and colleges provide a fertile recruiting ground” for those involved in terrorist activity. It urges particularly close scrutiny of Islamic student societies, which it claims are susceptible to radicalisation by “extremist individuals.”
Responding to the leaked memo, Professor Haleh Afshar a York academic and leading expert on the politics of Islam and issues of racial equality likened the government’s stance to that of the American government treatment of suspected Communists during the McCarthy era.
Professor Afshar suggested that the memo provides evidence that the government “have now categorised Muslims as ‘the enemy within’.”
Professor Afshar also urged the government to engage with rather than target Muslim students, and to avoid crude approximations of their attitudes.
“If you actually go to the Islamic societies then you will discover a huge diversity of opinion, that Muslims are not monolithic with one view about everything,” she said.
The Equality Challenge Unit, an action group promoting equality and diversity in higher education, also stressed the importance of better communication. “The danger of targeting Muslim students is that it may have a discriminatory impact and any guidance which recommends discriminatory treatment has no place in campus life,” said ECU Chief Executive Nicola Dandridge in a press release. “The guidance should instead address extremism as a whole. It should promote good relations as an established way of minimising conflicts on campus.”
The University has an equal opportunities policy, part of which is intended to implement legislation passed in 2003 to prevent discrimination on grounds of religious belief.
Lecturers and staff across campus dismissed out of hand the notion that they would consider keeping watch on students of a particular race or religion.
“I suppose if I did stumble across some terrible plot, whether constructed by Muslim students or anyone else, I would feel the need to contact the appropriate authorities,” said Dr. Helen Smith, a York English lecturer.
“But that’s a long way from being asked to ‘check up’ on students who are under suspicion only because of their surname or the colour of their skin.”
By Sam Thomas