British University Must Pay Student Who Said Adviser Was Biased Against Israel

September 25, 2013

The University of Warwick, in England, has been ordered to apologize to an Israeli master's student and pay her £1,000, roughly $1,600, after a national higher-education adjudicator found that the university had caused the student "distress and inconvenience" by refusing to replace her adviser, who the student said had an anti-Israel bias.

The case had attracted widespread attention among Jewish groups in Britain as well as those who support an academic boycott of Israel.

In 2010, Smadar Bakovic, a graduate student in Warwick's department of politics and international studies, submitted a dissertation on Arab identity in Israel. Her adviser, Nicola Pratt, a reader in the department, said that Ms. Bakovic's observations were similar to official Israeli views and awarded her a comparatively low mark of 62.

Ms. Bakovic, who had objected to being supervised by Ms. Pratt because of her public views in support of a boycott of Israel, appealed the grade.

An internal complaints committee at Warwick found that Ms. Pratt's conduct had been "exemplary" and decided there was "no evidence of unprofessional behavior on the part of Dr. Pratt in her supervision of Ms. Bakovic." But it upheld the student's complaint and allowed a different instructor to regrade her work. She submitted a revised version of her paper, and a new instructor awarded it a 71.

But in a ruling that was made final this month, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, which oversees student complaints in England and Wales, criticized the department for being "insufficiently flexible" over Ms. Bakovic's request for a new adviser and for introducing "unrelated" material about her role in a separate dispute, in which she joined other students in criticizing another faculty member.

The adjudicator said it does not investigate the conduct of individual faculty members and had not investigated the professor's "views and activities." It said it was "not persuaded" that Ms. Bakovic had established bias but accepted that "Ms. Bakovic had concerns about the potential for bias and was aggrieved by the department's refusal to change her supervisor."

Ms. Bakovic, who earned her degree in 2011, said she viewed the decision as "a great victory."

"A clear message was sent to Warwick that they had acted wrongly," she told The Chronicle. "To me the apology is more important because they refused repeatedly to do that."

A university spokesman said that the adjudicator had "rejected almost the entirety of the complaint, in particular the allegations of bias." He did say the university would consider the concerns it had raised about the appointment of advisers.