Lecturers to act on campus racist lobby

May 2, 2003

Lecturers' union leaders are threatening legal action against university managers who fail to crack down on racist activities.

As tensions grew over campus-based campaigning by the British National Party ahead of Thursday's council elections, lecturers' union Natfhe said that race relations laws could be used against universities that do not proactively tackle racism.

Tom Wilson, head of universities at Natfhe, said: "Universities seem to be failing to deal with racist campaigning, which we believe is unlawful. We will certainly consider a legal challenge."

The 2000 Race Relations Amendment Act (RRAA), which came into force in April 2001, imposes a legally enforceable obligation on public bodies to promote "equality of opportunity and good race relations".

Natfhe said that a failure to clamp down on campaigning activity by racist groups such as the BNP could be a breach of the law, and the union was considering a test case.

"We think it would be unlawful to allow any BNP activity on campus," Mr Wilson said.

Natfhe tells its members in a circular this week that the BNP "is fielding many candidates in the May council elections and becoming more active on campus. Higher education institutions must take action, to comply with the RRAA against students actively supporting the BNP or acting in any racist way".

Mr Wilson said that Natfhe members were particularly concerned at the University of Greenwich, where there has been a number of reported race-related incidents. Racist graffiti has previously appeared on the university's Stephen Lawrence building, named in memory of the black teenager murdered ten years ago in near-by Eltham.

Last week, one Greenwich lecturer called in police when she discovered that her details were published on a far-right website, Redwatch, which advises users to "remember traitors' faces, they'll all pay for their crimes".

It is understood that the appearance of her name on the website followed an incident in which a student was alleged to have entered her office and torn an Anti-Nazi League poster off the wall.

A retired Greenwich lecturer is also on the website, described as a Marxist and "unwashed scum".

Mr Wilson said: "At Greenwich the local branch is pretty exercised at what they see as the university's inability to deal with a growing problem, even under their standard disciplinary code, or their procedures for student harassment or misbehaviour."

A spokeswoman for Greenwich said it had not heard anything about Natfhe considering legal action against it, but was nevertheless confident that it had complied with legal requirements.

She added that the university had adopted a race equality action plan and was involved in a two-year project with the Equality Challenge Unit to promote best practice in race equality.

"We have very robust and clear procedures for dealing with any cases of harassment and grievances, which include disciplinary measures up to and including expulsion."

No student could be expelled purely on the grounds of their political beliefs, no matter how unpalatable to some, she said.

She said the university had agreed additional safety measures to protect the member of staff named on the website. The lecturer's phone calls have been diverted to a switchboard and all visitors must be accompanied by security. The university had also helped her to compile a report for the police.

The BNP fielded a record 221 candidates in local elections this week.

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