Watchdog wants BNP to be denied right to teach

November 27, 2008

Members of the British National Party (BNP) working in universities should not be allowed direct contact with students, the higher education equality watchdog has said.

Several higher education staff were among BNP members whose details were recently leaked on the internet.

Nicola Dandridge, chief executive of the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), said this week that while "primacy of freedom of speech is fundamental", universities had legal obligations to promote good race relations on campus. "It is hard to see how institutions can reconcile their duty to promote good race relations with staff being members of the BNP. Institutions may therefore consider that it is inappropriate for BNP members to have teaching and/or pastoral care responsibilities, or other direct contact with students," she said.

Academics named as members of the far-Right party included Arthur Nightingale, head experimental design engineer at the University of Cambridge's Centre for Industrial Photonics. The university said staff political affiliations were "a matter for them" as long as they did not affect the workplace, so no action would be taken.

Strathclyde University, whose estates manager William MacLachlan appeared on the list, said that political beliefs were "a personal matter" but it would consider its position if "such beliefs should impinge on a staff member's professional activity".

Dennis Hayes, founder of Academics for Academic Freedom and head of the Centre for Professional Learning at Canterbury Christ Church University, said the ECU recommendation was "an improper restriction of a democratic right ... and a new stage in the attack on academic freedom. These people have not said or done anything - they are being punished for existing."

Dr Hayes said discrimination should be tackled as it occurred.

Les Ebdon, vice-chancellor of the University of Bedfordshire, said: "It's the views rather than the party membership that's crucial. If somebody espouses openly racist views it's difficult to see how they can be in a lecturing position in a university where they may have students from a whole variety of ethnic groups."

melanie.newman@tsleducation.com.

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