The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Steve Smith

Message from the Vice-Chancellor regarding recent events

The Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Steve Smith, has issued a message regarding recent events.

Dear Colleagues,

I am writing to update you on recent events concerning claims about anti-Semitism, about the recent Students’ Guild elections, and about our decision not to allow one event in Israel Apartheid Week to go ahead. I know many of you want to hear what has happened from me rather than in the press or on social media. I trust you find the following clear and helpful.

First, I very much hope you will have seen the statement I made about antisemitism, following recent incidents whereby a swastika was found on a corridor door in a student residence, and a white rights sticker was found in a separate building. The full text, supported by a statement from Toby Gladwin, President of the Students’ Guild, is available on our website.

I would like to take this opportunity to reiterate that the University condemns antisemitism and all other forms of racism or bigotry without reservation. Our investigations into these incidents are continuing. The University has an unwavering commitment to tolerance, respect and inclusivity and incidents of this nature should not, and will not, be tolerated and we must continue to work tirelessly to ensure absolutely everyone feels welcomed, encouraged, supported and embraced, no matter their background, religion or nationality.

Over the past week, you may have seen continuing coverage of recent incidents in the media, and you may have come across some of the student events being organised this week to encourage debate around issues of discrimination and inclusivity. These events will continue this week as part of both nationally and locally organised programmes, for both Israeli Apartheid Week and Israel Peace Week. They are part of the normal discourse in an institution that supports and encourages open debate and promotes and protects freedom of speech.

You may also have seen that we have denied permission for one of the planned student events, whereby a checkpoint would have been erected in the Forum. In keeping with guidance from Universities UK, it is our duty to ensure that if protests take place or events are staged on campus, proper consideration is given to the impact these are likely to have on the staff and students of the University, including ensuring their freedom of movement. Whilst we were not able to allow this particular event to go ahead in this location, there are a number of other events taking place on and off campus this week where free expression and debate can continue in a safe and inclusive environment.

Lastly, you may have seen media coverage concerning the recent Guild elections. Please be assured that we are supporting the Guild and that their code of conduct requires that all students and staff are treated with respect, and forbids discrimination against or harassment of any student.

Upholding the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law is a duty that is absolutely fundamental to the mission and values of the University of Exeter. However, we must ensure that in upholding these values we comply with our other legal obligations. With the Students’ Guild and FXU we work tirelessly to defend freedom of speech and to maintain the rights of our students and academic community to engage freely and openly in debate.

As I have said before, it is our personal and collective duty as a community to ensure any incidents of abuse, no matter how rare, are stamped out immediately. If you experience any form of discrimination, racism or harassment whatsoever, regardless of who it is directed at, then I urge you to report it, or to contact our Dignity and Respect Advisors for advice.

As Vice-Chancellor of the University I pledge to do everything I can to make sure that the University lives up to this commitment. I am sure you will all join me and together we shall continue to ensure that everyone in, or associated with, the University feels safe, supported, accepted and welcomed. This is a University that welcomes anyone, whatever their nationality, faith, ethnicity, gender or sexual orientation. Our actions are all intended to strengthen the bonds of community at the University, so as to do all we can to support our duty to promote freedom of speech within the law. I am very confident that, in difficult, and contested, circumstances, we have succeeded in these goals. We will continue to strive to uphold the values of this University, and I ask all of you to do all you can to support us in this endeavour.

Many thanks for your help and support.

Professor Sir Steve Smith
Vice-Chancellor and Chief Executive
University of Exeter

Date: 27 February 2017

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