Seven suspended over sit-in protest

Three members of Middlesex staff targeted after campus occupations. John Morgan reports

May 27, 2010

Three academics and four students have been suspended by Middlesex University after sit-in protests against the closure of philosophy courses.

Protesters staged an 11-day occupation of the Mansion Building at the university's Trent Park campus in North London this month, followed by a one-night occupation of the library.

Two professors and a senior lecturer at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP) were told that they had been suspended "pending investigation into your involvement in the occupations".

Middlesex obtained a High Court injunction to end the first occupation. It then drafted in a team of security guards - who gave statements to the university that will be used against students involved in the library occupation.

The protests were sparked by the university's announcement that it will phase out all teaching in philosophy.

Many fear the university wants to close the CRMEP, Middlesex's highest-rated department in the 2008 research assessment exercise.

Middlesex said that the teaching cuts were a result of undergraduate numbers in philosophy being too low.

Three of the CRMEP's six staff were suspended after the occupations: Peter Osborne, Peter Hallward and Christian Kerslake. They cannot complete this year's postgraduate teaching and marking.

The suspension notice given to the students by Fiona Fall, Middlesex's deputy academic registrar, says: "We are writing to only a few of you so far, but will write to others similarly involved when they can be identified."

Evidence that will be used against the four students at a disciplinary hearing, scheduled for 28 May, will include images of the Mansion Building occupation taken from the social-networking site Facebook.

The protesters said the occupations were peaceful. But the university claims in a statement that the first sit-in "resulted in assaults and injuries to members of staff".

Middlesex describes the occupations as "illegal", but says it will take no action against those who protested lawfully.

In an open letter this week, a group of 18 publishers and editors warns that axing philosophy at Middlesex would be "disastrous for the academic and intellectual life of the country" and urges the university to reconsider its plans.

At the University of Sussex, six students who were suspended for taking part in an occupation in March over planned job cuts went before a disciplinary panel last week. They were fined and told to write letters of apology after charges of "injurious conduct" were upheld. More serious charges of "riotous" behaviour were dropped.

Meanwhile, at the University of the Arts London, members of the University and College Union have voted to strike over plans to close courses and cut jobs.

And King's College London said it would avoid compulsory redundancies in its School of Arts and Humanities, where all academics had been put on notice of possible redundancy. A number of staff are in voluntary severance talks.

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