Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Should lecturers be ordered to 'spy' on their students?

The BBC has got wind that Lord Carlile’s review of the Government’s Prevent strategy to combat violent extremism, which is expected in May, is likely to call for closer monitoring of university and college students by their lecturers.
If so Carlile can expect to be challenged on several fronts.
There is a fierce debate about the degree to which British campuses are being exposed to radicalisation by particularly, but not exclusively, Islamic extremists.
Let’s suppose such grooming is taking place either directly or via the internet. It doesn’t make any sense to alert vulnerable students that university staff is checking their behaviour and essays to establish whether they’re a potential terrorist.
There is already a legal obligation on the public to report anyone they suspect planning violence against persons or property. If nothing else Carlile’s conclusions should warrant a favourable headline for David Cameron in the Daily Mail.
It is an unpleasant reality where once we would expect a doctor or a priest to protect a confidence, now they must bow to the greater good when life is threatened by terrorism. Similarly the academic world cannot support the freedom of speech when that which is being advocated endangers the freedom of the lives of others.
Carlile is on record criticising the academic world for not being alive to their duty of care. He told the Guardian last month he saw “a total failure to deal with how to identify and handle individuals who might be suspected of radicalising or being radicalised whilst within the university.” He emphasised that Islamic extremism was just one of number of sources of terrorism that campuses should guard against.
Carlile asks too much of lecturers. He wants them trained to spot warning signals. Not only does this change their whole job specification, it is probably beyond their competence.

1 comment:

  1. Well GC, says Jaffa, here are some bullet points.
    1]The communist spy ring of Burgess, Philby and Maclean etc, were actually recruited at Cambridge Uni by one of the academics there, Blunt. Our academic ethnic and political mix is today so varied that is quite possible that some of the academics might be sympathetic to some of the exteme views of some of their students.
    2] If the government is asking academics to discern extremism from student essays, there must have been some very blatant examples in the past.
    3] How does one discern extremism in science students who I believe do not write the type of essays that can be interpreted in a political sense? Where are the future chemists and engineers etc who will be involved in making bombs and explosives?
    4] It is also in seminars and tutorials that exteme views, could possibly show up.
    5] When I was last at Uni about 10 years ago, I got into a conversation with a young British student and a young Iranian student, about the Middle East. The latter told me that Hizbollah were recruiting within the Uni. At the time I believe that Hizbollah was considered a proscribed terrorist organisation.
    6] The most blatant examples of sympathy to exteme organisations will be found in societies and meetings involving the Middle East and in areas involving controversial Western/UK foreign policy, where the moderates are often shouted down by the extremists; and worse. Should those meetings be monitored? If so, by whom? Is it only students attending these meetings or are there also potentially dangerous outsiders? The same applies to the Islamic societies in the Uni[s]. The Nigerian moslem who was plotting to blow up a plane, was head of the Islamic society at his Uni in the UK.
    7] This will be hard for left wing academics to swallow, but the fact is that there is often a tacit alliance between the extreme left and the Islamists. This too can be discerned in student and public meetings.
    8] Greater care will have to be taken by Uni authorities to monitor who is being invited to guest speak at Uni activities. For example, what should be done about a speaker who has, in the past, advocated suicide bombing as being legitimate, wherever, even if he/she is not currently suggesting that it should be used in the UK?
    9] We are told by the security services via the media that at any one time there are up to 20 terrorist plots being planned within the UK. This needs to be impressed on academics. It is a kind of war; and in terms of danger "we are all in it together". In this sense academics need to be alert.
    10] At what point, should it be considered that freedom of speech is being abused by extremist views? Moreover, who should/will it be that decides that that extreme speech is likely to be translated into action?

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What do you think? GC