Today, 1 April 2016 (this is no April fools) marks a key date in terms of institutionalising toxic policies regarding the Prevent duty at universities around the UK.
The 1 April 2016 marks an important date for the future of the university and the wellbeing of its staff and students. How many people knew that by this date all universities must report to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) on how they will comply with the Prevent duty introduced by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015? The Act places universities under a duty to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism’. In practice this ‘duty’ means that individuals working within universities must report individuals they suspect of being ‘potential terrorists’ to external bodies for ‘de-radicalisation’. At a time of growing Islamophobia in the UK Muslim students and staff members will be disproportionately affected by policies designed to monitor, survey and control the ideas and activities of students and staff members and potentially criminalises any ‘disobedient’ practices on campus.
Thus, the April deadline is a key benchmark in the institutionalisation of toxic policies within the higher education sector under the counter-terrorism banner. What is striking so far is the difference in handling, and the extent to which those affected by the legislation have been made aware of, let alone been involved in, these processes. Just to name a few examples: The University of Oxford has established a Prevent duty steering group which they claim comprises members from the academic staff, the administration, and the Conference of Colleges. While Oxford attests it has not yet taken any detailed decisions about the implementation of the Prevent duty, concerns related to students are already to be referred to the Director of Welfare Support Services.1http://www.ox.ac.uk/staff/working_at_oxford/policies_procedures/prevent-duty; http://www.ox.ac.uk/staff/working_at_oxford/policies_procedures/prevent-duty/key-contacts
At Warwick, there was an initial attempt to implement Prevent at the university through a closed process which was largely restricted to senior management. Last month staff managed to pass a motion at an ‘extraordinary assembly’. It essentially challenged the closed process and made a call to ensure that the university did ‘no more than the absolute minimum’ to satisfy the requirements of Prevent, dismissing the legislation for its disproportionate and discriminatory targeting of Muslim and black and minority ethnic staff and students.2http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/warwick-university-staff-praised-by-students-for-condemning-government-s-green-paper-and-prevent-a6926116.html Elsewhere, in some institutions such as Birkbeck College, the University of Liverpool, and the University of Kent it appears that the management’s tactics of stealth and secrecy regarding compliance with Prevent has thus far curtailed any debate and opportunity for resistance.
These practices are indicative of the challenges we face in resisting Prevent. The responses having a depoliticising effect, leading to a failure to engage with wider debates around this issue beyond our singular institutions. More worrying, as is evident from the examples, in many instances those most impacted by the law—namely students and staff—have largely been excluded from any debate on the issue. None of this is surprising in the age of the co-opted, neoliberal university. It is, however, a shocking testimony as to how easily co-optable universities have become in the institutionalisation of Prevent and the Islamophobia inherent in it.
Prevent is not a bad April fools day joke, but a highly problematic law that we must resist. In this regard, Turkey’s recent criminalisation of a group of academics called ‘Academics for Peace’ who signed a petition for peace is highly indicative of what legislation such as Prevent may legitimise here in the future. The Turkish Prosecutors Office launched an investigation over possible charges against academics for insulting the state and engaging in terrorist propaganda. While several signatories to this petition have been dismissed from their work, suspended, put under administrative and criminal investigation, and subjected to smear campaigns and physical threats, three academics are currently in jail being charged under counter-terrorism legislation.
Our current situation, therefore, not only raises crucial questions regarding the repercussions of engaging with the Prevent duty itself, but also questions about academic freedom, critical thinking, democracy, political activism, discrimination and the wider political transformations taking place within the higher education sector and, importantly, the role played by the institutions themselves in this process.
We therefore oppose the secretive methods that have been applied by many universities in their attempt to force through compliance with Prevent. We believe that there must be immediate transparency regarding what universities have done to meet the April 1st deadline and any future plans that they have to implement Prevent on our campuses. This is not about being co-opted into a technocratic and depoliticised consultation process but about claiming space to voice and build resistance to this law across the country. The need to resist the institutionalisation of Prevent has never been more urgent.
Written by educators and students not informants and suspects.