Campus extremism is 'made up' - UCL head

Anti-extremism campaigners and Jewish students have rounded on University College London provost Malcolm Grant for claiming there is no problem with extremism on Britain's campuses.

Professor Grant, who was in charge at UCL two years ago when the former president of UCL's Islamic Society, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, allegedly attempted to blow up a Detroit-bound airplane, told the Evening Standard that the issue had been "over-hyped" and that the law was "quite tight" on hate speech.

"Talk to our Muslim and Jewish students and they will tell you that it is a non-issue: it just doesn't exist," said Professor Grant, who chaired the recent Universities UK investigation into extremism and hate speakers.

Prof Grant's comments follow an academic year in which Abdel Bari Atwan accused Jewish students of "bombing Gaza" at an LSE event, and evidence was found of the promotion of a "hard-line Islamist ideology" at City University which led to the "harassment of staff, students and members of minority groups.

In a survey of British Jewish students released earlier this month, it emerged that 42 per cent had witnessed or been subjected to antisemitism in the past academic year. In May, the government released the Prevent review into counter-terrorism, led by Lord Carlile. The Liberal Democrat peer said Prof Grant was "talking out of his hat" if he could not see that there was a problem.

You can talk to Muslim and Jewish students and they'll tell you the truth

Malcolm Grant

"He's in denial and he needs to re-examine his whole approach," said Lord Carlile.

James Brandon, the head of research for anti-extremism think-tank Quilliam, said they had discussed radicalisation at UCL and other university campuses with Prof Grant several times. He said the professor's attitude was "deeply irresponsible" and that he was "clearly not suitable to lead a modern university.

"It is clear that he's made up his mind that extremism is not a real issue that affects many students," he said. "I'm surprised he has challenged people to speak to his students. Many will be only too keen to say that extremism is a clear problem at UCL that negatively impacts their time at university."

Rosanna Rafel, former co-president of UCL's Jewish Society said she was shocked by Prof Grant's denial. "I can tell you that he knows this is an outright lie," she said.

This was echoed by the Union of Jewish Students. Campaigns director Dan Sheldon said that, while hate speech on campus must be put into perspective, Prof Grant appeared to be "wilfully blind to the evidence of problems on our campuses - including his own".

Raheem Kassam, a former Muslim student and the director of counter-extremism group Student Rights, said the professor had put himself in an "untenable position" by denying "what government, pressure groups, think tanks and the security services know to be true".

"Grant's comments are irresponsible, dangerous and serve to highlight the chasm between campus realities and ivory-tower based public relations efforts," he said.

Gili Brenner, from Stand With Us UK, a campus activist group, said: "His arrogant dismissal of the problem as 'over-hyped' is a sad reminder of why the situation has become so severe. I suggest that, rather than seeking praise from academic circles, Prof Grant should roll up his sleeves to salvage the sunken reputation and credibility of British universities."

A UCL spokeswoman would not respond directly to the criticism. Instead, she said that, following the Abdulmutallab inquiry, the university had updated its procedures regarding external speakers on campus. "If any students have concerns, we would encourage them to get in touch with the dean of students or UCL Union," she said.

Last updated: 11:00am, October 19 2011