The academic train wreck at the University of Bath

AC1It is time to admit that there is something very rotten in our universities. The growth of intolerant, self-righteous, elitist movements that are willing to have their vision imposed and all dissent silenced through the existence of ‘on campus bullying’. For someone who is not ‘of the same mind’ as the ruling class on campus, a university becomes a difficult, if not scary place to be. In effect some universities have simply become places of extremism, intimidation and indoctrination. True ‘free thought’ is no longer welcome or acceptable.

What makes it more serious, is that this intellectual thuggery has placed itself behind a protecting, yet false veneer of ‘academic freedom’. Whenever I interact with Heads of Departments, all academics themselves, they see any attack, in any way, on any principle, as an attack on what they refer to as ‘academic freedom’. This in turn sets off the ‘campus dogs’, who without restraint attack all and any critics.

In preparing this article I searched through emails from scores of academic institutions, and did not find a single one, anywhere, from any university, that did not reference ‘academic freedom’ somewhere in the response, regardless of the issue I had raised. ‘Academic freedom’ is an all-purpose disclaimer, a way to forgive any behaviour, yet as these people disregard the very notion of what constitutes academia, true ‘academic freedom’ is the very thing being dismantled under their watch.

The rise of soft science, social science, may be an inevitable consequence of the university responding to market forces, but it creates a shift from a university environment that seeks to investigate and then understand, to one that believes it already ‘knows’ and wishes to provide itself with legitimacy. As more and more political activists engage academia for the primary purpose of providing legitimacy for ‘the cause’, the university campus becomes the academic version of a police state.

Nothing highlights this better than the rise of anti-Zionism on campus and the forced silencing of the pro-Zionist voice. In this ‘new world’, academic rules, academic ethics, become an obstacle to be overcome, a problem that gets in the way of the activist’s goal of being able to show just how right they are. Academic freedom to these activists is a one-way street, like the fascist who wishes to speak freely but denies that same freedom to others. The heckler’s veto is not an exercise in freedom of speech because its intent is not to have the hecklers’ voice heard, but rather to stop someone else being able to have a voice, just like the BDS strategy against Zionism. This is the world of self appointed, self-righteous, absolutism.

The most recent episode occurred in the last few days, and relates to a PhD student at the University of Bath. Hilary Aked is an activist who for years has promoted her cause, regularly writing pieces either against British Zionist groups or attacking Islamophobia. Even when still studying for an MSc at SOAS in 2009, Aked referenced the Palestinian cause in a campaign letter. Some of her greatest personal achievements have come when she can connect her two pet causes together. Hilary’s profile on her Twitter page informs us she is a ‘NCTJ-qualified journalist’ who writes for Spinwatch, Electronic Intifada and Al-Araby Al-Jadeed. It also tells us she is a ‘PhD student researching UK pro-Israel lobby’ with a link to her University of Bath academic page at the website.

In July, PhD student Hilary Aked sent out an email to various grassroots Zionist groups as part of the research for her PhD. An image of this email is below.

aa1As can be seen Hilary is researching ‘the evolution of Israel advocacy and how it works’, with ‘particular interest in the engagement with BDS’. Within the arena of academic freedom, there is no problem with any study of any group, but clearly here, you would question the motive. Is Aked’s intent to add to the fountain of knowledge or is it to strengthen her political cause? How would Aked the activist react as Aked the academic when dealing with material that weakened the anti-Zionist cause? Would it make the ‘cut’?

It is important to clarify, regardless of whether I agree or disagree with Aked’s political position, I have no problem with Aked the activist, nor with Aked the academic. We are all used to activists who spew their hatred out to anyone who will listen. The issue comes in the crossover, or where the two roles meet. As an activist, Aked wishes no goodwill on Zionist groups, yet as an academic who interacts with these groups, she has specific responsibilities dictated to her by ethical conduct required of any academic engaged in research. Notice for example her reference in the email she sent, to both ‘anonymity’ and ‘standards of ethical research’.

As a side note in must be pointed out, that as a PhD candidate engaging research participants, this email is particularly weak. Aked’s ethical academic obligations go far beyond those noted in the email. This for example from the ‘Code of good practice’ at the University of Bath:

5.2 “Researchers must actively respect the human rights and dignities of all those involved in any project and must appropriately address questions of consent, capacity, power relations, deception, confidentiality and privacy.”

And in the misconduct section:

6.2e “Intentional misuse or unauthorised disclosure or use of data or information generated through research”

As it happens, few grassroots groups responded to the email. A proper search of Aked’s profile would show just why they should refrain from doing so. How anyone can expect Hilary Aked to produce a research paper worthy of note at the same time as she openly lambasts most of the potential contributors is beyond me. Having said that, Dr Jason Hart the ‘departmental Director of Studies for PhD students’ at the University of Bath, has signed the Anthropologists for the Boycott of Israeli Academic Institutions petition (no 399). So the man overseeing her studies is himself part of the Hecklers veto against Zionism, and Hilary Aked is starting to look like a spiritual child of the University of Bath, the same way that anti-Zionist students coming off the conveyor belt at Exeter are Illan Pappe’s academic children.

North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI) did not receive an email directly from Hilary, but a co-chair responded to Aked’s request via Twitter. In turn, Aked acknowledged that she had not sent an email to NWFOI, but invited them to participate in the research:


Note that the ‘challenges’ reference in the NWFOI tweet is taken straight from the ‘priorities and challenges’ sentence in the research request for interview email, notice too, that at this point, Aked is firmly wearing her academic hat. Hilary then moves on to her field of interest:


The ‘IsrAction day’ referred to in the Tweet is a pro-Israeli day of action and a response to BDS. It is also a day of charity, through which Israeli goods are purchased and then donated to good causes. As it is directly connected to both Israel advocacy and the engagement with BDS, this day is central to Aked’s primary research criteria. The day itself was held last Sunday 13/12/2015 and was apparently an oustanding international success.

The exchange between Aked and NWFOI moved to email and Aked focused on the issue of funding for IsrAction day. At this point however, red flags should be raised. Although invited to participate in the academic research and responding, Aked the academic failed to follow through by not formally acknowledging this exchange was part of the research. There was in effect ‘no reading of rights’ (no explanation of ethical obligations). It seems Aked had switched hats without telling anyone. She cannot do this of course, but with the state of UK academia the way that it is, all semblance of order has dissipated

Having seen the entire exchange, I can say NWFOI were not overly forthcoming, and from an academic perspective, they had provided little of worth or note. However, if you were a gutter journalist, it would be possible to use what they had given to draw incorrect assumptions and build conspiracy theories. So, 3 days prior to IsrAction day, UK based anti-Israel activist, Hilary Aked, wrote a gutter piece of journalism in Electronic Intifada that attacked both the day of charity and the organisations behind it. This in itself is no surprise, as someone who views Israel’s very existence as a stain, Hilary Aked will go for anything and having seen this day on the horizon, it was probably too good an opportunity to miss. Yet within the article she has used information provided in confidence for her academic research. True too, that she both named the source and discredited them:

pc4The piece itself is poppycock because it is based on a childish calculation of ‘if A is no, then B must be yes’, which may create a sound-bite for a gutter journalist out to smear those she does not like, but will not work well in an academic research paper. She also took an annual budget and claims that the entire thing was blown on a single day and all went to a single organisation (hence the entirely unsupported claim that Sussex Friends of Israel received the entire annual budget). It is simply shameful reporting. So the intent here is clear, Hilary Aked wanted to have an article published a few days before a pro-Israel campaign that set out to both smear the day and those behind it. The problem is, that those behind it provided information to Hilary Aked the academic with all the implied and concrete protection that ethical research provides. What happened for example to the option of anonymity referenced in the invitation email? Let’s not forget the rather glaring issue, that this article publicly and deliberately sets out to harm a participant in the research with the very information that the participant provided to that research. What has happened to the ethics behind research?

This highlights so much of what is wrong with academia today. Complaints have been made to the university over this, but with an academic mentor and supervisor at the University of Bath that supports a boycott of Israel and probably sympathises with her opinions, I doubt much will come of it. In fact, the opposite is probably true. Aked will gain credit as having had one of the ‘Zionist’s’ attack her, she will get a few slaps on the back from her fellow activists and the university will hide behind a wall of academic freedom that is entirely irrelevant in this case. The ‘campus dogs’ will then attack anyone who criticises and everyone will go on as if this PhD candidate actually understands what academic research truly entails.

The true meaning of this, is that Jews, especially Zionists need to wake up to the fact that UK academia is a hostile environment. It is a train wreck. It is not even willing to adhere to its own rules in when and how it attacks. I personally am suggesting both publicly and privately that pro-Israelis engaged in research with academics should understand that there is a fair chance that their participation is being used to actually do them harm. Just look at how NWFOI’s single comment was taken out of context and thrown publicly into a article to deliberately discredit them and others. I know some of those I have spoken with are currently withdrawing from research and they have notified the academics to explain the withdrawal. The very least we should expect of academia, is that they should follow their own rule book. Even this it seems is a step too far for them to go.


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27 thoughts on “The academic train wreck at the University of Bath

    1. Blood money was exchanged in the “compassionate” release of the convicted bomber of Pan Am 103 for Libyan oil contracts.

      Remember the bomber was released because expert British medical opinion found that he was dying and would be dead in 3 months. He lived close to 3 years, after receiving a heroes welcome in Libya, and BP got oil contracts.

      THAT was Blood for Oil contracts.

    1. not interested Stephen. Whatever you personally think about Hilary isn’t relevant. What matters is that academically speaking it does seem as if she crossed several red lines.

    1. oh Stephen….you think we’d fall out over this…lol…if you haven’t sussed it by now, I am not the type to do hissy fits. Maybe one day, we can even sit down and have a drink. However, on topic, Academic integrity isn’t trivial Stephen, without it people start treating academics like journalists. It would be a disaster for academia as a whole. As far as I know 7 different pieces of research have so far been impacted by participants withdrawing. But you are entitled to your opinion however twisted and distorted it may be. All I ask is that people play fair.

    2. Hardly trivial — it exposes the rot at the center of an academic system which has morphed from a lofty goal of inquiry for the sake of advancing reason and knowledge into a vicious political weapon used to attack anyone who might disagree with the given dogma of the institutions in question, however racist. Apparently many people agree with the author and disagree with your assessment as I’m seeing this all article all of social media.

      1. I fully agree, Trish. Either academic ethic standards matter and should be applied properly, or they don’t. Aked has clearly violated those structures. Any university with integrity would terminate her doctorate. Plenty of us have gained doctorates without breaking the rules we signed up to. Aked and co cheapen that.

            1. That is an interesting take Stephen. Let’s switch places for a moment. Let’s say you make contact with an academic who wants to talk to you for research. You exchange a few emails and the subject is something private and close to your heart. Let’s then say you find out that the academic is also a reporter in your local newspaper, and the week before you have an interview for a job, that reporter takes a front page news story and blurts out what you told them for the research. You don’t think the university needs to take action? Is a reporter and an academic the same thing? The subject matter, nor the importance is for the academic to decide – so what seems more or less important to you, isn’t relevant. There are rules. Have you studied at post graduate level, did you take any modules on academic research ethics?

            1. you don’t think, that her tweet to NWFOI inviting them to the research counts? I did ask whether or not you did PG ethics at all. The onus isn’t on NWFOI to clarify.. you do get that don’t you? So far, every academic I have spoken to that that has looked at this seems to believe it was a *major* breach, so I am interested in hearing your argument as to why you do not think one seems to have occurred.

          1. David, since you have asked me twice………Yes, I have studied at PG level, though well over a quarter of a century ago. I do not recall attending a module on research ethics, or any other module. I do recall discussions with supervisors on such. To the best of my recall, they were primarily concerned about plagiarism, citation etc etc. This may have been because the research was not on social or political issues and didn’t involve any formal interaction with others.
            One doesn’t enter into research with an empty head. I formed my basic position on ” referring expressions” in the third year as an undergraduate. I didn’t expect the research to fundamentally change this position and nor did it. Nor has anything I have seen, or heard, or read, since.

            I don’t think that the researcher having a position on the research topic at start out matters very much, or that it ought to matter much. If it did there would be hardly any research done at all. I notice you are researching UK students having trouble with anti Zionists. I have no doubt you have a view on the scale of this ” problem” and neither I, nor you, think you are going to conclude, ” well actually it isn’t much of a problem at all.”

            I have re read the EI article carefully and the meat of the issue seems just to be…..

            NWFOI were asked what funding they received from ISC and they replied none. They added that they had had help coordinating publicity for Israction day.

            Hilary referred to this in an EI article.

            Thats it.

            I don’t know if the previous twitter exchange matters. If it does then I would say, not very much. Also. if it does then so does the fact that Hilary was approached initially by NWFOI, and not vice versa.

            NWFOI are not some ingenue, door stepped by The Sun. I am sure if they had been offered anonymity they would have declined the offer. There is no detriment here to anyone or any organisation.

            In fact, so far as I am able to see, the only loser here is me. I have been compelled to visit the Electronic Intifada web site, which I always find a depressing experience, and which I try to avoid.

            I completely failed to find the part where Hilary uses info supplied by NWFOI to disparage it. Though , god knows, no organisation is more deserving of disparagement.

            I would be amazed if you got anything out of the University other than an extended yawn.

            1. Stephen, thank you for responding.

              I think I understand part of the disagreement. Ethics has become a primary issue with all research and you cannot complete a research based PG module without participating in a course that covers ethics. If you do provide a dissertation, the ethical issues have to be deeply addressed within. Like everything else in our society, the last 25 years has brought massive change in these types of areas.

              You are right, you do not enter research with an empty head. There are different types of science, and soft science tends to involve people with ideas proving these ideas can be placed behind an academic argument. It is a far cry from hard science, but nobody is suggesting soft science is a bad thing. I am merely pointing out that the growth of soft science has also created side effects that should be analysed and addressed.

              You are wrong in that Hilary only referenced the denial, she also drew conclusions from it.

              This isn’t about whether I agree or disagree with Hilary’s politics. I tend to accept that there are many ‘Hilary’s’ and if I make it a task to address them all in turn, I am simply going to waste my time. Most people involved so deeply in taking one side in this conflict, don’t budge much, and if they do it is normally simply to become more extreme.

              Personally, unless I have missed something fundamantal (which is always possible), the university will definately take action. If a PhD candidate and a reporter are one and the same, academia would die a quick and cashless death. There has to be a difference and that includes morst certainly issues of trust, privacy and so on. If you have to treat someone in academic research as you would a journlist for the ‘Sun’, everything changes. Hilary’s actions sit right on this fault line and so I would be surprised if the University failed to understand the importance of recognising the seriousness of the apparent infringement.

    1. Happy Eternal Nakba to Hilary, her academic advisers and her colleagues at Electronic Infanticide.

    1. Hi Gabriel, I really don’t do insinuations or hidden agenda stuff, so I am not sure whether you are addressing me or Hilary’s work. If I have something to say, it is there as a bold and clear statement, everything else is accidental and unintentional. I noticed from Hilary’s writing, she has two main threads, one is regarding her PhD, the Zionist groups, the other is writing about Islamophobia. It is simply describing what I saw.

    1. Not sure where you have picked this ‘feeling’ up from. If you think, the hatchet job in the EI actually had a point other than to smear, you are mistaken.

    1. I don’t think they are ‘beginning to turn’, nor do I think it is that relevant. I have many Jewish friends of various Zionist/non Zionist hues, and what those of a lesser Zionist shade think doesn’t enter the equation really. I know they have their opinion asked of them, and I know too it is publicised, but the bottom line is that what a carnivore thinks of the menu at the vegetarian restauarant will forever remain an irrelevance.

      It is the same with religion, there are Jews who believe solidly we should treat Saturday like any other day, eat pork and celebrate Xmas with everyone else in the street. It is forever irrelevant. In every generation there are Jews who simply stop being Jews. Their opinion isn’t required and the only thing that would happen if Orthodox Judaism attempted to please them, is that the religion would collapse. I am neither religious, nor in relation to Zionism am I an extremist, but I do understand that if you do not sail on the ship, where it goes and how it gets there is of no real concern of yours.

  1. The regressive left engages in pseudo-altruism:
    Pseudo-altruism is a pattern of behavior used by people who have a problem in coping satisfactorily with repressed rage. Observed in both individual and group psychotherapy, it allows the discharge of unacceptable impulses through professed concern about others. This model involves the interaction of at least three people. One individual, A, unable to acknowledge his rage toward a second person, B, comes to the assistance of a third party, C, whom he is convinced has been injured by B. A attacks B or encourages C to do so. In this way A, who experiences difficulty in discharging aggression directly, finds an acceptable means of doing so. He convinces himself that his aggression is warranted by B’s behavior and that he acted solely out of concern for C’s welfare. The pseudo-altruistic pattern thus includes denial, rationalization, and at times projective identification.

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