Despite the pioneering role it has played in educating working class and minority students, London Metropolitan University still has a way to go in terms of delivering justice to its own staff
On 7 February, the University suspended research administrator Jawad Botmeh for a 'breach of trust' in relation to his connections to a car bombing of the Israeli Embassy in London in 1994.
Botmeh, along with one other Palestinian, was found guilty of 'conspiracy to cause explosions' and was eventually released from prison in 2008. According to the Independent's Robert Fisk, there was never a question that either of the two actually carried out the bombing and that it was far more likely that they had been set up by an Israeli agent.
The trial itself was marked by 'unahppy prosecution slips' and allegations of interference with the jury. Paul Foot also campaigned on his behalf noting the 'astonishing' errors that marked his case. Botmeh himself protested his innocence from day one.
The University have now also suspended another research administrator, Max Watson (who just happens to be chair of the University's Unison branch) and Professor Steve Jefferys, director of the Working Lives Research Institute, a unit dedicated to causes of social justice, for their involvement in his recruitment to London Met.
The central point, however, is that details of Botmeh's conviction were not hidden from London Met at any time. Botmeh declared his conviction in this original application while Jefferys and Watson also made no secret about his past in relation to his earning a post at the University. They were simply proceeding on the basis that everyone deserves a second chance. As Jefferys puts it, 'If a Research Institute dedicated to the promotion of social justice in a public institution will not give someone like Jawad the chance to work, who else will?’
The lesson seems to be that anyone who has a high profile that does not suit the corporate image of the University is at risk. Botmeh was recently elected as a staff governor while Max Watson has been a leading campaigner against cuts in provision and, more recently, against the University's controversial privatisation plans.
Jefferys has previously supported Watson and recently warned that the University's activities might well lead to 'the largest dispute it's had yet- about social justice, academic freedom and union victimisation.'
London Met has long been a test bed for the experiments in marketisation and managerialism that are engulfing higher education. This latest episode shows that the University appears more interested in disciplining those who best exemplify and are committed to its widening participation remit than in defending the institution from attacks such as those we saw last summer when the UK Border Agency withdrew its licence to teach international students.
The University has kept a low profile over the issue and has simply commented that 'it has a duty of care to all its staff, students and partners.' Suspending staff who have broken no rules is a very strange way of showing this. For those of us who genuinely believe in academic freedom, union rights and social justice, we need to show our solidarity and support the union-backed campaign to defend them.
Email the vice chancellor Malcolm Gillies, , to voice your opposition and also email the governors: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
More information on the London Met Unison website...
Dan is a writer, broadcaster and campaigner. His most recent documentary was The New Scramble For Africa and his documentaries have appeared regularly on the Islam Channel. He is an organiser for Counterfire and a regular contributor to Counterfire site.