Can marking be antisemitic?

A Jewish student who sued the University of Leeds over the way an essay was marked has settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.

And while I can understand why both Danielle Greyman and the university have reached an agreement, it’s enormously frustrating for those of us keen to see how the courts would respond to this sort of case.

Last summer the Jewish Chronicle reported that Greyman claimed an essay submitted for the “State crime and immorality” module in the final year of her sociology degree had been failed because it did not pin blame on Israel for attacks committed by Hamas against Palestinians – and because the essay was too short, even though it met the specified requirement of 5,000 words +/- 10 per cent.

After a long process of review, an external examiner recommended that the assignment mark be improved, giving it a pass grade instead of a fail – but because she had to wait almost a year for the result of that appeal, she said she was unable to take up a place on a Master’s course at Glasgow University. So her lawyers issued a legal claim against the University of Leeds for negligence, discrimination and victimisation.

It’s also clear from the Times report that the consumer protection law duty – to carry out the marking with “reasonable skill and care” – was also a feature of the dispute and the university’s defence.

Greyman claimed she was specifically advised by academic staff to avoid discussion of Israel or debate fault between Hamas and Israel because the essay was about the crimes of Hamas against Palestinians.

She told the Times that markers said:

You state you will not be including information about Israel’s role in these events. It is impossible, without admitting an ahistorical approach, to do this and achieve an accurate reflection”,

…and added:

By restricting the parameters of debate a comprehensive, objective analysis has been curtailed.”

The discrimination claim included this argument. UK Lawyers for Israel Director Jonathan Turner told the Times of Israel that Jewish students are more likely to write pro-Israel essays, whereas Arab and Muslim students are more likely to write an essay that is critical of Israel”:

If students are penalized for defending Israel then that may constitute indirect discrimination.”

The university accepted that Greyman was advised not to write a causal account of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but denied that she was advised to avoid discussion of Israel at all, denied that the marking was carried out with insufficient skill and care, and denied that the essay was marked down primarily on the basis that Israel’s actions were not discussed or condemned. The university also denied that the markers were influenced by any prejudice or hostility against Israel.

What’s not clear is if, and if not why not, Greyman did not pursue the case via the Office of the Independent Adjudicator, and if not how the court would have responded to that.

Perhaps more importantly, we don’t know the extent to which the university would have been able to rely on its staff exercising “academic judgement”, or the circumstances under which that principle might have been set aside to find in Greyman’s favour.

Greyman said:

I am grateful for the support that UK Lawyers for Israel and the wider Jewish community has provided, and I hope this encourages other students to take action against institutions that do not uphold their responsibility of ensuring academic freedom and fair marking.”

That said, I am disappointed by the waste of resources that went into dealing with the issue. If the University of Leeds had simply apologized at the outset, corrected the marking and offered antisemitism training to staff, I would have felt greatly satisfied.

Instead, they failed to confirm that I was entitled to the degree until it was too late, and made me wait six months before hearing my appeal, and then a further six months for the re-marking. This has been a long and emotionally draining process, but it is necessary that large institutions know that they will be held accountable for their wrongdoings.”

A spokesperson for the University of Leeds said:

No finding of any wrongdoing on the part of the university has been made by the court. Furthermore, the university does not consider or accept that there has been any wrongdoing. An internal review exonerated our staff of any alleged discrimination and the university remains fully supportive of the academic judgment of its academic staff.

We strenuously deny the accusation of antisemitism. The University of Leeds has a zero-tolerance approach to antisemitism, and any form of unlawful discrimination or hate crime, and on which we follow government guidance.

The listing of this claim in the small claims court was surprising and unexpected. On the commercial direction of our insurers, an offer without any admission of liability was made by the university which was accepted by the claimant. This offer was made expressly on the basis that the university does not accept any liability nor accept that the claimant has suffered any loss.”

So all in, partly thanks to the university’s insurers, we’re no closer to understanding the circumstances under which the old “get out of jail free card” of academic judgement wouldn’t work. That’s very frustrating.

One response to “Can marking be antisemitic?

  1. Academic judgement has always been a great way of lecturers putting their own bias and priviledges into marking.

    About a decade ago I was criticised and marked down by a senior history professor at an RG Uni because a dissertation on Hillsborough “did not sufficiently demonstrate the extent to which fan misbehaviour contributed to the disaster”. This obviously is a more politically and culturally sensitive topic, but there’s nothing in academic marking to prevent academics from using heir own worldviews to manipulate student outcomes.

    Tabloid fodder dressed up as academic professionals…

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