Sussex told to compensate student protesters over suspensions

The University of Sussex should not have suspended four students after a protest and should pay compensation, the sector’s complaints body has found

January 21, 2015

The Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s decisions on the students’ cases said that Sussex should offer them formal apologies, alongside payments of between £2,000 and £2,500.

The students were suspended following an occupation on campus in 2013, part of a campaign against the “privatisation” of campus catering services and plans to outsource estates and facilities services.

Sussex had said the students played “an organising role in the occupation”.

The university’s disciplinary hearing against the students in January 2014, at which the students were represented by high-profile barrister Geoffrey Robertson QC, collapsed. The students said they later received “cautions” from Sussex after their cases were reassessed under different regulations.

The OIA’s decision on the case of Michael Segalov, one of the students, says: “We do not consider that the university followed a fair procedure when considering whether to suspend Mr Segalov or that the decision to suspend Mr Segalov was reasonable in the circumstances.”

The OIA gave a “partly justified” decision overall on Mr Segalov’s complaint. Three elements of his complaint were found to be “not justified”, while five were found to be “justified or partly justified”.

The OIA says: “We recommend that within 28 days of the final decision the university writes to Mr Segalov with an apology and offering £2,500 in compensation for the shortcomings identified in this decision. We also recommend that the university reviews and amends its Disciplinary Regulations and Suspension Procedure to ensure clarity and transparency.”

Mr Segalov said: “I believe the university administration targeted us because we were considered to be vocal spokespeople on behalf of a wider campaign against privatisation, and the marketisation of higher education.”

Simon Natas of ITN Solicitors, representing the students, said: “My clients’ suspension from their courses in December 2013 was widely condemned; over 200 members of the academic staff wrote to the vice-chancellor describing the action as disproportionate, an overreaction to student activism and a threat to the right to protest.

“The OIA has now concluded that the suspensions were unfair and unreasonable and has upheld a number of other complaints relating to the conduct of the disciplinary proceedings.”

A Sussex spokesman said: “We are pleased the OIA is satisfied the university ‘followed its procedures when deciding whether to commence disciplinary proceedings’ and that our decision to do so was ‘reasonable in the circumstances’. 

“The OIA also found it was ‘reasonable for the university to conclude that the decision to bring disciplinary proceedings against students involved in the occupation did not contravene their right to freedom of speech or assembly’. 

“However, we note the OIA’s finding there needs to be greater clarity and transparency of information in regards to the process for student disciplinary matters.”

The spokesman said that the OIA’s recommendations “will be implemented”.

john.morgan@tesglobal.com

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