Northern Ireland

US academics voice solidarity with Queen's human rights lecturer Professor Colin Harvey following criticism and social media abuse

Professor Colin Harvey
Professor Colin Harvey

THE DEAN of an American university has written to the vice-chancellor of Queen's voicing "concern for the safety" of Professor Colin Harvey.

Matthew Diller, dean of Fordham University School of Law in New York, described the Queen's University human rights lecturer as a "long time collaborator and colleague".

He said it was his understanding that Prof Harvey had "come under fire for supporting the processes envisioned in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement".

Mr Diller said he supported the Belfast university in "doing all it can to safeguard Colin as well as doing all it can to uphold the value of civil discourse and academic freedom".

The Queen's academic and member of civic nationalist group Ireland's Future has faced public criticism from unionist politicians, alongside abuse on social media.

In January, Prof Harvey told The Irish News that a "targeted campaign" is seeking to close down public conversations about constitutional change.

Mr Diller's letter highlighted the Queen's academic's contribution to a joint summer programme, focussing on international conflict and human rights, involving Fordham University and University College Dublin. He paid tribute to Queen's "extraordinary faculty" and the "pivotal role in the programme's success".

Mr Diller said based on his colleagues' conversations with Prof Harvey he had established that the Belfast-based lecturer was "very concerned about the tenor of the comments that have directed towards him recently".

"We know that, post Brexit, the political dialogue in Northern Ireland has deteriorated and understand that the history of violence makes threatening language feel far too close to real danger," he wrote, highlighting recent expressions of support from Amnesty International and other organisations.

Mr Diller thanks Queen's for supporting Prof Harvey and said staff at Fordham University "stand solidly alongside you in promoting responsible academic and civic dialogue about the past present and future of Northern Ireland".

Prof Harvey said he was grateful for the support from his US colleagues and associates.

"I have had a long association with Fordham Law School, as a visiting scholar and a tutor on their outstanding summer programme," he said.

"This solidarity and support from friends and colleagues in the US is greatly appreciated. A timely and welcome intervention on the value of academic freedom."

A statement from Queen's said a representative from the university's leadership team had "been in ongoing contact" with Prof Harvey.

"Queen's outright condemns any abusive or threating commentary towards any member of university staff," the statement said.

"The university strongly supports freedom of thought and expression, within a framework of respect for the rights of other persons. Academic freedom is enshrined as a guiding principle in the university’s charter and statutes."