Written by Jake Pembroke on behalf of University of Birmingham defend education campaign.
Today, one of the most highly regarded educational institutions in the country has shown a flagrant disregard for the right to protest. The University of Cambridge Court of Discipline has suspended a student from his course until October 2014. His crime? Disrupting a speech being given by David Willets, government minister for Universities and Science, by reading a poem. The student has 28 days to appeal the decision. University Dons and students alike have come together to condemn the decision as ‘arbitrary and wrong’ and that the decision to protect freedom of speech by silencing protest is ‘the height of hypocrisy’, with over 60 signing a Spartacus letter calling to be disciplined alongside the student.
Willetts has been instrumental in pushing to raise university course fees to £9,000 beginning in September 2012, and in promoting marketisation and corporatisation of the public university system. Further to this, the government decision to drop the higher education bill will encourage behind-closed-doors discussion of changes to the system, taking it out of the public eye. In light of this, protest actions like the one undertaken by the Cambridge student are of paramount importance in keeping the fight for a public university system alive.
This suspension is further evidence of the increasingly repressive measures being taken by university management teams to silence the dissenting voices of students and to intimidate the student body into silence. The student in question has been singled out for punishment, despite the protest being a ‘collective act’ conducted by a group of students. What is even more alarming about this case is the justification for his suspension is based on the preservation of free speech. Surely, integral to the preservation of the right to free speech is the freedom to express dissent.
The students of the University of Birmingham extend their solidarity to the Cambridge student, and indeed to any student willing to stand up and fight the regressive changes to the public education system. Education is, and always will be, a right not a privilege, and affronts to students like the one today constitute an affront to all.
When University of Birmingham students have faced disciplinaries, like Simon Furse’s, Cambridge students have travelled down to support us. We will be down in force to defend the suspended student at any demonstration called by Cambridge defend education and we call on students across the country to do the same.