Postgrad disputes mark in ‘anti-Israel’ row

December 30, 2011

An Israeli postgraduate student is claiming victory on her dissertation regrade after alleging her supervisor had “anti-Israel” prejudices.

A complaint by Smadar Bakovic, 35, who lives near Jerusalem, was upheld by an academic committee at the University of Warwick.

The complaint arose while Ms Bakovic was studying for a masters degree at the university’s department of politics and international studies in 2010.

She says she became uncomfortable with her tutor Nicola Pratt, assistant professor in international politics of the Middle East, after learning she was among the signatories on a January 2009 letter to the Guardian saying that “Israel must lose” following its “assault on Gaza”.

The letter called for a programme of boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.

Ms Bakovic’s request to switch supervisors in April 2010 was rejected by the department because it was against university policy.

In November 2010, Ms Bakovic was awarded a pass for her dissertation – marked by Dr Pratt and counter-marked by a second academic.

Ms Bakovic decided to appeal the decision and requested a regrade, saying Dr Pratt had commented that she had a tendency to “adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as though they were uncontested facts”.

This request was denied by the university, but it later relented and offered Ms Bakovic the opportunity to submit a revised dissertation to a different lecturer.

She has now been awarded a distinction and claims the higher grade is evidence for Dr Pratt’s “anti-Zionist” bias against her.

In an interview with CiFWatch, a blog devoted to “monitoring and combating antisemitism…at the Guardian”, Ms Bakovic said: “I did this for myself, for Israel, for Jews and for all other minorities all over the world who are being discriminated on the basis of where they come from or anything else.”

She added that “there is definitely an atmosphere within UK academia and other fields such that one can be anti-Semitic without paying the consequences”.

Dr Pratt could not be contacted for comment. A University of Warwick spokesman said the narrative painted by Ms Bakovic was “sustainably at variance with the facts”,

He said the complaint about the allocation of her supervisor was fully investigated by the university’s complaints procedure, who found Dr Pratt’s supervision had been “exemplary” and “there was no evidence of unprofessional behaviour”.

Nonetheless, the complaint was upheld because the department’s decision not to allocate a different supervisor showed procedures were “not sufficiently flexible for dealing with exceptional cases”.

The spokesman added there was little difference between Dr Pratt’s mark and the second examiner when the first dissertation was submitted, while the revised dissertation which eventually won a distinction was “significantly reworked” with “substantial changes” made to it.

Update - 30 December

The Quality Assurance Agency has denied reports that it has launched an investigation into the conduct of Nicola Pratt, the Warwick lecturer at the centre of Smadar Bakovic’s complaint.

The QAA was contacted last week by a third party over concerns that Dr Pratt may have breached guidelines over impartiality when marking Ms Bakovic’s dissertation.

Anthony McClaran, chief executive of the QAA, has confirmed he will refer the matter to the organisation’s concerns officer for preliminary consideration when its offices reopen next week.

But no official complaint has yet been made and the QAA will require more details over the allegations before it could proceed with any investigation, he added.

“We have not decided to launch an investigation and clearly are not yet in a position to have reached a view about the alleged concern,” he told Times Higher Education.

“The next stage will be an initial inquiry to establish whether the evidence presented by the complainant supports the concern.

“We would also expect the university’s own complaints processes to have been followed first.”

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