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Response statement to open letter from protest groups - 29/05/24

A message from the Vice-Chancellor, Professor Wendy Larner on behalf of the University Executive Board.

We have received a letter signed by Cymru Students for Palestine setting out a series of demands that the camp outside Main Building wishes to make of the University.

We are horrified by the events in Gaza and Israel, and recognise the strength of feeling amongst our community. We acknowledge that the camp has been peaceful and thank the protestors for ensuring that they do not disturb our revising students or those taking examinations. We are working closely with the Students’ Union Sabbatical Officers who regularly visit the camp. We have provided toilet facilities and additional security officers to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the camp’s inhabitants.

We have always sought to engage in constructive dialogue with our students, to address difficult issues about which they feel passionately. Our Pro Vice-Chancellor for Education and Student Experience, Claire Morgan, was pleased to meet with student representatives at a meeting on Friday in the Students’ Union. Senior colleagues have also engaged with student societies over the course of the last few months and especially in the last few weeks.

We accept our students’ right to peaceful protest and acknowledge the important role that protest plays in a democratic society. We believe that we have taken steps to help facilitate peaceful protest. We also accept that freedom of speech means that individuals are entitled to voice opinions even where those opinions might offend or upset others, and we have always tried to hold the space open for the exchange of ideas.

However, we also have a duty to ensure that all staff and students are able to live, work, study and socialise free of fear or distress. We know that the existence of the camp is disturbing for some of our community. Some staff and students have written to me and my colleagues to tell us that some of the materials being displayed at the camp and on social media are causing them distress. We are taking these complaints seriously.

We have informed Cymru Students for Palestine and the student representatives that we will not be communicating via anonymous email, and instead outline here our responses to the demands of the camp.

Demands of the camp

  1. The first demand requests that the University immediately divest from “all companies aiding Israel’s Genocide on the people of Gaza”, specifically listing BAE systems, Elbit, Airbus, Thales, EX Libris, Northrop Grumman & Rolls Royce.

    Cardiff University does not hold direct or indirect investments in any of these companies.

    We also do not hold indirect or direct investments in any of the UN’s Database Pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution 31/36, which was updated on 30 June 2023. We do not hold investments in Israeli sovereign debt.

    We have an ethical investment policy which is available on our website. We also have a Funders’ Advisory Panel which provides advice to University Executive Board on the appropriateness of acceptance, transfer or rejection of external funding, from philanthropic sources, research grants and contracts, or commercial development activities. Finally, we have recently agreed with our fund managers that we can publish our investment holdings and will seek to do that shortly.

    The letter demands that we do not enable companies such as BAE systems to recruit our students via careers fairs and associated activity. Decisions about who is allowed on campus for recruitment purposes are made in line with our Code of Ethics and Impartiality statement. This was agreed by the University’s Education and Student Experience committee and noted at Senate, both of which have student representation.

    The Code of Ethics helps the University provide an impartial service that allows students and graduates to make informed choices about their future career paths. While we appreciate that some disagree with our approach, we believe that it is right to give students access to a full range of employers, and equip them to make the right decisions on their future careers. Seeking to exclude or boycott employers would place our commitments to freedom of speech and academic freedom at risk, and would not account for the wide range of views and opinions held across our campus.

  2. The second demand calls on the University to “show us exactly where our money is going with total financial transparency, and give us the power to decide where it gets invested” and to establish student-workers committees to make decisions about how money is invested.

    We publish our annual report and financial statements on our website every year. There is student and staff representation on all of our senior finance committees, as well as on University Council. A representative of the Students’ Union sits on the University’s Finance and Resources Committee, and another on the Investment and Banking Sub-Committee. The Students’ Union representative on the Investment and Banking Sub-Committee was also invited to meet with potential new fund managers when we procured a new fund manager in 2023.

    There are often legitimate, commercially-sensitive reasons why we are unable to publish the names of all of the companies that the University works with. However, given the concerns that have been raised we will consider what additional information could be published in our financial statements. As mentioned above, we have recently agreed with our fund managers that we can publish our investment holdings and will seek to do that shortly.

  3. The third demand calls on the University to “issue a statement of condemnation of the genocide and scholasticide in Gaza and through the Students-Workers Committees reinvest in Palestinian education by helping rebuild their destroyed education system and offering scholarships to displaced Palestinian students.” 

    We appreciate and understand that many would like the University to take up a clear position in relation to the conflict. The conflict has been, and remains, incredibly distressing to many members of our community. We will not be issuing a statement as requested. It is important that universities remain places where pluralities of viewpoints can be heard and debated. It is our role to hold the space open to enable members of our community to exchange ideas and opinions, and issuing statements in these circumstances can lead to silencing or diminishing the ability to voice opposing views.

    It is also important that we understand our sphere of influence. Our focus is on supporting our communities through this difficult period, and on the action we can take proactively to improve quality of life both here and globally, including in Gaza.

    We are conscious of our duty to help rebuild the education system in Palestine and have been working with others in the sector to fulfil this duty. Academics within our university are, for example, working with Palestinian universities to support them in developing resources to teach their students remotely. We will continue to work with Universities UK and the Council for At-Risk Academics on cross-sector programmes to help academics and students alike.

    In addition, and in light of the ongoing war, we are revisiting our scholarship offer for students displaced by war or natural disaster. We are committed to discussing this further with our student body to ensure that what we develop meets the needs of displaced students across the globe.

  4. The final demand calls on the University to “support the freedom and safety of students and faculty alike, especially in pertaining to pro-Palestinian beliefs and organising. Further support should be given to Palestinian students and faculty who have lost their family during the genocide”.

    We have sought to enable staff and students to show their support for Palestine safely and peacefully and would also support any group that wanted to express an opposing or different view. We are committed to freedom of speech and academic freedom.

    We have not interfered in the rallies, sit-in at the Centre for Student Life, or the camp. We have provided toilet facilities and security support on a 24-hour basis for the encampment. We will only take action where activity begins to interfere with University business or where behaviour breaches our Dignity at Work and Study policies.

    We have openly communicated several times the support available for our students and staff who are affected by the conflict. If you have been affected by the conflict, please, do reach out to us. Talk to your personal tutor, your line manager, your Head of School or a senior colleague that you trust. We can then offer you specific support, whether that be financial, pastoral or recording extenuating circumstances.

We hope that this statement helps all members of our University community to understand our position. This is a complex, emotive, difficult set of circumstances and we are working hard to fulfil our legal and moral obligations while keeping the needs of our diverse body of staff and students at the centre of the decisions we are making.

With best wishes,

Wendy Larner