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Friday, June 18, 2021

Habib not racist, says UK university board

Professor Adam Habib resumed his duties as Director at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) University of London this week.

Marie Staunton, Chair of Board of Trustees at SOAS, said the SOAS Board of Trustees met on Tuesday last week and have accepted in full the recommendations of the independent external investigation into the meeting of 11 March and events arising from that. 

The recommendations state that once required actions are put in place, Habib can be reinstated as director at the school.

Habib was suspended for the use of the “n-word” during a Zoom meeting with students.

At the time SOAS Black Student Body said Habib is not fit to hold his position. They said SOAS must still deal with issues of black students’ wellbeing, university fees, student debt, surveillance as well as bordering and policing.

The student body added that Habib’s “history of reaction” in relation to questions of economic justice, including calling the militarised police on #FeesMustFall student protesters at Wits University when he was Vice Chancellor, shows he is not fit to be the university’s director.

On 23 March SOAS staff overwhelmingly backed a vote of no confidence against Habib with 98% of members present voting in favour of the motion, 0% against, and 2% abstaining.

South Africa’s political party, the Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) also called on SOAS to fire Habib following the incident.

“We call for the immediate removal of Habib from his position as director of SOAS University as he has exhibited extreme bigoty and is unfit to lead a department that ought to intellectually lead social change,” said the EFF in a statement issues by its national spokesperson, Vuyani Pambo.

Staunton said the board acknowledged the pain and distress caused to many in their community. She said the board is taking this opportunity to apologise again to all those who have been so affected and distressed by these events.

She said the board has accepted all the recommendations from the investigation and that they are taking specific action on all of them.

“The actions being taken include putting in place a restorative justice approach for the meeting of 11 March and events arising, developing a clear policy for the SOAS community on the use of the n-word and continuing to take forward the process of dialogue between the SOAS community of staff & students and SOAS leadership,” said Staunton.

She added: “I want to be clear especially on the use of the n-word: the report notes that the director [Habib] spoke the word in full while trying to say that it should not be used within the SOAS community.

“Habib has since acknowledged that speaking the word in full was a mistake, for which he has apologised,” she said.

Adding that the report was nonetheless critical of his response to students at the meeting and in his subsequent tweets.

She said the report found that Habib’s mistake was of vocalising the n-word in full, while trying to say that using the word offensively is unacceptable, “did not in itself make him a racist,” said Staunton.

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