What The Open University doesn’t want students to learn
At its inception, the Open University (OU) was a pioneering institution, founded by people with vision and courage.
Today it appears that at least some sections of the University and its Students’ Association, OUSA, have lost sight of some of the aims of the founders, as well as lacking vision and courage themselves.
OUSA-affiliated society Students for Ethical Science (SES) has for over ten years been trying to engage the university in debate on this subject, but have been thanked for their pains with censorship of online discussions and of their advertisements in the OU’s magazine.
The facts that the OU does not want its students to know
Thousands of animals are killed every year by the OU for education and research. There is a substantial and growing body of scientific opinion that humane alternatives are more effective in both these fields. The university has refused to reveal the numbers used in research since 1991, but published articles suggest that there has been little or no reduction since numbers were given. The OU's Biology Department claimed in 2000 that there was no vivisection at the OU. A challenge by SES in January 2002 resulted in this claim being dropped.
The OU Course Descriptions brochure has omitted to mention some of the animal use at residential schools. Despite years of pressure from OUSA and SES, and despite recommendations in 1999 by the European Centre for the Validation of Alternative Methods (ECVAM), the OU still does not state in its brochure that students may opt out of animal experiments without academic detriment. This results in ethically minded students avoiding animal-using courses, which prevents some from acquiring named biology qualifications. Some of those who do attend the animal-killing schools have been subjected to unacceptable pressure to use tissue from purpose-killed animals, and suffered great distress as a result. ECVAM recommend that where animals are used they should be ethically sourced, not laboratory-bred and killed merely for the purpose of experimentation.
Advertisements by Students for Ethical Science, featuring the wording ‘Stop Animal Suffering at the OU’ and ‘The OU kills thousands of animals each year for research and teaching’, plus an innocuous cartoon-type picture of a chick (one of the species killed for OU research), were vetoed by Head of Biology Professor Mike Stewart on the grounds that they were ‘incorrect and defamatory and may be actionably libellous’, and that the picture and the word 'kills' were ‘emotive’.
Subsequent, even milder, pictures of other animals of species killed by the OU were also deemed ‘emotive’, and Professor Steven Rose called the word ‘kills’ ‘pejorative’. SES immediately issued a detailed defence of the ads, citing information from the OU’s own literature, but this has not been addressed. SES then launched a legal challenge and, 19 months after the initial allegations, won the reinstatement of pictures and all disputed text.
Messages were deleted from online discussions in the student common room about opting out of animal experiments, some on the orders of a member of OU staff who claimed that they were ‘inappropriate’. Appeals to other senior members of the Open University and even to OUSA have been met with a closing of ranks and minds. Recipients of correspondence, when they reply at all, have produced standard defensive mantras and, when these are challenged, refused to discuss the issues any further. SES believes that this is at least partly because our claims cannot be refuted, and because the OU establishment will not admit to being in the wrong. This entrenched attitude is the antithesis of the open-mindedness which characterises good science.