Britain: Academics have condemned as a witch-hunt a student campaign to oust an Oxford don because of his links to an immigration watchdog
Student members of a refugee support group launched a petition demanding that Prof David Coleman be sacked for stirring up hostility towards immigrants.
The professor of demography helped found MigrationWatch in 2001 to monitor the effects of overcrowding and integration caused by refugees and asylum seekers.
Yesterday it emerged that Oxford Student Action for Refugees had urged Dr John Hood, the Oxford vice-chancellor, to "consider the suitability of Coleman's continued tenure as a professor of the university".
This provoked a row over academic freedom and free speech. Last year, Dr Frank Ellis, a Leeds University academic was removed from his post after claiming that whites were the superior race.
Prof Coleman told a student newspaper: "It is a shameful attempt of the most intolerant and totalitarian kind to suppress the freedom of analysis and informed comment that it is the function of universities to cherish.
"I am ashamed that Oxford students should behave this way. It is the signatories who will bring the university into disrepute and it they who should reconsider their membership of this university."
Prof Coleman helped establish MigrationWatch as an independent think-tank promoting "open and frank debate" about how to manage growing immigrant numbers.
But his views are controversial. Teresa Hayter, a writer and anti-racism campaigner, recently pulled out of an event after learning Prof Coleman would appear alongside her.
She said yesterday: "I support the petition. I don't think he should be a professor at the university."
Dennis Hayes, the president of the University and College Union, and founder of the campaign group Academics for Academic Freedom, said: "Students who once fought for challenging the state on things like war are now fighting against free speech.
"It comes to something when students would rather see an academic sacked than stand up and debate these issues with him."
MigrationWatch says immigration has made a "valuable contribution" but "the numbers have become too great".
An Oxford spokesman said: "Freedom of speech is a fundamental right respected by the university. Staff have freedom within the law to question and test received wisdom, and to put forward new ideas and controversial or unpopular opinions, without placing themselves in jeopardy of losing their jobs or privileges."
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