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Suspensions at London Metropolitan University

London Metropolitan University has suspended the elected Staff Governor and the Chair of the UNISON branch along with a UCU member, Professor Steve Jeffreys, director of the Working Lives Research Institute (WLRI). The pretext for this is that the Staff Governor, Jawad Botmeh, has a 1996 conviction for conspiring to cause explosions. The university management were well aware of this, indeed, Jawad declared his previous convictions on the appropriate form when he was appointed to a casual vacancy and then again later when confirmed in the substantive post. Management had no problem with this until he was elected staff governor on a platform opposed to outsourcing of the university's administration to "Capita". He was then suspended, as were Max Watson, the branch chair and Steve Jeffreys. Their only offence seems to be that they were involved in Jawad's appointment which, incidentally, was approved by the famous London Met Human Resources department.

The real "crime" of all three, we would suggest, is their opposition to outsourcing and their activities in support of university workers' wages, conditions and jobs. Both UNISON and the UCU are supporting their members.

The UNION branch said “Steve, Jawad and Max have broken no university rules” and argues that the suspensions are “an attack on the principles of staff rights and representation, on social justice and on academic freedom.”

Here is Professor Jeffery's statement on the subject:

I'm writing to let you know that I was suspended on Wednesday by Londonmet after a 45 minute investigation into the WLRI because I appointed a former prisoner who had served 13 years imprisonment to a part-time, casual three month maternity cover job in our social justice Institute. Did I know that his conviction in 1996 was for conspiracy to blow up the Israeli embassy? Yes. I also knew that he had been refused parole for 6 years because he maintained his innocence, and that Paul Foot and Robert Fisk had campaigned for him. And I saw his CV which included his having completed an OU degree in sociology and an MA in Peace and Reconciliation (with merit), as well has having been prisoners' rep on equality issues. But actually, although this all made him an ideal person to work with us, I felt there was also a basic human rights issues involved. Do we give people a second chance?

The inference involved in my suspension and possible disciplinary action is that either I was involved in some highly sophisticated conspiracy to place a Palestinian terrorist 'sleeper' in a position where he could influence young minds and eventually get elected as staff governor (which five years after Jawad Botmeh started work has now triggered three suspensions), or that I was criminally stupid.

Everyone who knows me or my work knows that I am a principled socialist. But for me, my decision not to discriminate against this applicant whom I had never met, and whom Max Watson (a now very active UNISON trade unionist who is also suspended) had met once at a party is actually the survival of a liberal approach to others in my university. If a Research Institute dedicated to the promotion of social justice in a public institution will not give someone like Jawad the chance to work, who else will?

You'll realise that we are all in a state of shock. Three of the 13 WLRI staff are now suspended. Two others are still under investigation. I fear for our future - just weeks after celebrating our tenth anniversary.

The UCU and UNISON are united in supporting the three of us who are suspended - and your protest, and those you can encourage others to take, will strengthen their hands in the 'informal contacts' that are taking place in the hope of preventing the university from taking the next step of firing those it has suspended.

A London Met spokesman said: “London Metropolitan University has a duty of care to all its staff, students and partners. It is undertaking investigations and has nothing further to add at this time.”