A UNIVERSITY has been warned it is risking “selling its soul” to donors.

The University of Sussex has become embroiled in a debate over private donors after it created a new chair in “modern Israeli studies”.

The position was established by Lord Weidenfeld, who admitted on a BBC radio show he put up the cash to fight the “anti-Semitism” he believes is on campus.

His remarks go against university rules which stress gifts should not compromise a university’s independence or create conflicts of interest.

The resulting row has brought into question the role of philanthropists and their influence on universities.

Rob French, vice president of Sussex University and College Union, said the row highlighted the union’s concerns over academic freedom.

He said: “When academic posts are funded by external parties you have to ask, ‘who pays the ferryman?’.

“Who is calling the tune without actually writing that academic freedom down in the contract?

“We are striving to maintain independence but at Sussex it is being fanned by another issue.

“Decisions are being made not in consultation with the university community.”

Independence at risk

Mr French said the university was in danger of “selling its soul” if it did not maintain its independence and risked alienating students and staff.

He said it would be interesting to see if an Arab would be allowed to take the post or whether the sponsor would be able to veto it.

Sussex University has refused to comment on the row, instead referencing their original announcement on the position which was created by “generous support from major philanthropists”.

The statement added: “The chair will contribute to the Middle East studies programme of the university.

“Its remit will embrace teaching and research in all aspects of modern Israeli studies, with particular reference to the politics, history and society of contemporary Israel and the Middle East.

“The chair will also promote and develop links between Middle Eastern and British academics.”

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