Martin McQuillan (“Selective hearing”, Features, 8 May) ignores those facts about the student occupations at the University of Sussex that do not fit his narrative. For instance, in March last year several thousand people were called to a demonstration in support of the occupation through posters that invited them to “fuck things up”. Subsequently, a number of protesters smashed glass doors, burned records, wrecked furniture, intimidated staff and stole cash and personal property from desks. I doubt that he would tolerate such acts at Kingston University or that he would consider such behaviour “idealistic”.
Registrar and secretary
University of Sussex
Martin McQuillan states the choices for universities clearly. They can either develop as consumer organisations that must recognise student concerns (at least to some extent) to survive. Or they can develop as authoritarian regimes that massage student opinion to retain their privileges. Neither path is delightful. But at present, as they are not resolving this dilemma, they will be caught on its horns.
It’s right to warn of the managerialist co-option of the student voice (“The students are no longer revolting”, Feature, 8 May), where obedient students are encouraged to speak but are not necessarily listened to. But I can’t agree with Joanna Williams and Jennie Bristow when they say: “For students, the aspiration to be the intellectual equals of their lecturers and critically engaged in the search for new knowledge or the reinterpretation of existing knowledge is entirely laudable. But this should be a privilege students earn after having engaged in an intellectual struggle to master the foundations of a discipline.” (My emphasis.)
It is a right for students: the right to be agents of their own development, the right to be “partners, co-creators and experts” involved with “training staff in new skills…designing curricula and resources – negotiating examination questions…setting assignments, redesigning module provision and delivery”, to adopt the language of the Quality Assurance Agency.
The latter may well be said in managerialist bad faith, but that doesn’t make it wrong per se.
Martin McQuillan says occupations distract students from their primary purpose – study. I disagree. I spent significant periods of my first degree course in occupation of college premises. It taught me skills of organising, public speaking and publicity that I would not have learned in lectures and that have stayed with me since.