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ISA statement of concern over threats to academic freedom at the University of Glasgow arising from barriers to Dr Sen’s invited seminar and request to demonstrate compliance with UK anti-terror legislation

The International Studies Association expresses serious concern over reports of significant barriers to prevent a seminar by Dr. Somdeep Sen at the University of Glasgow and the request to demonstrate that the presentation was not in breach of UK anti-terror legislation. Open exchange is essential to academic freedom, and external speakers should be free to give invited presentations of their research, without having to demonstrate that their research is not unlawful. 

We understand that Dr. Somdeep Sen of Roskilde University was invited by the School of Politics and Sociology to give a seminar based on his book Decolonizing Palestine: Hamas between the Anticolonial and the Postcolonial (Cornell University Press, 2020). Following a complaint from the Jewish Students’ Society, alleging Dr. Sen's talk was anti-Semitic, Dr. Sen was asked to provide information about the content of his presentation to demonstrate that this did not violate UK anti-terror legislation, without the institution offering reasonable grounds for such concerns. Dr. Sen then chose to withdraw from the event, as universities do not usually ask external speakers to provide information on the content of their presentations ahead of time or warn them that they must comply with anti-terror laws.

We view the actions of the University of Glasgow, following the invitation extended to Dr. Sen, as inconsistent with academic freedom and freedom of expression. We worry for the chilling effect these actions may have on academic freedom and freedom of expression, and we call on the University of Glasgow to reaffirm its commitment to academic freedom and open academic exchange, without forcing external speakers to prove that their research is not unlawful in the absence of providing a clear basis for concerns. 

The ISA is the largest and most respected scholarly association in the field, counting over 6,500 members across over one hundred countries. For further information about ISA’s deliberative processes on academic freedom concerns and the committee’s mandate from the Governing Council, please see: https://www.isanet.org/ISA/Governance/Committees/Academic-Freedom.

Sincerely,
Kristian Skrede Gleditsch, President, ISA
Mark A. Boyer, Executive Director, ISA
Omar McDoom, Chair, ISA Academic Freedom Committee 

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