UCU's Sally Hunt 'not taking institutional racism seriously'

A leading campaigner against academic boycotts of Israel has criticised the general secretary of the Universities and College Union for "pretending not to understand" the term institutional racism.

David Hirsh, who runs the Engage website, made the comments after Sally Hunt attempted to defuse the controversy over the UCU's decision to reject the European Union's working definition of antisemitism with a letter in which she said the UCU was "implacably opposed" to antisemitism.

Ms Hunt sent the letter to union members this week after her organisation was criticised by Jewish and non-Jewish groups and dubbed "institutionally racist" by the chief executive of the Jewish Leadership Council.

The criticism was previously applied to the Metropolitan Police in the 1990s in light of the Stephen Lawrence murder case.

In her letter Ms Hunt emphasised the UCU's "commitment" to the Macpherson definition of racist incidents and of institutional racism.

"I am very happy to take the opportunity to reiterate it now," she wrote.

But Mr Hirsh said her response did not deal with the key criticisms of the UCU's decision.

He said that the term 'institutional racism' was not used in the 1990s to suggest individual police officers were racist or that they failed to 'abhor' or to 'oppose' racism.

"What it meant was that there were racist assumptions, practices and norms within the institution," he said.

Mr Hirsh said Ms Hunt had only responded to the charge that the UCU "hated" Jews, rather than addressed the wider question of attitudes towards antisemitism in the union.

"In this way, she refuses to take the charge of institutional racism seriously."

Last updated: 4:15pm, June 10 2011