Four students were suspended on Friday 21 May: Ali Alizadeh, Nicola Goodchild, Johann Hoiby, and Hoi Yen Voong. The suspension blocks them ‘from entering any part of the University’s premises without written permission’ from management. The students have been informed by the Head of Student Services Fiona Fall (F.Fall@mdx.ac.uk) that ‘we are writing to only a few of you so far but will write to others similarly involved when they can be identified.’
Three members of staff were also suspended on Friday afternoon: Professors Peter Osborne (head of the CRMEP) and Peter Hallward (programme leader for the Middlesex Philosophy MA programmes), and senior lecturer Dr. Christian Kerslake (who learned about his suspension over the weekend), pending investigation into their involvement in the occupations. This means that half of the Philosophy staff have now been suspended from duty.
There are a number of striking things about the staff suspension notices. First of all, staff have been suspended in anticipation of (rather than following) ‘an investigation surrounding the occupations’ at Trent Park. The notices do not refer to any specific allegation of wrong-doing, and do not indicate a timetable for the investigation.
Second, the notices do not formulate a ‘proportionate’ response to the circumstances. For instance, they do not simply prevent staff from communicating with colleagues and students about further occupations or ‘disruption’ at Middlesex. Instead, they command staff to ‘refrain from contacting in any way any University employee, student or any University contractor or supplier without the prior agreement of the Dean or a member of Executive.’ It is hard to see how this command respects basic rights of association and contact. In order now to conduct a routine supervisory meeting with a research student, for instance, staff must now request permission from their Dean and provide him with details of when any supervisory meetings will take place, so that (as a recent management instruction puts it) ‘arrangements can be made for their attendance at the University.’
Third, the notices indicate that ‘the suspension is not a disciplinary penalty in itself and does not imply any decision about the merits of the case’. They instruct staff to continue to ‘ carry out all reasonable duties specified by the University in relation to the delivery of your role’ (in other words, they simultaneously suspend staff from duty and instruct them to carry on working more or less as normal). Osborne and Hallward, however, have now specifically been denied permission to attend a regular once-a-term meeting of the University-wide Professors Group, scheduled for Friday 28 May. This is a group constituted and organised by academic (as distinct from managerial) Professors themselves several years ago, originally in opposition to a previous round of management cuts. The great majority of the University’s academic professors already signed a strongly-worded letter condemning the closure of Philosophy, and they are unlikely to appreciate this extraordinary and unprecedented managerial intervention in the operations of their group.
Savemdxphil@gmail.com has already received scores of outraged letters about the suspensions from academics all over the world. We will post a few more of these later today.
The implications of these suspensions extend far beyond the fate of the Philosophy programmes at Middlesex. Students and staff have been suspended for the ‘crime’ of campaigning to save their own courses and jobs. Since it is hard to imagine a more innocuous occasion for student protest than a library sit-in designed to mount a symbolic defence of endangered books and programmes, it is hard to escape the conclusion that what is at stake here is nothing less than the right to protest itself – or at least, the right to protest in ways that might have some actual impact. When he was informed of his suspension shortly after the sit-in ended on Friday, one of the students was told by management that he was indeed entitled to protest the closure of his programme by ordinary, ‘legitimate’ means, e.g. by writing letters, organising petitions, and so on. But he was also told that when thousands of people sign a petition or ‘push a button on Facebook’, this doesn’t indicate a meaningful expression of support.
It looks, then, as if the Campaign will have to continue to provide alternative opportunities for such expression. The issues at stake in this struggle are matters of urgent and far-reaching principle. If you oppose the closures and their implications for humanities teaching, if you oppose the suspensions and their implications for academic freedom and the rights of association and protest, then please attend a rally at on Thursday 27 May, from 4pm onwards, at Middlesex University’s Hendon campus.
Tuesday 25 May 2010.