- LSE Council Chair Grabiner Gatecrashes Student-Staff Meeting With Director
The London School of Economics has backtracked on promises to students after a long-awaited meeting with Director Howard Davies, by refusing to publish a statement which acknowledged the Palestinian Right to Education. Despite explicit protests from students that he should not be in attendance, controversial LSE Council Chair, Lord Grabiner of Aldwych, insisted on being present at the meeting and stifled debate over the crucial issue.
On Tuesday 20th November, representatives of LSE students, and members of academic staff, met with representatives of LSE Council to discuss the Director’s opposition to a campus debate on a potential boycott of Israeli academic institutions after a UCU (University and College Union) resolution backed such debate. The meeting was held after students were forced to resort to direct action to obtain a meeting with their Director, who had twice ignored written requests to discuss the issue, signed by over 100 students, staff and alumni.
In the meeting, Lord Grabiner and others rejected the concerns of those seeking an even-handed approach by the School, implying that they were unable to read properly. Meanwhile the School’s Director Howard Davies refused to acknowledge that the provocative statement on the LSE website constituted opposition to debate.
The students also questioned Grabiner, the non-executive Chair of LSE Council, on his remarks in a House of Lords debate on anti-Semitism in which he branded the UCU motion for debate as “poisonous”, warning that “we must be vigilant”. Grabiner had stated that “the Director of the LSE, Sir Howard Davies, promptly rejected the UCU resolution, and that appears clearly and firmly on the front of the [LSE] website.” Many students are infuriated that Grabiner has suggested that those who wish to debate the boycott may in any way be “anti-Semitic” whilst also appearing to abandon the impartiality that the Chair of Council is expected to maintain and undermining the LSE’s commitment to free debate and thought on campus, secured by its own Code of Free Speech.
Students had previously twice protested at the possible presence of Grabiner in the meeting as they feared that his presence would be detrimental to a constructive engagement between students and the School's Governors. So indeed it was.
At the end of the meeting, Grabiner and Davies refused to publish a proposed a joint statement on the LSE website which supported free debate amongst student and academic staff “without intimidation, including on controversial topics such as the proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions.” The proposed statement also included the recognition that “students everywhere have the right to pursue their education, and recognises that where this right is systematically violated, as in Palestine, students and staff at LSE are free to undertake solidarity actions.” Davies claimed that the proposal constituted a “political statement” despite his open support of Israeli academic institutions that are complicit in the occupation of Palestine.
Grabiner and Davies incorrectly argued that the school has never taken a position on Iraq, Afghanistan and South Africa under apartheid and do not wish to oppose Israel’s violations of Palestinian academic freedom. This is false, as previously in its history the School’s divested from companies who were heavily operating in Apartheid South Africa in the 1980’s. After the Tiananmen massacre in 1989 the Academic Board voted for a complete suspension of all academic connections with China. Also, just last year LSE backed Students’ Union “proposals for a socially responsible investment policy” that “met both its financial and humanitarian objectives”.
The School also refused to promote a proposed public debate between opponents and supporters of the proposed boycott of Israeli academic institutions, although this would have been in the School’s tradition of hosting a wide range of speakers with diverse views on controversial subjects.
Davies however has promised that the LSE will actively reach out to donors to secure funds for a scholarship for Palestinian students and provide institutional support in service of this goal. He also stated that the School will consider supporting existing staff initiatives with Birzeit University in Palestine.
Ziyaad Lunat, a spokesperson for the LSE Students’ Union Palestine Society and a Student Member of Court of Governors said: “LSE continues to mislead its students, staff and alumni thereby protecting Israel and ignoring entirely the plight of Palestinians. Davies’ and Grabiner’s statements condemning debate and their unwillingness to rectify such bias is a disgrace to our School, undermining its international credibility for thousands of students and potential donors across the world.”
A member of LSE academic staff said: “Although, given the financial consequences, no university administration can today be expected to adopt policies critical of Israeli violations of the rights of Palestinians, the LSE administration went beyond that to condemn debate among their staff and students concerning appropriate individual moral and non-violent forms of solidarity. Where all Western governments back the oppressor, only individual moral action remains.”
Notes for Editors
1. On 30 May 2007 UCU (University and College Union) passed a resolution at its annual congress calling for a debate within the Union about boycotting Israeli universities. The next day LSE’s Director Howard Davies posted a statement on the LSE website condemning the resolution and by implication a free debate on the issue.
LSE students, staff and alumni wrote a joint letter to LSE Director Howard Davies in response to this statement. The letter, signed by most of the LSE Students Union Executive and more than 100 students, staff, alumni and heads of student societies, expressed concern at the Director's apparent opposition to the free expression of opinion. In two subsequent responses (22 June 2007 and 5 September 2007) Davies refused to meet with representatives of the signatories. He also declined to address or recognise the desperate condition of Palestinian academic institutions, stating that the School “has no corporate position” on this matter.
Over 20 LSE students silently occupied a meeting of LSE's governing body for over 30 minutes in protest at LSE Director Howard Davies refusal to meet representatives of students and academic staff (October 30th). Holding up banners stating “Academic Freedom for All” and “Equal Rights for Palestinians”, the students peacefully entered an LSE Council meeting, the monthly meeting of LSE's 25 directors, bringing it to a halt, and reissued a request for a meeting with Davies to discuss the issue, as well as that a statement be displayed on the LSE website recognising the right to education for Palestinians. After lengthy deliberation, and threatening to ask security to forcibly remove the students, Davies and Council Chair, Mr. Grabiner, reluctantly agreed to attend a meeting and that a statement would be issued that acknowledged Palestinians' right to education.
Contact: Ziyaad Lunat
Mobile: 0781 631 96 22
 UCU resolution 30: http://www.ucu.org.uk/index.cfm?articleid=2555 and PACBI call for boycott: http://www.pacbi.org/campaign_statement.htm
 Hansard, Tuesday 12 Jun 2007, Volume No. 692, Part No. 100 - http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld200607/ldhansrd/text/70612-0012.htm#07061287000030
 Minutes of LSE Council, 30th April 2007
James Caspell and Ziyaad Lunat