UKLFI: Supporting Israel with legal skills

Student Claims Victory in Case against Leeds University

The University of Leeds has settled a legal claim brought by sociology graduate, Danielle Greyman, after her coursework was wrongly failed because it did not blame Israel for the crimes of Hamas against Palestinians.

The University has agreed to pay Ms Greyman an undisclosed sum, without any admissions, under a “commercial settlement” of her claim for damages.

The marking of the coursework had earlier been revised to a passing grade following Ms Greyman’s successful internal appeal, and she has been awarded a BA Degree with Honours in Class 2.1.

However, the appeal process and re-marking took over a year, and the University’s confirmation of Ms Greyman’s entitlement to the Degree came too late to enable her to take up a place on a Masters’ Degree course at Glasgow University.

Ms Greyman was assisted by UKLFI Charitable Trust in her appeal and legal claim, in which she was represented by Jonathan DC Turner, barrister, and Daniel Berke, solicitor, both directors of UK Lawyers for Israel.

A report reviewing the marking of her coursework was provided by Dr David Hirsh, Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Academic Director of the London Centre for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism.

Danielle Greyman said: “I am grateful for the support that UKLFI 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 apologised 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 6 months before hearing my appeal, and then a further 6 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.”

David Hirsh said: “I have marked hundreds of sociology essays, over 20 years, with many colleagues second marking them, with moderators checking, with external examiners reporting, with examination boards overseeing. This essay was not a fail.”

Jonathan Turner said: “We are very pleased with the settlement and hope that it will serve as a warning to universities and academics not to allow marking to be influenced by the anti-Israel bias which is so prevalent in academia. Ms Greyman is to be congratulated for standing up to this dogma.”

Ms Greyman chose “State crime and immorality” as an optional module in the final year of her 3 year BA course in Sociology in 2020/2021.

Marks for the module were based solely on an essay of between 4,500 and 5,500 words on a case study chosen by the student.  With her tutors’ agreement, Ms Greyman decided to write about the crimes against Palestinians by Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, and the contribution of the UN to these crimes.

Danielle claims they specifically advised her not to discuss Israel or debate fault as between Hamas and Israel, since the essay was about the crimes of Hamas against Palestinians.

Danielle had never failed an assignment previously and was on track to receive a class 2.1 Honours Degree. However, her essay on Hamas was failed by the examiners.

The main reasons given for failing it were:

1.   The essay did not discuss alleged crimes of Israel.

2.   The markers said the essay was too short – even though it met the specified requirement of 5,000 words +/- 10%..

The feedback on the essay by the markers also indicated hostility and prejudice against Israel, as did their social media.

According to the University, the markers were Dr Claudia Radiven, Dr Doak, Dr Katy Wright and Dr Karen Lumsden, but the feedback named them as Dr Prideaux and Dr Radiven.

Their feedback said:

“Structurally you have limited yourself from achieving a higher mark. By limiting the field of discussion, you have restricted your ability to give a full discussion of events. This has caused a lack of depth to the analysis. You state early on you will not be including information about Israel’s role in these events. It is impossible, without admitting a ahistorical approach, to do this and achieve an accurate reflection. …

… probably the most damning problem, is that by restricting the parameters of debate a comprehensive, objective analysis has been curtailed. such a curtailment is not appropriate for an academic assessment.”

The markers also made a number of comments critical of Israel, which Ms Greyman alleged were based on incorrect factual assumptions. For example, where she referred to the use by Hamas of dense population as a human shield to deter attacks by Israel, the markers commented that this does not deter military action by Israel. And when she referred specifically to Hamas using children as a human shield, they commented “What about the war crime of killing them”.

Ms Greyman alleged that these remarks ignored sources which show that Israeli military action is frequently deterred by the risk of civilian casualties and that attacks on military targets may cause the death of children without being war crimes.

A point made by Ms Greyman regarding antisemitism taught in UNRWA schools in the Gaza Strip was dismissed by the markers without taking into account the seriousness of the reported incidents and the likelihood that other such incidents had not been reported.

The markers also described the Jerusalem Post as a “particularly biased media source”. Ms Greyman alleged that they did so without any objective assessment of the reliability of its factual reports.

Dr Hirsh observed in his report that points made by the markers are “inappropriate because they do not take the form of constructive feedback but of polemical engagement; and they are also inappropriate because the content of many of the points are misconceived, in particular with respect to the essay question.”

Ms Greyman also alleged that Tweets by Dr Claudia Radiven, one of the markers, and a LinkedIn post by another marker, Dr Prideaux indicated prejudice against and hostility towards Israel. She claimed that they had wrongly allowed themselves to be influenced by this prejudice and hostility in their marking of her coursework.

Dr Radiven, was a speaker at the 2019 Palexpo event organised by Friends of Al Aqsa on the subject “Prevent & Palestine: The Erosion of Activism Through Counter-Terrorism”. She also signed a petition defending Prof David Miller who was dismissed by Bristol University following controversial comments about Jewish students – as did 15 other staff of the University of Leeds.

Dr Radiven has now restricted who can see her twitter account, but its home page displays two Palestinian flags, and hearts in the Palestinian colours.

Ms Greyman appeals

Ms Greyman appealed against the mark given to her coursework. But the University did not hurry to decide her appeal. Indeed, it repeatedly failed to comply with the time limits in its appeal procedure.

Ms Greyman had been offered a place on a Masters’ Degree Course in Sociology at Glasgow University, conditional on her being awarded a Class 2.1 BA Degree. However, the University of Leeds’ appeals procedure contains a clause which provides that a student “cannot have a degree conferred which is the subject of an appeal until either the appeal has been concluded or the appeal has been withdrawn”.

Further clauses added that “No certification or academic transcript will be issued where a degree is the subject of an appeal” and “Once the appeal has been withdrawn, it cannot be reinstated. Acceptance of the degree … will be taken as definitive evidence of such withdrawal”.

Ms Greyman consulted the University’s student information helpline, asking what she should do, but did not receive any sensible advice. She was in fact entitled to a Class 2.1 Degree based on assessments in other modules, but since she had no certification of this, she was unable to take up the place at Glasgow. The University subsequently said that she could have asked for a certificate of her entitlement to a Class 2.1 Degree, but by then it was too late.

The University’s academic appeals committee partially upheld Ms Greyman’s appeal on the sole ground that it was not clear from the markers’ feedback how the mark had been arrived at. They directed that the coursework should be re-marked by an external marker appointed by the University’s School of Sociology. The re-marking increased the mark by 10%. The revised mark was eventually confirmed more than a year after the original marking.

Legal Action

Ms Greyman brought a legal claim for compensation in the English County Court with assistance from UKLFI Charitable Trust. She asserted in her Particulars of Claim that the University’s staff had failed to use reasonable skill and care in breach of contract and its duty of care (a) in the original marking of the coursework, (b) in the advice given to her regarding the subject and parameters of the case study, (c) in considering her appeal, and (d) in providing information as to what she could do to retain her place on the Masters’ course at Glasgow University.

Ms Greyman also alleged direct discrimination because of protected characteristics of nationality, ethnicity or religion contrary to the Equality Act 2010, in that the essay was marked down due to anti-Israel bias; and indirect discrimination since this bias puts Jewish students at a particular disadvantage.

Finally, she alleged victimisation contrary to the Equality Act 2010, since the University’s appeal procedure prevented her from receiving her Degree while she challenged the marking on the ground of anti-Israel bias.

The University’s Defence accepted that Ms Greyman was advised not to write a causal account of the Israel-Palestine conflict, but denied that she was advised not to discuss Israel at all. The University also denied that the marking was carried out with insufficient skill and care and asserted that the markers exercised academic judgment which is non-justiciable. The University 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.

The University asserted that it should have been obvious to Ms Greyman that she had completed her compulsory credits and had been awarded her Degree with a Class 2.1, but that she was not entitled to the award of her degree while she had a pending appeal

Ms Greyman’s Reply pointed out that she asked the University’s staff whether she could receive her Honours Degree with a Class 2.1 grade on multiple occasions, but was not informed that she could. Furthermore, not appealing or abandoning her appeal would have placed her at a permanent disadvantage since the fail mark wrongly given would have remained recorded on her detailed list of examination results, which is taken into account by many universities and employers around the world.