August 17, 2001

Bath ad sparks race row

Bath University could be in trouble with the Commission for Racial Equality for including discriminatory conditions in an advertisement for a job vacancy.

The CRE confirmed this week that Bath's advertisement for a teaching fellowship vacancy, which specified that the post was open only to a "native English speaker", could be in breach of the Race Relations Act. CRE lawyer Odette Raj Kumar told The THES that she had written to Bath to ask for an explanation and to further examine the job specifications before deciding what action to take.

She confirmed that the CRE had received several complaints but would not comment until she had heard from the university.

The vacancy, which appeared in The THES and elsewhere, is for a teaching fellow in the university's department of European studies and modern languages. The ad's call for a "native English speaker", which the CRE said suggested that English nationality was a prerequisite, was thought to be discriminatory.

Bath's deputy director of personnel, Malcolm Crighton, said he had been in correspondence with the CRE and had explained the job requirements. He said the term "native speaker" is generally recognised in the language community as describing language competence rather than race or nationality. Vacancies at other universities have been advertised with similar wording, often referring to a "native or near-native speaker".

The 1976 Race Relations Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against anyone on grounds of race, colour, nationality, citizenship or ethnic or national origin. Under section 29, it is unlawful to "publish or to cause to be published an advertisement which indicates, or might reasonably be understood as indicating, an intention by a person to do an act of discrimination".

Cambridge backs off electronic snooping rules

Cambridge University has agreed to review controversial guidelines that would have given university managers wide-ranging powers to "snoop" on staff emails and listen in on phone calls after an outcry from staff.

Guidelines issued earlier this year by the university's personnel department and computing division, detailing policy on the acceptable use of computer facilities, also included provision for accessing staff emails and telephone calls at the request of "the institution".

The "guidelines", which in some cases were clearly compulsory requirements, said: "the university reserves the right to listen to or have access to read any communication made or received by a member of staff using its computers or telephone system without notice". Managers simply had to decide that it was "necessary" to gain access to information, and departmental heads were allowed to "supplement" the rule.

Staff petitioned for an emergency Senate House discussion last month to discuss concerns about the threat to privacy and academic freedom. Numerous staff condemned the moves during the debate.

The chairman of the personnel committee, Peter Lipton, said the guidance was introduced because some staff were using the computer system to "send large numbers of personal emails, to access the internet for long periods during working time for personal use, to download pornographic material, and to download other material which, while otherwise unexceptionable, imposes an unreasonable financial cost to the university".

Professor Lipton said the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 gives companies and universities powers to intercept communications. But he accepted that the guidelines "have caused concerns" and that they "need revision and clarification".

He said they would be revised "to make it clear that there is no intention to permit those who manage the university's facilities to intrude capriciously upon individuals' privacy nor routinely monitor email and internet traffic".

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