Campaigners decry curbs on right to protest

Academics and students unite in condemnation of ‘violent’ crackdown on sit-ins and demonstrations

December 12, 2013

Student leaders, academics, campaign groups and an MP have criticised what they believe is an attack on the right to protest on campus after a wave of university occupations.

Sit-ins and demonstrations at nine universities last week led to numerous arrests and student suspensions, with the University of London obtaining an injunction to ban further “occupational protests” on and around its Bloomsbury campus.

However, many have questioned whether the crackdown is proportionate and have criticised the violent break-up of the London sit-in.

Rachel Wenstone, vice-president of the National Union of Students, said she was “appalled” by the handling of student protests in Sussex and London. Calling for an inquiry into allegations of police brutality in London, she said university occupations were “legitimate tactics”, while legal orders banning them were “disproportionate and draconian”.

Tabling an early day motion in the Commons, John McDonnell MP said students were being “persecuted”, and all protests that took place had been “peaceful”. “Suspending students for an occupation is not acceptable,” he said.

Students were being met with “real intimidation” when protesting, and video footage of police action in London appeared to show “real violence”, he added. But Chris Cobb, chief operating officer at London, said action was needed after the “violent and intimidating behaviour” of protesters, while police say arrests followed breaches of the peace.

The suspension of five Sussex students involved in the sit-in was lifted on 9 December after more than 9,000 people signed a petition expressing no confidence in the executive group of the university’s vice-chancellor Michael Farthing. But the students still face disciplinary action over the occupation, which Sussex says posed “a threat to the safety and well-being of students, staff and visitors”.

The petition, organised by the university’s student union, called on all students to join a day of action on 10 December. A separate letter signed by 30 professors from the universities of Sussex and Brighton has also condemned the “attempt to criminalise” students for their activism.

Times Higher Education free 30-day trial

You've reached your article limit

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 6 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

question marks PhD study

Selecting the right doctorate is crucial for success. Robert MacIntosh and Kevin O'Gorman share top 10 tips on how to pick a PhD

India, UK, flag

Sir Keith Burnett reflects on what he learned about international students while in India with the UK prime minister

Pencil lying on open diary

Requesting a log of daily activity means that trust between the institution and the scholar has broken down, says Toby Miller

Application for graduate job
Universities producing the most employable graduates have been ranked by companies around the world in the Global University Employability Ranking 2016
Retired academics calculating moves while playing bowls

Lincoln Allison, Eric Thomas and Richard Larschan reflect on the ‘next phase’ of the scholarly life