Trinity lecturer wins unfair dismissal case over female circumcision comments

Dr Selim ‘got caught up in wave of negative publicity’ – Workplace Relations Commission

Dr Selim’s unfair dismissal came seven months after comments he made on RTÉ’s Primetime on female circumcision sparked widespread criticism. Photograph:  Brenda Fitzsimons

Dr Selim’s unfair dismissal came seven months after comments he made on RTÉ’s Primetime on female circumcision sparked widespread criticism. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons

 

A university lecturer at the centre of controversy last year over television comments he made about female genital mutilation (FGM) has won his unfair dismissal case against Trinity College Dublin (TCD).

Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) adjudication officer Penelope McGrath has ordered TCD to pay Arabic lecturer Dr Ali Selim €6,144 after finding he was unfairly dismissed by the college last September.

Dr Selim is one of the leading figures in the Irish Muslim community. Ms McGrath has ordered TCD to pay Dr Selim €4,000 for his unfair dismissal, €1,644 for non-payment of notice and €500 for not receiving his written terms of employment.

Backlash

Dr Selim’s unfair dismissal came seven months after comments he made on RTÉ’s Primetime on female circumcision sparked widespread criticism from students at TCD, doctors and other Islamic leaders.

Dr Selim told Primetime that female circumcision is acceptable in some cases where it is carried out by a doctor and practised in a safe environment.

Days after the interview, Dr Selim apologised and stated that he condemned FGM in the strongest terms.

He said: “I admit that I caused confusion based on my misunderstanding of the term [circumcision] and I do apologise for this ... I was out of my comfort zone and I misunderstood the terms as the medical experts would use them.”

Referring to the controversy in her findings, Ms McGrath stated Dr Selim “got caught up in a wave of negative publicity” arising from the comments.

Ms McGrath said Dr Selim had subsequently asserted that he had been misinterpreted but “there can be no doubt that the damage had already been done and as his “views” came to be known on the campus these was a significant backlash against him. Students protested and boycotted his classes”.

Alternative lecturer

In the days after Dr Selim’s appearance on Primetime, TCD confirmed that a different lecturer would teach Dr Selim’s Arabic language students who were offended by his remarks.

TCD confirmed the move in response to complaints “from a large number of Dr Ali Selim’s students”.

In her report on the case, Ms McGrath stated she accepts fully that the majority of Dr Selim’s existing students did not avail of the alternative lecturer and Dr Selim himself suggests those that left him may not have known him as well as his 3rd and 4th year students.

In September 2018, TCD told Dr Selim his services were no longer required.

Offering its rationale for no longer employing Dr Selim, TCD told the commission his core subjects were not being availed of by students.

The college stated whether that was because of a general disinterest or an active movement to boycott his classes is unknown to the university.

TCD stated either way, it could not retain Dr Selim to give classes that no-one would attend.

In response, Dr Selim stated he was never provided by TCD with a cogent reason for letting him go. He asserted that TCD “lacked the fortitude” to retain him as a lecturer when his retention might have been unpopular with the student body arising out of cultural differences.Ms McGrath found that TCD’s actions were “inadequate”.