Students ‘proud’ as Kent Law School academics take on Donald Trump

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By Katie King on

But can a letter signed by 253 law scholars achieve more than a petition by nearly two million?


Law academics from Kent University have written a damning letter to Theresa May about Donald Trump, and it’s made their students feel proud.

Drafted by Canterbury-based academics Dr Rose Parfitt, Dr Emily Haslam, Dr Sara Kendall, Dr Luis Eslava and Dr Emily Grabham, the letter urges the PM to reconsider her position on allowing Trump a state visit. It also asks that she “more generally” withdraws her support for the United States under Trump’s administration.

The letter certainly doesn’t pull any punches. Here’s an extract:

The alacrity with which Trump has put in place, by presidential decree, a swathe of openly racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic measures, together with the president’s total disregard for existing US commitments under international law, indicate that the British government’s decision to renew its ‘special relationship’ with the United States at this time can only lead, in the short-term, to further suffering and discrimination.

Strong words, but ones that have backing. The letter now has 393 signatures from members of the UK legal academic community, 253 of which are legal academics teaching and researching law at UK universities including Cambridge, Warwick and Birmingham.

It’s unusual for law scholars to get involved in something so inherently political (and so controversial), but they think it’s important. When we asked Parfitt — who specialises in the relationship between law, history and art — whether it’s appropriate for law academics to be writing letters like this, she told us:

Absolutely. As people who spend our lives thinking about, writing about and teaching law, it’s a central part of our job to make our opinion public when controversial questions with fundamentally important legal dimensions are being debated.

These academics will be pleased to know their actions have garnered the support of their students. Final year Shannon Quinn told Legal Cheek she’s “proud” of her university’s staff for taking such a proactive approach to the issue. She continued:

By challenging the PM they are inspiring students to stand by their beliefs while showing their support for those disadvantaged by the Trump administration.

Tom Bishop, a fellow final year student, agreed. He told us the academics’ decision to write a letter:

[I]s both good and needed. It proves to law students and the wider community that law is not just a single abstract subject but encourages us to get involved and apply in practice critical legal theory.

The university has also come out in support of Parfitt and co’s actions. Head of Kent Law School Professor Toni Williams said:

Kent Law School has a long-standing commitment to producing theoretically informed work on the role of law in social, political and economic life and in exploring critical approaches to law. In line with our firm belief in academic freedom, our staff are encouraged to share their research, ideas and expertise with a wider audience both within and beyond the world of academia.

The letter comes weeks after Leeds solicitor Graham Guest made a petition calling for very much the same. The petition has now been signed by nearly two million people, and will be debated in parliament on 20 February.

Read the letter in full here:

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