On Friday May 28th four students attended disciplinary hearings at Trent Park campus regarding their alleged participation in the occupations of the Mansion building and the library at Trent Park. These occupations were in response to management’s unjustified proposal to axe the highly successful philosophy programme in its entirety.
The hearings focused around three points: admittance of participation in the occupations, allegations of injury, and agreement not to participate in future occupation of University property or cause further ‘disruption’ of the university.
All students freely admitted their role in both occupations. Facing the threat of expulsion a collective decision was made to agree not to participate in future occupations. This was in no way expressed as a disavowal however, and all students stated explicitly to the panel that they would continue to participate fully in the campaign and be present at future demonstrations, exercising their legal rights to protest and freedom of speech and association.
All students denied allegations of assault or violence. The panel alleged that two members of staff were injured and one hospitalised. No hard evidence was produced however. The students responded that despite police attending on three occasions at no point did they intervene and nor have they questioned any students regarding such allegations. The response from the panel was that police involvement would depend on the ‘severity of the injury’. When asked to elaborate on the severity of alleged injuries, as well as allegations of broken bones made by security and management in the press, the panel declined to comment. The students made it clear that whilst they would not condone injury nevertheless they did not injure anyone.
The students also questioned the nature of the hearing and its adherence to university protocol. It was noted that evidence was not provided beforehand as promised and that insufficient time was given for the students to prepare their case, factors contributing to what the students deemed an unfair hearing. Some statements by security also contained factual inaccuracies and other visual evidence was extremely ambiguous, in some instances it being questionable as comprising evidence.
The university’s scapegoating tactic was also queried by all students, to which no coherent response could be elicited from the panel. Nor could they explain the criteria used to identify particular individuals.
The hearing was brought to a (provisional) conclusion with each student having 3 points (‘grave warning’) marked against their student record, with consequent exclusion from university premises without permission for the period it takes management to investigate the occupations (approx. one month), after which the case will be reviewed.
The students believe the repeated emphasis on misleading, vague and ambiguous questions by the panel to be part of a strategy to predetermine the outcome; confirmation that the hearings were not conducted fairly or without prejudice – this is clear in view of the university’s violation of its own disciplinary protocol. In the Vice-chancellor’s immediate public response, he inaccurately deployed the phrase ‘the regret’ of the students which they strongly refute. Political action is not a regret for those who see it as both their right, and indeed a necessity, to stand up and protect their education; to resist the oppressive stealth tactics of unthinking bureaucrats who try to steep us and the university in a morass of neo-liberal logic.
Ali Alizadeh, Nicola Goodchild, Johann Vadseth Hoiby, Hoi Yen Voong