EISA Governing Board Statement on Academic Freedom Concerns at University of Glasgow

29. 10. 2021

The European International Studies Association (EISA) is concerned about the violations of Academic Freedom at the University of Glasgow against Dr Somdeep Sen, Associate Professor of International Development Studies at Roskilde University. We stand in solidarity with the British Society for Middle Eastern Studies (BRISMES) who have written to the University of Glasgow about this case.

The EISA is a leading academic organisation for the study of International Relations and Global Politics with members around the world. As a professional association committed to diverse scholarly debate, we fear that the breach of academic freedom in this case demonstrates the silencing effect of the IHRA definition of antisemitism and the risk of self-censorship on the part of individual scholars and students working on Palestinian rights and anti-racism.

After accepting an invitation to discuss his book, Decolonizing Palestine: Hamas between Anticolonial and the Postcolonial (Cornell University Press, 2020), the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Glasgow asked Dr Sen to ‘provide some information about the content’ of his talk following a complaint by the University of Glasgow Jewish Student Society.  It was disclosed that such requests are not usually asked of seminar speakers and there was no evidence that Dr. Sen violated the University of Glasgow’s ‘Protocol for Managing Speakers and Events’.

The University’s request that Dr Sen submit content in advance of his talk is a breach of academic freedom. We share the concern of BRISMES that such a request could even be interpreted as a violation carried out along racial lines. Moreover, we understand that Dr David Duncan, the University’s Chief Operating Officer has cited the IHRA definition on anti-Semitism, despite the fact that it is has no legal status and has been widely criticised by legal experts and scholars of anti-Semitism. The EISA has previously criticised for the chilling effect it has on public debate and research. Further, defamatory comments against an esteemed colleague in the field and the apparent failure of the University of Glasgow to investigate these unfounded and accusatory claims are deeply concerning.

Dr Sen has demanded an apology from the University of Glasgow for the characterisation of his work as anti-Semitic and the unfounded and unevidenced claim that his work poses a threat to Jewish students.  The BRISMES letter to Professor Sir Anton Muscatelli, Principal, University of Glasgow has also asked that ‘all official communications regarding his talk be made public in order to ensure that there is full transparency on what occurred in order to ensure that the proper lessons are learned from this case.’ The EISA supports these steps and urges the University of Glasgow to reassert its commitment to academic freedom.