Not so complacent

November 2, 2006

It is unfortunate that Shiraz Maher (Features, October ) neglected to canvass the direct views of any members of the steering group that produced the Equality Challenge Unit/ Universities UK/GuildHE guidance Pro moting Good Campus Relations: Dealing with Hate Crimes on Campus ( PGCR ) before writing his article on extremists recruiting on campus.

The steering group included representatives from UUK, GuildHE, the National Union of Students, what was then the lecturers' union Natfhe, Unison, the Higher Education Equal Opportunities Network and a wider critical reader group of different faith organisations and higher education institutions, all of whom played a valuable part in shaping the guidance.

Maher feels the sector is wilfully complacent, yet he offers no credible solutions to address issues that he has raised. Rather more helpfully, the PGCR guidance suggests practical and co-ordinated measures for use by institutions. These measures identify the creation of institutional standards that distinguish between acceptable and unacceptable activity, and that are in turn informed and guided by the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 and other relevant legislation.

This approach is based on the fundamental premise that freedom of inquiry and debate - an essential part of institutional life - flourishes where there is respect for diversity, and not when staff and students are discriminated against on the basis of ethnicity or religious background. It is particularly unhelpful and dangerous to present alleged instances of extremist behaviour as though they are the sole preserve of Muslim people.

Wouldn't it be better to acknowledge that we all have a role to play in combating activity that will harm members of the campus community? Practical ways forward start with constructive dialogue - to this end, the ECU is working with the sector, faith and student groups to establish dialogue groups and develop publications, briefings and updates that will help to disseminate good practice and to supplement the ECU/UUK/GuildHE guidance (2005).

Saheema Rawat
Policy adviser
The Equality Challenge Unit

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