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Freedom still reigns

I was interested in your article "The Nottingham Two and the War on Terror: which of us will be next?" (5 June) but surprised by the interpretation of events that was offered.

Inevitably, any arrests of individuals on campus stimulate conjecture and speculation. For that reason, I authorised release of factually accurate statements of relevant events to the entire university community (including to the authors of the article) on 27 May and 3 June.

The second statement provided as full an account of events as was possible, given that some matters were (and still are) subject to legal process. Your readers can access the full statement entitled "Arrests on Campus" at https://my.nottingham.ac.uk/

No amount of scenario analysis of what might have been, aimed at reinterpreting events as an "academic freedom" issue (for whatever reason) can alter what actually happened. The incident was triggered by the discovery of an al-Qaeda training manual on the computer of an individual who was neither an academic member of staff nor a student and in a school where one would not expect to find such material being used for research purposes. We became concerned. The university had to make a risk assessment - no panic, no hysteria, just a straightforward risk assessment. Our responsibility to university students and staff, and our public duty to the wider community, led us to the conclusion that there needed to be an investigation. So our concerns were conveyed to the police as the appropriate body to investigate (no judgment was made by us). The matter has now been properly investigated and outstanding issues are before the courts of the land.

Much has been said on the matter of academic freedom. The University of Nottingham has always fully embraced this principle and continues to do so. Claims to the contrary in the Nottingham Two article are freely expressed and unconstrained. But they are careless, entirely false and bear little relation to the facts.

Sir Colin Campbell, Vice-chancellor, University of Nottingham.

Readers' comments (2)

  • Whilst Colin Campbell claims to have a direct line to all "factually accurate statements" in this case and accuses the three acadmics of lying - at least that is my interpretation of "entirely false and bear littel relation to the facts". Having read the article, I am little puzzled as to what it is they have written that is false. It seems to be an opinion piece, not a description of events. Can Colin Campbell actually provide some evidence for his accusations?

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  • Sir Colin Campbell's claim that the arrests of the 'Nottingham Two' is not a matter of academic freedom (letters, 19 June 2008) is not acceptable. Campbell essentially admits the charges laid at his door by three of his own academics - that Nottingham's 'risk assessment' mentality led to two innocent people being wrongfully arrested and detained without anyone bothering to ask the tutors of the student concerned whether the possession of an Al Qaeda training manual
    (freely available online and in many bookstores) was legitimate for someone studying terrorism.

    His tutors are, in fact, of the opinion that it was entirely legitimate, but according to a police notice issued to Rizwaan Sabir on his release on 20 May, 'The University authorities have now made clear that possession of this material is not required for the purpose of your course of study nor do they consider it legitimate for you to possess it for research purposes'. Nottingham academics are still awaiting clarification as to what the University actually told the police, and under whose authority. They are also seeking clarification about concerns that police 'stop and search' powers were used illegally on campus. The police note threatened the possibility of 'arrest and further detention' if Mr Sabir looked at such material again. If it stands, can one imagine a clearer blow against the academic freedom of Mr Sabir, his fellow students, and anyone who wishes to conduct research on controversial subjects free from harassment and intimidation?

    It is for these reasons that I and 34 fellow research students from the Universities of Oxford, London, Manchester, Westminster, and Kent, and the LSE, have written to Sir Colin Campbell to express our profound alarm at the way the 'Nottingham Two' have been mistreated by his administration and calling on him to give them support and to work with his own academics to ensure academic freedom is protected in the future.

    Remarks by Lord Carlile, the government's reviewer of terrorism legislation, that he would seek to restrict the online availability of terror-related material, raise the spectre of further limitations on academic freedom. Especially in the current political climate, this material must be subject to the most rigorous, critical academic scrutiny, not driven underground or glamourised by irrational and illiberal knee-jerk reactions.

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