Vote to defend Academic Freedom at UCL - AB Vote on Weds 10th Feb

8 February 2021

For the attention of UCU members of the Academic Board (for information for everyone else)

A very important vote of the Academic Board will take place next Wednesday, 10 February, at 2pm. We are encouraging all AB members to attend. 

This will be an important opportunity to stand up for Academic Freedom at UCL and oppose its encroachment by a politicised definition of antisemitism: the ‘IHRA working definition of antisemitism’ (IHRA WD).

We stand with the very many staff and students who are strongly opposed to antisemitism but see the IHRA WD as divisive and unhelpful, and a threat to Academic Freedom (see our 16 FAQs responding to Senior Management claims on the definition). 

Academic Board members will be asked to vote to endorse the Working Group Report, and vote by ranking options for the IHRA WD recommendation. Following a careful review, we recommend that members vote according to the following ranking to protect Academic Freedom at UCL:

OptionRecommended rankingExplanation
CHighestREPLACE (with the procedure precisely specified) for a more Academic Freedom-friendly definition
DNextRETRACT and return to the Equality Act as a basis 
BNextRETAIN & AMEND (with the amendments precisely specified) e.g., to not be used in complaint and disciplinary procedures

We propose that members give no rank to A (‘RETAIN IHRA AS IS’: keep the IHRA WD as UCL policy as it is). In other words, we are recommending voting: C > D > B - and no ranking for A.

The Academic Board Working Group on Racism and Prejudice (WGRP) has put options C, D, and B before the Board (and advises against A, keeping the IHRA WD as the status quo).

After considerable analysis, they argue that the IHRA WD (which was adopted by Council without the agreement of AB) is indeed a danger to Academic Freedom and offers no additional protection to Jewish staff and students on campus.  The WGRP therefore rejected the status quo (option A), and placed options B, C, and D before AB to determine. They recommend option D or C, with B as a fallback position. 

Please also vote in favour of the other recommendations of the Working Group.

Please see our new detailed study of the likely consequences of using this definition in UCL policy, guided by our longstanding practical experience in defending members in disciplinary and grievance procedures at UCL. Even in an attenuated form (as in option B above) the IHRA WD has the potential to attract unwarranted allegations, prolong investigations and damage the careers of innocent staff - even if allegations are ultimately not supported. 

Colleagues should note it is lawful for employers to find against staff without proof of guilt, even going so far as to dismiss them. Given experiences elsewhere, the retention of the IHRA WD in any form will attract unfounded allegations, potentially including public campaigns against staff, and silence academic discourse by intimidation.

We have also compiled a list of recent developments on this matter, including a statement from large Jewish denominations against IHRA WD enforcement, Israeli Academics in UK institutions who have spoken out, saying that their rights are under attack by this definition, and the new Chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission who has stated it is not appropriate for universities.

To repeat, we recommend ‘REPLACE’ as the first option, ‘RETRACT’ second, and ‘RETAIN & AMEND’ as last: C > D > B, and no ranking for A

UCL UCU Executive Committee