Oxford professor is suspended for rejecting Israeli student

Sarah Cassidy,Education Correspondent
Tuesday 28 October 2003 01:00
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An Oxford University professor who rejected a student because he was Israeli was suspended from the university yesterday and ordered to undergo equal opportunities training.

In an unusual public statement spelling out the results of disciplinary proceedings, the university said Andrew Wilkie, an eminent pathology professor, would be banished from the institution for two months without pay.

Pembroke College later announced that the academic had resigned as a fellow and as a member of its governing body.

Professor Wilkie was disciplined by the university after telling Amit Duvshani, a Masters student at Tel Aviv University who applied to work in his laboratory towards a PhD, that he would not be considered because of the Israeli government's policy towards Palestinians.

In an e-mailed response, Professor Wilkie wrote: "I have a huge problem with the way the Israelis take the moral high ground from their appalling treatment in the Holocaust, and then inflict gross human rights abuses on the Palestinians because they wish to live in their own country.

"I am sure you are perfectly nice at a personal level but no way would I take on somebody who has served in the Israeli army."

The 26-year-old graduate student had completed his mandatory three years national service and this was noted in the CV he had sent to Professor Wilkie.

Disciplinary proceedings at the university are usually kept confidential but a spokeswoman for the university issued a statement saying that Sir Colin Lucas, Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, agreed that the professor should be issued with the most serious penalty available, short of dismissal.

It said: "The decision follows an investigation by the board of matters surrounding an e-mail which Professor Wilkie sent in response to an enquiry from an Israeli student regarding the possibility of graduate study in his research group. This ruling reflects that there can be no place for any form of discrimination within the University of Oxford other than on the grounds of merit."

Under the statutes of the university, the Vice-Chancellor has the power to reduce penalties recommended by disciplinary hearings but cannot increase them. In Professor Wilkie's case, Sir Colin adopted the recommendations as made by the board.

A spokeswoman for the university said the statement had been agreed by both parties but that no further comment would be made. She said: "Professor Wilkie fully accepts the gravity of the situation and is determined to make full use of training to ensure his actions and those of his staff reflect best practice in future. He wishes to make it clear he greatly values the diverse backgrounds of the staff and students with whom he works and looks forward to applications from able candidates, whatever their background."

In a statement, Pembroke College said: "In the light of the ruling by the University of Oxford, Professor Wilkie offered his resignation as a fellow of the college and as a member of its governing body. This has been accepted. Professor Wilkie's resignation takes immediate effect."

Professor Wilkie was appointed Nuffield professor of pathology in May and has been instrumental in developing the Oxford Craniofacial Unit into a world-class centre for genetic research into craniofacial disorders.

The Oxford academic has not been alone in his stance against Israel. Some British academics have called for a boycott of Israeli scholars and conferences in Israel in protest at the country's treatment of the Palestinians. But in May, the Association of University Teachers, the largest university lecturers' union, voted by a majority of about two to one to reject a call for an academic boycott of Israel.

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