Academia,  Israel

Israeli student’s complaint against Warwick University partially upheld

Back in 2011 the case of Smadar Bakovic received some coverage here and elsewhere.  To recap, she was studying at the University of Warwick and felt that the dissertation supervisor she had been assigned, a supporter of BDS and critic of Israel, might not be the best choice for an Israeli student.  She raised concerns about this issue, but these did not seem to be attended to.  She ended up with a grade which was comparatively disappointing in relation to her performance on the course as a whole.  The dissertation was originally blind double marked.  Smadar appealed and was allowed the chance to revise the piece and have it re-evaluated.  This resulted in a substantially better mark.

It’s extremely difficult to comment on matters of academic judgement, and impossible to be sure how far the improved mark reflected changes to the piece, or some degree of bias (perhaps unconscious) when it was first assessed.  Although the former possibility seems less dramatic, it’s actually still significant, as it would suggest that the student may have been hampered from fulfilling her potential because she felt uneasy about her relationship with her supervisor.  This unease (whatever one might think about the supervisor’s politics) would be perfectly compatible with the supervisor doing her best to give helpful guidance.  I didn’t sign this petition – I didn’t feel there were sufficient grounds – it would have been more concerning if the supervisor had refused to supervise an Israeli student, as has happened in the past.

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator has now ruled that Smadar Bakovic’s complaint against Warwick University is partly justified, and advised that the University offer her £1000 in compensation, together with an apology.

Section 3, note 14, notes a comment from the first marker which could be seen to indicate bias. It noted her reference to the fact that minorities in Arab countries do not have equal citizenship rights as evidence of her  “tendency … to adopt Israeli/Zionist narratives as though they were uncontested facts.”  The adjudication did not feel there was sufficient evidence to confirm this allegation.

It’s difficult to fully evaluate the comment out of context. It seems reasonable to note that an academic essay should take different perspectives into account, but both the accuracy and tone of the comment seem questionable.

There were aspects of this case which were outside the Adjudicator’s remit – commenting on the conduct of an individual staff member for example, or the accuracy of marks.  But it did conclude that the student would have been caused stress and inconvenience by the process of pursuing a complaint and endorses the University’s own Complaints Committee’s conclusion that the department could have been more flexible in the way it dealt with Smadar Bakovic’s understandable request for a different supervisor.  Overall it seems a judicious ruling, given the limitations of its brief.

It will be very interesting to see how Moty Cristal fares in his legal case against Manchester Mental Health Trust.