Solidarity with expelled UC Davis student

University of Birmingham Defend Education stand in solidarity with Tomas, the expelled UC Davis student protester, and all those who support him against the draconian measures imposed by UC Davis (University of California) in order to silence dissent.

The UC Davis and City of Davis Police arrested the undergraduate student in his dorm room in the early hours of 17th March for Felony Vandalism, relating to graffiti on campus. He was held incommunicado in jail during the final weeks of terms, unable to take his final exams and without the ability to contact legal representation. The university, which warranted his arrest, failed to notify any of his family, friends or department. He has now been expelled due to poor academic performance.

As a political activist, he had been involved with Occupy UC Davis and was arrested in the infamous incident of November 2011 where peaceful protesters were pepper-sprayed by police. The actions of UC Davis are clearly politically motivated and a means to suppress activism, intimidate those involved in it, and discourage the student body from standing up for Higher Education issues. This is part of a wider endemic panic surrounding student activism where peaceful protesters are treated as criminals, face inflated charges and are assumed guilty before ever reaching trial.

The situation of Tomas mirrors the circumstances faced by our own Vice-President Education earlier this academic year, when after being arrested and held in prison for 10 days following a peaceful protest, he returned to find that he had been suspended on grounds were inextricable from his arrest. He served a three month suspension despite being found not guilty a few months after his reinstatement. The University of Birmingham has also taken out an injunction criminalising occupation-style protests on campus which has been condemned by organisations such as Amnesty International and the Index on Censorship, and is pursuing disciplinary action against a student who was involved in a peaceful occupation of a unused university building.

It is sickening to see universities on both sides of the Atlantic behaving in such a draconian, unilateral and repressive manner. Universities are renowned for being places of learning, discussion and debate, where students are encouraged to develop as individuals and engaged members of society. The increasing use of underhand tactics to quash political dissent represent a firm departure from this proud tradition and a worrying trend in which freedom of political expression and the fundamentals of democracy are severely encroached upon.

The actions of Occupy UC Davis, and of students and activists in California in general have been a great inspiration to students in the U.K. The similarities of the protests against fee hikes and deep funding cuts are manyfold. It is inspiring to see that despite the intense persecution the movement faces it manages to achieve such meaningful successes as the recent forced closure of a bank on campus, the news of which made it all the way to England. The history of protest in the UC system is long and deeply entrenched in the core values of public education, the foundations of which will not be shaken through police or university repression.

We join the call for the UC Davis administration to readmit Tomas immediately to complete his studies free from harassment and we encourage other students from around the world to do the same.

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Statement on Trustee Board resolution to sack VPE

The following is a statement on behalf of University of Birmingham Defend Education in response to the recent Trustee Board decision to secretly take a Vote of No Confidence in VPE Edd Bauer:

Defend Education considers this move to be an entirely illegitimate action by the Trustee Board, one that fundamentally undermines the democratic nature of the Guild itself, making a mockery of what the Guild of Students, and indeed any democratic union, represents.

In short, we believe that when it comes to elected representatives such as Guild Officers, regardless of any allegations made against them, it’s plainly illegitimate to have the democratic will of students as to who they want to represent them, casually thrown aside by a small, unrepresentative group, especially in secret.

Aside from campus-wide referendums, given that Guild Council is the highest elected body representing students, who also has the power to take a Vote of No Confidence, it is therefore only democratically within their mandate alone to do so.

As such, Defend Education calls for:

1) Guild Councillors to uphold democracy as a core value of the Guild and call for the Trustee Board to drop the VNC, and rather for any concerns to be brought before Guild Council, either as questions, censures or even a democratic Vote of No Confidence.

2) A publicity drive – It is entirely undemocratic for the Trustee Board to attempt a Vote of No Confidence in an officer elected by students – it is for Guild Council to do this. Students need to be made aware of what has happened and how undemocratic this has been. Bauer represents us and should only be accountable to us.

3) Student Media Groups to support the core value of democracy within the Guild and recognise the severity of this situation. We call on them to publish this article and the analysis it contains, as well as a report on what has happened over the last month, condemning the undemocratic and illegitimate actions of the Trustee Board.

4) Reclaim the Guild to have a final push to get the signatures needed for an EGM.

5) Students to actively lobby the Trustee Board not to do this – email them and express your concerns. Point out that to do this is illegitimate and undermining student democracy. Email addresses attached below.

Finally, Defend Education believes that as the Trustee Board carrying through this Vote of No Confidence would be a completely unacceptable blow to their legitimacy and to any remaining optimism that students still run their own union, this action would have to be met with a much stronger response. This move directly contravenes everything the Guild of Students stands for, undermining the vital democratic processes our Guild is founded upon, and if it is not dropped, we will fight back.

Some further analysis

Defend Education considers this move to be an entirely illegitimate action by the Trustee Board which directly violates the democratic principles that any union ought to represent.

There are two key premises instrumental to our analysis of this move by the Trustee Board. Firstly, the acceptance that democracy should be striven for in every important decision made within the Guild and secondly that the Guild is a Students’ Union seeking to represent its members.

Democracy is the means by which decisions can be made that represent the majority of constituents and members, allowing for conflict, consensus and compromise in a cooperative environment. Defend Education supports democratic practice and wishes to see full implementation of democratic processes throughout the Guild. We have Guild Council as the highest elected student body to represent student views.

A union seeks above all else to represent its members, in this case where the University fails to do so. If the cause necessitates political action for the good of its members, then such action is justified by the mandates held by the Officers. Therefore the Guild must retain autonomy from the University and maintain itself as a strong and cohesive organisation, through which positive change can be achieved.

This move is indicative of Trustee Board dominance within the Guild and of their confidence in their autonomy from its democratic structures. The VPE uses the metaphor of a “two-headed beast”, which accurately describes what the University and Guild higher management have become. Rather than maintaining a strong Guild that works in unity to gain success, we have a Guild that is weakened by red tape, a lack of support for student action and direct political infighting. This means that the Guild fails its mandate to represent students in these tumultuous times and on such contentious issues – as well as falling far below decent democratic standards.

We note that the Trustee Board does hold the right to override the democratic processes of the Guild by virtue of its very nature; they will no doubt be desperate to remind everyone that they are a governing body whose concern is for the long-term stability of the Guild. This authority is given to them because the Guild is legally a charity which necessitates the existence of such a governing body. This is problematic insofar as the Guild exists primarily as a democratic student union, and this Guild-as-charity model in which the Trustee Board can override any democratic mechanism is somewhat incompatible with – and contradictory to – that purpose. As such, the exercise of the Trustee Board’s power to run the Guild undemocratically is surely only legitimised in emergency  situations where the long-term stability of the Guild is actually threatened. There is no possibility that the actions of the VP(E) actually threaten the long-term stability of the Guild – this is a simply ludicrous claim and is far removed from reality. The Trustee Board using this power to make undemocratic, highly political decisions in normal, non-critical situations is a really worrying situation, which shows the pressing urgency of reform. Ironically, the effects for Guild governance of this alien, undemocratic body overriding the student vote would be far more damaging in the long-term than anything Edd Bauer could possibly achieve; perhaps, as such, the Trustee Board should hold a Vote of No Confidence in itself?

The Guild of Students and students in higher education across Britain have a long history of successful protests amid great adversity, from the occupation of the Great Hall in 1968 to the student protests against the cuts in 2010. However, this year various groups and individuals have actively created a popular discourse criminalising and demonising protest action, from President Mark Harrop’s actions in response to the occupation of the North Gate building to the more general discourse within the Guild. We believe that because of this negative framework for protest that has been constructed by right-wing political actors, any protest action will necessarily be perceived as negative. These actors propagate the idea that the only way for the Guild to exist with the University is in a peaceful and subservient partnership, and thus any actions more direct than this will be construed as damaging to the Guild. However, the idea of a ‘partnership’ is not what was ever intended for the Guild. Yes, a working relationship must be maintained and cooperation is often necessary for progression to be achieved, but the Guild must ultimately retain its autonomy and be prepared to take strong, cohesive political action against the University when necessary and support its members in doing so. As the current social conception of what our Guild should be is a construction by right-wing political actors, it is unsurprising that Edd Bauer and other protesters are being found guilty before trial – however within the historical framework of student activism we can see the VPE in a far more positive light.

Finally, while they are separate from us, Defend Education believes that recent events and this move by the Trustee Board draw an even stronger line under the necessity of the ‘Reclaim the Guild’ campaign. We need a strong Guild that represents students, and in which student democracy cannot be undermined by a small committee with a non-student majority. The undemocratic dominance of the Trustee Board needs to be put to an end, and the very way in which we perceive our Guild must be changed. As such, it’s vital that the the General Meeting that the Reclaim the Guild petition calls for for a General Meeting in order that change might be truly realised.

Student Trustee Contact Details:

Mark Harrop (President) – president@guild.bham.ac.uk
Hugo Sumner (VPDR) – vpdr@guild.bham.ac.uk
Fliss Cross (VPAD) – vpad@guild.bham.ac.uk
Hannah Coakley – hxc938@bham.ac.uk
Will Hawkins – w.mieville-hawkins@guild.bham.ac.uk
Emily Halford – e.halford@guild.bham.ac.uk

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Freedom of infomation request, the cost of the protest ban

by Ben Aylott

In December the University of Birmingham decided it would be a good idea to take out a high court injunction banning “occupational” protests on its campus by “persons unknown” (broadly speaking…it was vague enough to include almost anyone). The measure was condemnded by Amnesty International, Liberty, and Index on Censorship who (variously) described it as “aggressive” and “censorious”.

It has formed part of an aggressive campaign to crush student and staff dissent against senior management, which has included the intimidation of pickets, politically motivated disciplinaries for students, and the arbitrary suspension of elected student officers from university committees and meetings.

I thought it may be a matter of public interest to find out the cost of obtaining this high court injunction. Propsective applicants to UoB, who are now going to be paying £9000, may be interested what their fees will be paying for. Or, say, if you were another University leader wanting to know how much it will cost to get your own high court injunction and implement the “Birmingham method” to clamp down on your own student and staff.

Following a FOI request UoBs legal services department have kindly provided me with a figure of £14,403.20+VAT or the cost of 1.88 students fees for a year at Birmingham (assuming VAT at 17.5%).

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What a bargain!

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These values are for the students of today, not the past.

Cross-posted From Edd Bauer’s VP Education Blog

The guild of students have just circulated a set of photos for “alumni” celebrating guild of student’s campaigns over the years. This is part of an alumni strategy to build up a alumni network which will generate revenue for the guild. In the selection they choose to celebrate items as radical as “”No debate with the thugs in blue, Spartacist” & “General strike now Spartacist League”. Yet this is from the student union who in response to the ban on protests condemned by amnesty international said it “does not limit their freedom of speech in any way”, despite stanch criticism this statement was never withdrawn.

They are happy to market our past to nostalgic ex-students but not work and live by the same values today. Many of the campaigns celebrated in the alumni album are of great significance and value. Such as the old of photos of reclaim the night marches and the famous picket which drove Enoch Powel’s racist drivel off campus.

I wonder if the guild of students know who the Spartacist League are?

The guild doesn’t stand up for the right to protest anymore, it doesn’t support liberation groups either. It is belittling to reduce the history of student radicalism and liberation movements to a nostalgic kitsch to be marketed to old members as part of an alumni fundraising strategy.These protests and campaigns should be celebrated but not just as a kitsch nostalgic alumni drive but, as a living part of the union today.

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Democratic culture in the guild?

Cross posted from Edd Bauer s VP Education Blog

Today Guild Councillors have been protesting the proposal that the trustee-board should circumvent Guild Council. 22 Councillors have already signed a joint letter in protest to the board. Their excellent letter can be found here and is well worth a read.

A proposal from “team 10”, not elected students.

The motion to the trusteeboard is labeled as having come from the “sabbatical officer team”. This is not the case, I do not support it, the decision to send it to the trustee-board was in fact made by team 10. Which is a guild committee  made up of the three senior managers and the sabbs. Several member of the sabbatical officer team were unhappy with the decision.

Guild Council has already decided the matter.

On 15th of March Guild council was presented with an emergency motion for a new officer disciplinary policy. It was given three options, to one pass it, two defer it or three amend. Guild Council decided to defer it opting to have more time to pass a better policy at the next council rather than rush it and have a bad one implemented in the meantime.

We have seen the damage a bad policy can cause.

The shock today is the revelation that three trustees unhappy with this decision by students at guild council to defer are putting a motion to the unelected trustee board giving the board the same options that guild council had. Surely the decision by guild council should have been the end of it?

What this highlights is we simply don’t have a very deeply rooted democratic culture, in many unions the idea proposing this to the unelected board would be an anathema.

Two questions for the three trustees who proposed the motion.

1. If the three trustees are so unhappy with the decision at guild council and want it reviewed. Then how come they are not petitioning to call an emergency guild council to get a new debate on the subject?

2. Why have the three trustees not even attempted to seek any form of mandate for the decision if they didn’t have the time for an emergency guild council why didn’t they then circulate a letter around guild councillors asking them to sign?

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Clarification on Wednesdays protest, was the guild mandated to support it?

The National Union of students called a National Day of Action on March 14th in response to the white paper being put before parliament and the pledge by the government to put it through before the end of the parliament.

The Birmingham demonstration was organised by Birmingham City University, with the Guild of Students refusing to put any resources or support into the event. Despite being under-promoted the demonstration managed to get media attention by use of direct action with a sit-in at the Vodafone store in the Bullring.

However, since the protest a sabbatical officer has claimed in the press that the Guild was not mandated to support the demonstration.

In a statement Hugo Sumner, Vice President (Democracy & Resources), said: ‘The Guild is not mandated to support the NUS Week of Action, there has been no Guild Council motion asking us to do so.’ (from Redbrick)

This is an outright falsehood; at the last Guild Council students passed the following by a massive majority

  1.  “In the event of the white paper being presented to parliament in for either a bill or reading to as follows.” The guild shall :
  2. Join in calls for the NUS to organise a national demonstration against privatisation.
  3. To organise and participate in mass of lobby of MP’s at local surgeries, with lettering writing and at parliament. 
  4.  Organise a demonstration on campus calling on the vice chancellor to condemn the white paper. For this demonstration to be done in conjunction with trade unions on campus. If a national of local actions are called then this demonstration should take place on this day so as to better coordinate with the student movement.”

The white paper was presented to parliament which activated the clause – specifically section C. Although the paper was later “delayed” under pressure, its proposals are still being implemented and the government have said they will put this in again to parliament in the future. As such, the NUS are campaigning against the paper and local actions were called for. The guild was clearly mandated to support these.

The demo was fully organised by BCU, backed by the NUS and it is was fully risk assessed. The officers claimed that they could not support the demo because another demo organised by a different group hadn’t gone as they wished. This is clearly a ludicrous position – the Guild doesn’t stop using all club promoters if it has a bad experience with one.

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Statement on: Vote of no confidence in David Eastwood

This is statement from defend education campaign to clarify about the vote of no confidence in David Eastwood motion, that has been distributed last night as an emergency motion.

This was not submitted an “emergency motion” as has been communicated, it was submitted on time.  We would not submit such an important motion without warning we want a proper debate in the run up to council on the issue. Steering and the trustee-board blocked this debate. As they have made this discussion impossible, the motion is now being withdrawn.

 What we wanted

 We wanted a debate. Just debating a “no confidence” motion is great way to draw attention to all the extremely worrying practices and policies pushed by the vice chancellor David Eastwood.  This guild council fell in the week of the national union of student week of action to defend higher education, they debate could have been a great addition to the week and contributed well to awareness.

It was our intention to create a debate on the policies of our vice chancellor. We think his actions outlined below require a serious debate in the form of a no confidence motion.

Our vice chancellor is not an ordinary vice chancellor, he become something of a spokesperson and lobbyist for all of the changes happening to higher education at present. His tenure has seen an immense politicization of his position. Since coming into office he has become somewhat of a hatchet man for the government.

What we want to see debated

1)     David Eastwood has not only lobbied for but wrote the Browne Review, which recommended fees to be raised and the sector to marketised.

2)     He immediately raised tuition fees at the university to £9000 maximum, while at the same time as overseeing £10 million pounds worth of cuts and hike in hall fees.

3)     In the press he has worked hard on several occasions writing polemics in defense of government policy.

4)     Not only has David Eastwood fully come in support of the higher education whitepaper but he has actively lobbied for it.

5)     His “ban” on protests brought condemnation of the university in the national press by amnesty international and Liberty.

6)     Year on year he has taken corruptly ever larger pay increases despite the harsh economic environment. He is now the 2nd highest paid Vice Chancellor in the UK causing controversy in the press and bringing the university further into disrepute. At the same he pays many of his staff poverty wages.

7)     His profligacy in personal expenses notably the luxury £282,000 refurbishment of his university provided mansion has been the cause of further media scandal.

8)     Despite his generous pay and perks he has deemed it fit not to dedicate all this time to his job as Vice Chancellor taking a second paid job as a director of the academic pension scheme.

9)     As a director of the pension scheme he has overseen massive and unnecessary cuts to academic pensions that caused academics to go on strike twice once on June 30th and again on November 30th.

10)  He has been exposed as lobbying to allow private companies to set up universities without checks or regulations.

Why are now withdrawing the motion

The motion was quite clearly a political debate, however several officers and members of steering pushed very had for any debate on the subjected to be blocked. The issue of whether guild was going to be allowed to debate the issue was deferred to the trustee board. Several members of the trustee board pushed for the debate to be stopped

 

The debate was allowed to go ahead, this decision was not made until 4pm Wednesday the 14th , the day before the guild council. Our original intention was to create a large cross campus debate on the ten above points; we have been thwarted in this by maneuvers by several officers and trustees. Because we believe unlike the trustees and officers that students should have the right to debate this issue properly we are deferring the debate until a later guild council.David Eastwood should be aware large number of students are opposed to this action and he faces a vote of no confidence in the near future.

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