A university has been forced to remove the name of a pioneer of the disabled people’s movement from an annual series of lectures, after it invited a leading critic of his work to deliver the first talk.
The University of Leeds decided to launch the Finkelstein Lecture Series on Equality and Social Justice in memory of Vic Finkelstein, the disabled academic and anti-apartheid campaigner who died six years ago and whose ground-breaking work laid the basis for what became known as the “social model of disability”.
But the decision to launch the series – which “celebrates scholars working at the intersection of academia and activism” – and invite Professor Tom Shakespeare to deliver the first lecture, was made without any consultation with Finkelstein’s family or his closest academic colleagues.
The university decided to use Finkelstein’s name in recognition of his contribution to its School of Sociology and Social Policy between 1994 and 2008 as a visiting senior research fellow.
But it has now removed his name from the event after four of the academics he worked with most closely, themselves all key figures in the field – Professors Mike Oliver, Colin Barnes, Len Barton and John Swain* – wrote to the university’s vice-chancellor to ask him to “urgently” reconsider the plans.
They said in the letter last week: “We have worked closely with [Vic Finkelstein], individually and collectively… and a central tenet that has guided his own work throughout this time has been ‘nothing about us without us’.
“This planned series totally ignores this and we can say with certainty that Mr Finkelstein would not have consented to these plans.”
Although the lecture was set to go ahead this evening (Thursday), all references to Vic Finkelstein have now been removed from the event.
The lecture was being co-hosted by the university’s Centre for Disability Studies, but it stressed that it had no involvement in launching the event or in inviting Shakespeare to deliver the lecture.
Oliver was the first academic to be appointed as a professor of disability studies and it was he who described Finkelstein’s redefinition of the fundamental principles of disability as “the social model of disability”.
He worked with Finkelstein for more than 30 years on various projects, and the three other professors had all worked with or for Finkelstein for more than 20 years before his death in 2011.