Select Committee on Home Affairs Written Evidence

13. Letter dated 13 January 2005, from The Open University

  A report in the Jewish Chronicle on 17 December 2004 refers to evidence placed before the Home Affairs Select Committee by the Union of Jewish Students at a meeting held on 14 December 2004.

  In that article, Mr Danny Stone, Campaigns Organiser at the Union of Jewish Students (UJS) is quoted as saying:

  "One of the worst cases of web-based anti-Semitism [ ] was found on The Open University's site"

  "Jewish students no longer use the web-site through fear of attack" said Mr Stone, "The University's reaction has been slow and generally unhelpful."

  The University considers these remarks to be inaccurate and misleading. We understand that they are drawn from more detailed written evidence already submitted to your Inquiry and I have been asked to write to the Select Committee to ensure that the record is corrected.

  The facts are as follows:

  1.  The Open University has never had a complaint of anti-Semitism—or indeed of any other religious or racist abuse—about its website.

  2.  The complaint that Mr Stone refers to was made 19 months ago, by a student and concerned a closed student e-conference. This facility is only open to students of the University and is moderated by the Open University Students' Association. It is the equivalent of a seminar discussion at a conventional university.

  3.  Mr Stone took up the complaint on behalf of UJS.

  4.  In fact, much of the material cited by Mr Stone related not to issues of religion but was about the modern state of Israel and the Palestinian issue.

  5.  Items that were anti-Semitic were promptly removed by the moderator of the conference.

  6.  Disciplinary action was taken in 2003 against the perpetrators under the University's Code of Computing Conduct and all students were reminded of the terms of the Code.

  7.  The complaint was dealt with fully and in a reasonable timescale by our Pro-Vice Chancellor with responsibility for Students.

  8.  As a result of the report in the Jewish Chronicle, the University has contacted Mr Stone. He has confirmed that the incident was dealt with effectively and recognises that the University has the right to refuse to remove content judged to be reasonable debate.

  The Open University's commitment to equality and diversity has been widely recognised and we take pride in our track record of enabling and supporting a diverse community of learners from all sections of the population.

  The Open University has no tolerance of religious or racist abuse. We deplore the comments that were removed from this particular conference, but defend the freedom of conscience and speech on social and political issues such as the Israel-Palestine conflict.

  I trust this goes some way to correcting any mis-impression that may have been given to the Committee in evidence.

  The University has written separately to the Editor of the Jewish Chronicle and to the Union of Jewish Students.

Kate Stephens

Head of Political Liaison

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