Israeli wins compensation but loses bias case

OIA orders Warwick to pay £1,000 but finds no evidence that Smadar Bakovic was marked down unfairly

September 19, 2013

An Israeli student who claimed she was unfairly marked because of “anti-Israel” prejudice should receive an apology and £1,000 in compensation for the way her case was handled, the sector’s complaints watchdog has said.

Smadar Bakovic, 37, who lives in Tel Aviv, was studying for a master’s degree at the University of Warwick’s department of politics and international studies in 2010 when she says she became “uncomfortable” with her tutor, Nicola Pratt.

Ms Bakovic requested that she be allowed to switch supervisors after learning that Dr Pratt, assistant professor in international politics of the Middle East, was among the signatories of a letter to The Guardian, published in January 2009, saying that “Israel must lose” for attacking Gaza.

Her request was initially rejected by the department because it was against university policy – a stance later overturned by an appeals committee at Warwick.

However, after the university failed to apologise for its handling of the complaint, Ms Bakovic took her case to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.

The OIA says in a ruling issued last month that Warwick should apologise for its initial refusal to switch supervisors and pay Ms Bakovic £1,000. But it does not support her claim that she had been unfairly graded by Dr Pratt, despite her mark rising from a pass to a distinction when her revised dissertation was submitted to a different lecturer.

The watchdog says it found no evidence of bias, adding that “it would not be surprising” if a happier supervisory relationship and extra time for revision had “contributed to improvement of the work and the higher mark”.

Ms Bakovic denied that her thesis had been “substantially reworked”, saying that only minimal changes were made. She accused Warwick of a “very English cover-up” that allowed it to deny culpability.

The OIA had not seen the full evidence on the matter because it examines only whether a university has followed its own rules or not, she added.

She said the compensation for the “distress and inconvenience” caused by pursuing the case vindicated her efforts to highlight the widespread anti-Semitism she claimed was apparent in the UK academy.

“Had Dr Pratt written that letter about any other minority, Warwick would have been forced to sack her, but when it comes to Israelis and Jews it is a free-for-all to kick us around,” she said.

A Warwick spokesman said the institution was “pleased to note that the OIA has rejected almost the entirety of the complaint, in particular the allegations of bias”.

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