A man who gets paid to defend the war in Afghanistan should not be lecturing at Sussex, say academics who have reacted angrily to the appointment of a NATO spin doctor as a visiting lecturer in International Relations.
Jamie Shea, a senior adviser to NATO’s Secretary-General, has been appointed as a visiting lecturer for three years. He is expected to deliver four lectures and seminars each year as part of the new MA programmes in International Security.
Shea rose to prominence as spokesman for NATO during its bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999, in which civilian buildings were controversially targeted. He now advises Anders Fogh Rasmussen, NATO Secretary-General, who recently said there should be no timetable for the withdrawal of NATO troops from Afghanistan, in spite of military and civilian casualties at record levels.
Academics have argued that Shea’s position as a NATO representative is incompatible with a university role and warned that with NATO’s operations in Afghanistan becoming increasingly controversial the appointment could damage the university’s “academic and ethical standing”. A letter from a group of International Relations DPhil students to the head of the department said “There is a clear conflict of interest between the roles of NATO Director of Policy Planning and Visiting Scholar at our academic institution. Jamie Shea is of necessity unable to undertake the open and critical scholarship demanded of this position and cannot engage in anything other than apologetic debate.”
The letter also quotes Shea’s blunt remarks at a debate last year on the role of the military PR machine, which he described as “keeping the journalists always busy and occupied, feeding them with constant briefings so they don’t have much time to go out and find the facts for themselves.”
Some members of faculty have complained that they were not consulted over the appointment, but a spokesperson for the University said that the normal procedure for inviting visiting lecturers, which requires approval from the Head of Department and Head of School, had been followed and that staff who teach on the programmes directly involved were also consulted. The matter was also discussed at a departmental meeting, although only after the invitation to Shea had been made.
The appointment is part of an increasing focus on international security at Sussex – a shift in emphasis away from the iconoclastic approach on which the International Relations department made its reputation. Critics argue this shift has been driven from the top down, by senior managers keen to attract fee-paying overseas students for whom a masters degree could be a stepping stone to a career in the defence establishment.
Prof. Richard Black, head of Global Studies said, “Dr Shea’s appointment as a Visiting Lecturer is entirely in line with our ambition to engage with policy-makers and opinion-formers from all parts of the policy spectrum.
“I am sure that Dr Shea will expect and welcome robust and intelligent questioning from our students and will be looking forward to sharing his considerable expertise and experience with those who choose to attend the lectures and seminars.”
As a concession to critics the head of International Relations has agreed to review Shea’s appointment after one year.
Sarah Young, treasurer of the campus branch of the Stop the War Coalition, said “NATO mouthpieces should not be welcome at our institution which has a tradition of international solidarity and a strong anti-war sentiment. The lectureship should be withdrawn immediately.”