Well I've spent a good couple of hour googling and I simply can't find it anywhere. I've typed in 'University of Salford' and the word 'Xenophobia'... nothing. Putting together the words 'sexual', 'attack' and University of Salford brought no luck either. I even waded through the ratcatchersofthesewers postings courtesy of the University's lawyers Heatons and interpret as I may, I could find no posting that could be remotely described as 'Xenophobic' or an 'attack' of a 'sexual' nature in any shape or form whatsoever. I have therefore come to one simple and inexorable conclusion - they don't exist. I would add that I'm happy to be proved wrong. If Professor Hall would like to send me the hyperlinks demonstrating clear examples of the "postings" that "are peppered with defamatory attacks on individuals which may be xenophobic , sexual or just downright nasty" I shall feature them so we can all judge for ourselves. I can't say fairer than that can I?
A Literary Device or merely pandering to the lazer lobby?
Yet despite the lack of real detail (ie. the names of the "disaffected individuals with personal grievances") his recent posting regarding "cyber-bullying" seems to have sparked some debate which we'd like to continue. Although a little sensationalist in its overall tone, and putting to one side the rather unsophisticated references to Star Wars or half a Pink Floyd album, it is clear that he's a little worked up over something. At this juncture, this writer would hazard extreme caution as we must be careful of seeing a potential cyber-bully around every corner. Along this road lies the very real possibility of imbuing within the wider public a collective neurosis that may ultimately only be satisfied by the arming of each citizen with a toy light sabre.
Now any form of bullying is wrong. However, shouldn't we adopt a more cautious approach to phraseology as I'm of the opinion that the use of terms such as 'cyber-harassment', 'cyber-bullies' and the 'dark side' are little more than literary mechanisms, and in this context are heavily value-laden. Hall's postings on these matters undoubtedly contain more than a hint of a good old fashioned moral panic. Moreover, it would be silly to state that by using the internet as a medium to elevate issues that question institutional practices (in a public body), corporate policies (in a public body), delve into issues concerning appointments (in a public body), adherence to statutory obligations as well as looking into issues concerning bullying and harassment (in a public body), should itself equate to bullying or harassment or indeed to "criminal harassment". The problem that I have with the thrust of this posting on his blog is that I've been here before.
Myths, misinformation and "toxic shards"
I note from the Vice Chancellor's posting that he argues that "...accepted rights of freedom of speech come with the duty to behave responsibly. This is in our own University Charter. Acting irresponsibility – through defamation or deliberate misinformation – qualifies the right to freedom of expression. This is recognised in law through, for example, legislation against hate speech."
During my suspension in 2009, the Vice Chancellor Michael Harloe and the University thought it wise to release internal and external press releases that I had produced a series of 'posters' that 'viciously' attacked a female student. They also thought it pertinent to mention the fact that she was from 'an ethnic minority'. At the time it was not clear why the UoS would seek to raise the issue of this student/member of staff's ethnicity with regard to the newsletters. Anyone who had read the satirical Vice Consul's Newsletters (apparently many of you did) would be very hard-pressed to detect a neutron of racism within them. Neither did they mention Ms Li's ethnicity. Oddly enough, I didn't consider myself a racist. I still don't. I opposed the BNP's Tony Wentworth when he studied and tried to recruit students at UoS. I cut my teeth in anti fascist work in Oldham and Burnley at the height of the riots, trudging streets leafleting every weekend. I even lectured at UoS to politics masters students on anti-fascism and the growth of the Far Right in the UK. I was (am) an active member of Unite Against Fascism and coincidentally, I'd spent the two weekends prior to my suspension leafleting against the BNP in an area adjacent to the University of Salford where they were standing in the local elections.
|A particularly nasty shard|
Anger from below and the "moderation" of a Registrar
Rather ironically I taught solely international students. On hearing of my suspension, on their own initiative, the students drew up a petition in my support comprehensively rejecting the insinuation that I was racist. This was handed to the Head of the School of Languages one Dr Paul Rowlett. The University clearly had to respond to the anger of these students who believed I was being portrayed by the University as attacking a female student (no mention was made that this female student was also a member of staff) on the basis of her ethnicity. A statement was put together by management (see below).(1) However prior to this statement being sent to students, it was altered to include a further section that appeared to heavily underscore the issue of the woman's ethnicity (see below).(2)
Before I go any further I wish to avoid any accusation from Professor Hall of producing a "toxic shard" or of abusing individuals within the University. I shall deal therefore with specific evidence supplied to me by the University.
Things became a great deal clearer several months later after I'd received a large box of documents under a SAR*. Buried within the vast amount of documentation was an email. It was from the Registrar Dr Adrian Graves addressed to Executive Director of HR Keith Watkinson, the then Dean of Faculty (now Pro-Vice Chancellor) Brian Longhurst and my own Head of School Dr Paul Rowlett. It was sent with regard to the amending of a statement that was to be sent to the students I taught, many of whom had organised the petition. In his email of 21st May 2009, Dr Graves stated:
"This is and [sic] orchestrated event and the soto voce way forward you have adopted is appropriate. I was tempted to suggest as part of your briefing you might slip in the fact that the allegations include the harassment of a female student of Chinese ethnic origin - but I guess that would be departing from the moderation you are proposing..."(3)
The amended statement was emailed to my students within the International Foundation Year.
The result of this particular "toxic shard"
I assert that the coupling of the issue of the woman's ethnicity to the Vice Consul's Newletters by the University had very real consequences particularly the press releases sent by the University to the press. I was on one occasion subjected to abuse in the street in Manchester being referred to by one chap as a racist as I exited a restaurant with my partner and a friend. Although upsetting, I'm reasonably thick-skinned and I can quite take care of myself. What I found more upsetting was that my youngest son was also subjected to abuse and threats from a group of young people who knew both of us, threatening to come to our home and in their terms, 'kick the shit' out of me. Never one to back away from threats of violence or intimidation, I told him to mention to them that I would at their convenience, be happy to welcome any representations from their feet in order to put matters straight one way or another.
Your views count
Clearly, Vice Chancellor Hall has strong views on the issue of misinformation, "toxic shards" and the role information technology plays in their dissemination. I have two questions for him:
- Can he explain why the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Registrar Dr Graves would so casually seek to introduce an issue of a student's/member of staff's ethnicity where none existed?
- Does he feel that this is the best use of the University's IT systems by senior managers?
If Vice Chancellor Hall would like to exercise his right to freedom of speech, I'm delighted to provide a forum on this website so that he may take the opportunity to comment on the above issues. Alternatively, he can contact me directly at email@example.com
* Subject Access Request under provisions of the Data Protection Act made November 2009
(1) "Dear IFY student. You may be aware that Mr Gary Duke has been suspended from his post at the University. A number of you have in fact signed a petition in support of Gary, which I have forwarded to relevant senior managers within the University. I am sure that you will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the details of Gary's suspension; however, I can assure you that the University is dealing with the situation in an appropriate way through legal processes to ensure that Gary's rights are protected appropriately..." sent to A Barakat and D Lloyd 21 May 2009 timed 19:54 subject 'Email message for IFY students following the sociology and international studies modules'
(2) ""Dear IFY student. You may be aware that Mr Gary Duke has been suspended from his post at the University. A number of you have in fact signed a petition in support of Gary, which I have forwarded to relevant senior managers within the University. The situation is that there has recently been a series of posters appearing in the Salford Business School, but also elsewhere across the campus, that viciously attack a female student of an ethnic minority and a head of school. The content of these posters is sexist, deeply offensive and defamatory. Mr Duke has been suspended owing to allegations that he is responsible for the production and dissemination of these posters. I am sure that you will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for me to comment on the details of Gary's suspension; however, I can assure you that the University is dealing with the situation in an appopriate way through legal processes to ensure that Gary's rights are protected appropriately..." sent via University email system to IFY students 22nd May 2009
(3) Portion of an email from Dr A Graves to K Watkinson, B Longhurst, P Rowlett, 21 May 2009 timed 17:47