Lecturers fear anti-terror laws

Academics instruct students not to download sensitive material. Melanie Newman reports

October 2, 2008

Fear among academics that their teaching and research risks falling foul of anti-terror laws is leading some to include disclaimers in their course materials, according to a senior member of the Higher Education Academy.

Bela Arora, academic co-ordinator for politics at the HEA's Centre for Sociology, Anthropology and Politics (CSAP), organised a workshop on "teaching terrorism" at the University of Strathclyde last month.

"There is a lot of concern and fear among academics teaching and researching this subject; they feel that they are in the spotlight in a negative way," Dr Arora told Times Higher Education. She said the affected disciplines extended from politics through to law and even tourism and hospitality.

The workshop follows a high-profile case at the University of Nottingham, in which a postgraduate student who was studying Islamic terrorism was arrested for possessing a copy of the al-Qaeda handbook, and held for six days before being released without charge.

After the case, Sir Colin Campbell, Nottingham's vice-chancellor at that time, told staff and students that if they accessed terrorist materials they "run the risk of being investigated and prosecuted on terrorism charges". He added that those using material for research "are likely to be able to offer a defence to charges, although they may be held in custody for some time while the matter is investigated".

Dr Arora said: "Some academics have been adding 'disclaimers' to their module guides to highlight the Nottingham case and reiterate that they (students) are not being required to download sensitive material. (Other) academics feel there are so many grey areas they are wondering if they should use disclaimers."

The Strathclyde workshop addressed government counterterrorism initiatives that have "identified the ways in which terrorism is handled in education as a potential area for concern in relation to 'radicalisation'" and have "put pressure on the space for independent study of political violence".

The workshop was the first in a series that will examine the implications of counterterrorist activity for universities.

After the first meeting, the CSAP special interest group on the teaching of terrorism studies was broadened to include disciplines such as law and hospitality studies. Dr Arora said: "There is ongoing doctoral research on the impacts of terrorism on tourism and it is important for the group to work with the wider academic community."

Delegates at the meeting considered employing a researcher to interview academics about how their teaching of terrorism studies had changed over recent years.


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