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Queen Mary in the media

Academics are increasingly expected to have ‘impact’, so it’s no surprise that universities like to flag stories about lecturers’ research getting into the papers. Fair enough.  But when academics make pronouncements about political issues quite unrelated to their research – is that something a university should be promoting proudly?  The Academic Corruption blog thinks not:

In November 2012 … Queen Mary University of London published an article on its website section “Queen Mary Media Appearances” titled:

“Linguists including Noam Chomsky condemn Gaza coverage”

The link takes you to the following QM news page

http://www.qmul.ac.uk/media/qmnews/items/86810.html

that says

“Linguists including Noam Chomsky condemn “reprehensible” Gaza coverage.

Global Peace and Justice Auckland blog

Professor Borer has joined an international group of academics, including Noam Chomsky, to condemn the failure of major media outlets to report on recent killings of Palestinian civilians by Israeli forces in Gaza.”

(I note Professor Borer must have been exposed to very different media from most of us during the recent conflict between Israel and Gaza.) The Academic Corruption blog continues:

When a member of staff complained about the article (details below) the College refused to dissociate itself with the article, and also refused any direct right of reply to it. When the Principal eventually responded (after more than 3 weeks) he implied that  it was an honour “being referenced alongside high-profile academics such as Noam Chomsky”. This claim might be valid if the reference was related to the academic’s research or teaching. But that is certainly not the case here.

Principal Sir Simon Gaskell wrote in response to a complaint:

Secondly, I would like to turn to the specific item that you have referenced in your email. The Communications Team linked to this item as it featured a QM professor being referenced alongside high-profile academics such as Noam Chomsky. In making this link, they were acting impartially and in line with our policy of freedom of speech and expression, which allows members of our university community to hear and express diverse views, as long there is no evidence of illegality (related to the written or spoken word) associated with those making these statements. As such, the inclusion of the item in ‘QM in the News’ was not inappropriate and I will not be asking for any direct action to be taken in relation to the article in question.

This is a clear straw man – no one is challenging Professor Borer’s right to express her political views, or associate with whom she wishes, something that has sometimes been denied those working and studying at Queen Mary itself of course.  It is perhaps unfair to blame the university when the actions of a violent individual have the effect of closing down free speech. But there have been other occasions when the university has shown that it’s not such a free speech champion when that speech has been used to criticise its own practices.