DSA responds to the recent suspension of the UKRI’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion group
Open letter to:
- Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser
- Chief Executive, UK Research and Innovation
- The Rt Hon Michelle Donelan MP
- Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology
We are writing to you as the Council of the DSA.
The DSA is the UK based membership organisation for all those studying, researching and teaching in the field of global development. It promotes and advances global development as a field of study, research and action. Equality, diversity and inclusivity are therefore central to all that the DSA does.
In late October, the Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, Michelle Donelan wrote an open letter to the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Chief Executive, Professor Dame Ottoline Leyser, criticising two members of the UKRI’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) advisory board over comments made in relation to the conflict in Palestine and Israel. One of these members is employed by an institutional member of DSA. As a result of the letter, the UKRI has suspended the EDI advisory board.
The DSA is particularly concerned about the implications for academic freedom, and for the personal safety of academics to voice their expert opinions without fear of intimidation and abuse, both of which are threatened by these actions.
As an organisation representing academics who undertake teaching and research on global issues around inequality, injustice and insecurity, and for whom equality, diversity and inclusion are central to all that we do, we have three main concerns over the Secretary of State’s actions.
Firstly, we are concerned that the actions of the Secretary of State threaten the principle of the political independence of the UKRI. Whilst all public bodies are rightly subject to oversight and scrutiny from government and Parliament, we believe the Secretary of State has overstepped the boundaries of such regulation in demanding this action, and in doing so has politicised the functioning of the UKRI in a way that undermines its independence and its critical role at the heart of UK research.
Secondly, the actions present a clear and significant threat to academic freedom. The comments made by the academics were not in their role as members of the EDI advisory board. In addition, the attempt to sanction individuals has effectively resulted in a collective punishment for the entire advisory board, and ultimately the UKRI itself (which has a legal responsibility, enshrined in its framing document, to ‘champion equality, diversity and inclusion across the research and innovation sector, and support a healthy and high-integrity culture’).
Thirdly, we are deeply concerned over the targeting of two individuals by the Secretary of State, with limited platforms to defend themselves, and especially at a time of heightened social and political polarisation. It is unacceptable for people undertaking a public role to be identified, shamed and targeted in this way.
We call upon the UKRI to reinstate the EDI advisory board, and for the Secretary of State to publicly acknowledge the critical importance of the principles of academic freedom, and the independence of the UKRI and for apologies to be issued to the individuals concerned.
The Council of the Development Studies Association
Letter sent via email to: The Chief Executive of UKRI and the Secretary of State