Anti-Zionist claims made against professor

Accusations of anti-Zionism have been levelled against a Warwick University professor.

Smadar Bakovic, a 35-year-old postgraduate student from Harei Yehuda (near Jerusalem), has accused Professor Nicola Pratt of anti-Israel bias after she awarded a mark of 62 per cent to Bakovic’s Masters dissertation on Israeli-Arab identity.

Professor Pratt is an expert on the Middle East and has worked in Egypt for several years. She speaks Arabic and was one of the signatories to a January 16 2009 letter to the Guardian calling for the withdrawal of Israel from the West Bank and to abandon its claims to territory beyond its 1967 borders.

The letter stated: “If we believe in the principle of democratic self-determination, if we affirm the right to resist military aggression and colonial occupation, then we are obliged to take sides… against Israel.”

Bakovic requested a change of dissertation supervisor after she recognised Professor Pratt after attending a discussion on Israel for which she acted as moderator.

Speaking from Israel in an interview with the _Boar_, she said she felt “just as how a black student who discovers their professor is in the BNP movement, or Ku Klux Klan, or signing petitions against the black race… I felt very uncomfortable to work under her.”

Despite this, her request was denied and her paper was marked by Professor Pratt. She received the mark the following November. After spending eight months appealing to the University, she was eventually allowed to have it remarked by two different professors. In December 2011, she received a grade of 71, a distinction. That the grade was 9 points higher than that awarded by Professor Pratt confirmed in her eyes, her anti-Israeli bias.

The University’s investigation into the matter concluded that Pratt’s behaviour as Bakovic’s supervisor was “exemplary” and that “there was no evidence of unprofessional behaviour”.

Nevertheless, the Committee upheld the complaint on the grounds that the Department refused to allocate Bakovic a different supervisor when requested in April 2010.

Whilst stating that the Department had adhered to its procedures on the allocation of dissertation supervisors, the Committee noted that the procedures were not sufficient in dealing with this particular case.

The Department said that Bakovic chose to revise her existing dissertation under new supervision, which received a mark from a different set of markers that achieved a distinction.

The University was “surprised and disappointed” to see that Bakovic had “presented a narrative that is quite simply at variance with many of these facts”, particularly three “erroneous assertions.”

Firstly, that Bakovic made several requests for a change of tutor, an assertion which is “factually incorrect”, according to the University, as only one email was sent regarding her supervisor’s suitability (dated April 27 2010). Moreover, the Department claims to have, on record, Bakovic’s praise for Pratt’s behaviour as her supervisor.

Secondly, concerning the mark Bakovic received, the University said that both markers individually independently gave “broadly similar marks to this first piece of work”.

Finally, the University refutes her claim that there were only marginal differences between the two submitted dissertations. Bakovic’s new supervisor said that there were substantial changes made to the second dissertation. There was no re-mark of the original dissertation.

Bakovic responded furiously to the accusation: “When it was re-marked, I didn’t change anything in the dissertation… the claims by the University are completely and utterly false.

“I’m willing for anyone who wants to read both dissertations to see for themselves. I have nothing to hide.”

“In my experience, I’ve never found any [discrimination] at all [at the University of Warwick],” said Justin Hill, President of the Christian Union.

“But if someone feels they’ve been discriminated against, it’s important for there to be ways to raise that as an issue to a university, because it is a serious issue.”

Students’ Union (SU) Welfare Officer Izzy John said: “I don’t think it’s at all endemic, and indeed given the mixed reporting on this case thus far I think labelling it as ‘academic religious discrimination’ is perhaps a little misleading… I certainly don’t think there’s a precedent here.”

Nevertheless, Bakovic is adamant that she has been discriminated against.

“It’s very, very sad that in parts of the academia in England it is kind of accepted that discrimination against Israelis and Jews is a free for all… they can’t be racist about blacks, they can’t be racist about gays, they can’t be racist about Catholics, but if they exhibit racism or discrimination towards Jews or Israelis, it will somehow not be seen as racism but as politics.”

Professor Pratt declined to comment on the accusations made against her.

The Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education (QAA), an independent body which aims to maintain higher educational standards in the UK, says it has been ‘notified’ about the case, but that a full investigation is not under way.

President of the SU Leo Boe said that a main concern was “academic integrity being potentially comprised”, though the University’s processes were all “entirely legitimate”.

He thought the original article published in the Jewish Chronicle had been “over-exaggerated” and that there had been a “lack of journalistic integrity”.

Boe also said that, as a student representative, he would have to support and represent Bakovic, although she has not approached the Students’ Union as of yet.

He continued that it was an “academic’s primary responsibility to make sure that they facilitate the development of your views on a professional level without necessarily steering them in a particular direction based on their own political views.” Overall, he concluded that the University had “acted responsibly”.

Second-year Philosophy student Bede Hager-Suart commented: “this just seems another instance of the age-old problem of tutors marking students’ work that disagrees with their views, professional or personal, blinding them to the work’s true academic merit.

“This is of course exacerbated in this case because the issue is a politically sensitive one and of substantial personal feeling for Smadar Bakovic. I hope I’m right on this.

“If I weren’t and something altogether darker was going on, it’s true that it would sadly be hard to tell, as it’s nigh impossible to detect and eradicate institutional racism where it does exist.”

Third-year PAIS student Joshua Funnell added: “All too often militant Jewish organisations play the anti-Semitism card.

“All too often in these cases there is a fundamental lack of understanding of the fact that to be against Zionism is not be racist or anti-Semitic… these debates are never dealt with fairly and tilt strongly in favour of a reactionary fear by institutions to not be associated with anti-Semitism at any cost.”

The University made no indication that any further action would be taken, with a lack of evidence to suggest discrimination has taken place. Bakovic refuted all claims that she had drastically altered her dissertation, and still insists that she has been discriminated against.

Article amended on 14/09/2013 at 20.48 to correct the mark awarded on the first dissertation from ’60’ to ’62’.


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