Umist finding may gag academics, lobby fears

February 7, 2003

University whistleblowing will become impossible if the recommendations of the inquiry into Mona Baker's boycott of Israeli colleagues are implemented, says the Council for Academic Freedom and Academic Standards.

Colwyn Williamson, a founding member of Cafas and a philosopher at Swansea University, said the report by the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology raised serious concerns for academics who needed to speak out.

He said: "There should never have been an inquiry in the first place. Mona Baker didn't take action as an employee of Umist and the report accepts this."

Professor Baker, a professor of translation studies, was the subject of an inquiry after she sacked, as part of a boycott against Israel, two Israeli university academics from the boards of the journals she published.

The inquiry, led by Peter Norbury, senior partner in employment law at Eversheds, found that Professor Baker had not acted improperly. But the inquiry report recommends that Umist statutes and its charter be changed to protect against "the future possibility that the university might be brought into disrepute".

Mr Williamson said: "Suggesting that she brought the institution into disrepute is dangerous. The university could use this legislation to crush whistleblowers."

The report says: "The journals are associated with Umist by virtue of the position Professor Baker holds within the university." It says she acted without thinking of Umist's reputation.

According to the report, not all opinions voiced by academics can be defended as expressions of academic freedom, especially when they have nothing to do with the individual's academic position.

Professor Baker refused two opportunities to give evidence to the inquiry despite assurances from the university that it was not a disciplinary procedure. But she is taking part in ongoing talks with senior Umist staff.

A Umist spokesperson said Professor Baker had agreed to follow Umist policy while undertaking her duties at the university.

Professor Baker said her publishing company remained her own business and her boycott remained in place.

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