November 21, 2004

Open letter to Simon Lucas

Writing about web page /rlewis/entry/the_big_bad/

Well, as people seem to be posting their correspondences here with regard to this subject, I thought I'd post mine.

"From: Arts Faculty Councillor 6 Sent: Fri 19/11/2004 17:26
To: Simon Lucas – President
Cc:
Subject: "Israeli Apartheid" debate

Dear Simon,

I was concerned to hear today that the Union has stepped in to prevent the debate on "Israeli Apartheid" scheduled for next Wednesday from going ahead. There are several ascpects to this decision which I find troubling given the Union's status as a democratic institution.

1.) Why was this decision taken in such a way that no one knew about it until afterwards? This debate was scheduled before the last Council meeting as, if you look at the minutes, you will see a reference to it in questions to officers. Why, therefore, was it left until the week before the debate was due to take place at a meeting no one knew about? As a consequence of this, there is no opportunity for a democratic body to scruitinise the decision before next term unless a motion were to be accepted at the next Council meeting as emergency business. Such an action has the unmistakable feel of cowardice.

2.) I cannot see any reason for the suppression of this debate. Leaving aside the fact that this is a university and is therefore meant to be a place where such issues can be discussed without fear of a few people deciding to shut the meeting down, I cannot see any part of Union policy which gives Sabbatical Officers or the Executive the power to stop a non-banned organisation from having a meeting unless that activity is illegal. It is the prerogative of democratic bodies and not of Union officers to ban organisations which, it would appear, is the de facto upshot of your actions in this case.

3.) It makes a mockery of our "no-platform" policy if it is expanded to cover events and groups it was not originally designed to target. To the extent of my knowledge, the group in question is not designated by the Union as a 'racist or Fascist group,' and attempts to put them on the same level as the likes of the BNP, Combat 18, and the National Front, are not only a deep insult to those who are concerned about the treatment of the Palestinians, but also make our attempts to deal with genuine racists that much more difficult.

Could you please tell me the circumstances in which this decision was made, and from what policy, regulation, or Constitutional Appendix you derived the authority to make it? Could you also please tell me why this meeting was not publicised beforehand so that people who were concerned on either side could come and make representations? The lack of this last makes it difficult for any officer to profess the democratic character of the Union when small groups of individuals can make such contentious decisions with such ease and in such secrecy.

I hope to hear back from you soon.

Luke."

To this, I received an automated response:

"From: Simon Lucas – President Sent: Fri 19/11/2004 20:24
To: Arts Faculty Councillor 6
Cc:
Subject: RE: "Israeli Apartheid" debate

Dear member,

The Students’ Union have asked the Friends of Palestine Society to postpone their event until security and safety criteria have been met. We seek to ensure that all events run by any part of the Students’ Union are safe for our members to attend and participate in.

The Students’ Union regrets that it is unable to reply individually to all emails and phone calls on this matter. We will inform our membership of any further developments through our website: www.sunion.warwick.ac.uk"

The Union seems to have shot itself in the foot here, as, by simply resorting to the same auto-response to every e-mail, they a.) do not respond to all the points raise, and b.) make it seem as though it it not for us to question the enlightened decisions of Union officers. My major worry here is the way in which this was done; this debate was scheduled weeks ago, yet it was only stopped less than a week before it was due to happen and after anything could actually be done to scrutinise the decision. If you want to ask questions in person, Union Council is meeting on Thursday at 7pm in S0.21 (Social Studies). Everyone is welcome to come along and to ask questions about this decision and any other concern you may have.


- 3 comments by 1 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Of course, the reason the Sabbs are auto-responding to all the emails could be because they suffered from a veritable deluge of email, which to wade through would require a grossly unreasonable / inhuman amount of time.

    Perhaps they could have constructed a lengthier auto-reply, addressing commonly raised issues, or even two or three different responses, according to the nature of the objections, but ultimately to expect an individual response to every email of objection is unreasonable, especially seeing as the event organisers have highlighted the proposed ban on national forums (such as indymedia), presumably adding to the email deluge.

    21 Nov 2004, 20:06

  2. Or perhaps they could actually have told us who intervened here (ie. which body), when, and why this could not have been resolved before, considering that the debate had been scheduled for a while. After all, they can't pretend that they didn't know that doing this was going to create a shitstorm.

    21 Nov 2004, 20:19

  3. "Or perhaps they could have actually told us…." – surely this comes under what I was saying, where I said "Perhaps they could have constructed a lenghtier auto-reply, addressing commonly raised issues."

    Ultimately, the debate is still going ahead, under lecturer control, and I can guarantee that the decision to intervene will be scrutinised at length this Thursday. I don't think bombarding the Sabbs with emails is going to change either of these two facts, nor will it get your a more timely response. Yes, perhaps a more timely response would be ideal, but given that, no doubt, many people are asking them exactly the same question by email, it makes more sense to me that they are answered in a public forum, rather than have the Sabbs spending their time replying to dozens of emails, answering the same questions repeatedly, only for them to be asked in Council regardless.

    As to your second point, more notification would have been good, but it would be very hard to specify in Union policy the length of notice Sabbs have to give prior to an event if they intend to cancel it, given that the nature of events can change, and the varying timeframes that societies use to organise / publicise events. If there was a rule that Sabbs could only ban a meeting x weeks prior to it taking place, then societies would wait until that cutoff point had passed before publicising events that had been planning, or maybe even announcing new, more radical speakers. There's no easy or fair way of defining what 'reasonable notice' is, and ultimately it will have to remain a highly subjective one.

    22 Nov 2004, 00:02


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