The status of the conference has been the source of some confusion over conflicting reports and statements both in the press and on social media in recent weeks. In response to the confusion, the University has released a statement following a meeting of the University Management Team on the 16th of January. Members of the management team expressed disappointment and concerns that the issue had come to their attention through the public discourse and social media rather than through a formal request for approval or through correspondence with the University.
The meeting noted the following: that the proposed event is not a University-sponsored or promoted event but has been invited to the University by a number of academic staff holding positions within the University. Secondly, the proposed conference has previously been the subject of cancellation at the University of Southampton, and of judicial review proceedings in the English High Court. Thirdly, the website promoting the conference indicates that after the University of Southampton’s decision to postpone, other European Universities had been asked to host the event, and refused. Fourthly, that the proposed dates of the conference, i.e. 31st March – 2nd April 2017, are during term time. The Western Gateway Building will be fully operational on those dates, with potential disruption of access to students and staff arising from the conference. The conference is not permitted to proceed on the dates proposed, which are in term. And finally, that the University’s security infrastructure and staffing is inadequate to deal with the management of security for the event, given that the University is already on notice of protests. Additional security will have cost implications.
The Management Team concluded that it is prepared to permit the conference to proceed on the fulfilment of the conditions which include the following: Firstly, that a revised date for the conference needs to be agreed with the University, one which is out of term and not clashing with University examinations. Secondly, the submission of an Event Management Plan [“EMP”] by the organisers for the agreement of the University, which covers all aspects of the conference organisation. No date for the conference can be agreed until the EMP has been finalised. Thirdly, and finally, based on the Event Management Plan, the provision of a budget by the organisers to cover any additional costs to the University, particularly additional security costs.
The University’s approval is contingent on agreement on and fulfilment of its conditions.
However, it has since been reported that the incoming president Patrick O’Shea has no opposition to the controversial conference taking place on UCC campus, but supports the decision of the University management team which has resulted in the conference being postponed. UCC has, as a result of the postponement, been accused of bowing to pressure over claims of an anti-Israeli imbalance in the list of scheduled speakers for the conference, which was due to be held from March 31st-April 2nd.
The incoming president Patrick O’Shea, however, sought to stress that he was not involved in the decision to postpone the event, but did say that the management concerns were over security rather than the actual content of the conference: “It’s not an academic freedom issue, it’s simply a matter of ensuring that participants and students are not interfered with, we all have the normal day-to-day work of the university to think of.” He also stated no one supports academic freedom as strongly as he does.
“That being said, this has to be done in a reasonable and responsible fashion. That’s why there’s a dialogue going on between the university management team and the organisers to make sure the conference can go ahead in a reasonable and safe manner,” he added.
In support of the conference, the General Secretary of the Irish Federation of University Teachers, Mike Jennings, stated that he was confident that UCC will make a strong statement in support of academic freedom and for free speech by agreeing to host the conference, despite significant pressure and opposition to not do so.
The conference, ‘International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy, Responsibility and Exceptionalism’, was originally planned for April 2015 at the University of Southampton, which withdrew permission because of security concerns.