University of London vice-chancellor Sir Adrian Smith has accused student protesters of provoking police action amid fresh criticism of the institution’s “hardline approach” to a campus occupation.
In a letter to university staff dated 11 December, Sir Adrian says “anti-establishment protesters” who occupied the university’s Senate House headquarters on 4 and 5 December had set out to “provoke a situation which means police have to be called to campus”.
Last week’s sit-in and subsequent protests calling for “cops off campus” led to the arrest of 41 students, mainly during what student groups have called the “violent eviction” of Senate House.
The university also obtained an injunction banning “occupational protest” in and around its Bloomsbury campus.
However, a mass protest against police action on students did take place on the afternoon of 11 December. Hundreds of students assembled outside the University of London Union’s Malet Street base at 2pm before rallying outside the gates of Senate House.
A handful of protesters briefly entered the front courtyard in front of the university’s famous tower, but left to join the main demonstration in the grounds of Soas, University of London.
No uniformed officers attended the demonstration, which was largely peaceful, though there were reports of confrontations with police after protesters marched through central London towards the Royal Courts of Justice, where the inquiry into the police shooting of Mark Duggan is taking place.
Ahead of the 11 December protest, George Galloway tabled an early day motion in the House of Commons that urged MPs to condemn the University of London management for its use of police and security staff to “break up a peaceful protest against plans to close down the student union”.
Using parliamentary privilege, Mr Galloway also asked the Commons to condemn the “naked mendacity of the statement from Chris Cobb, the University’s chief operating officer, that the University would always support peaceful and legitimate protest”.
Unite general secretary Len McCluskey has also criticised how some vice-chancellors have used “macho tactics to crush dissent”, saying “police appear to be collaborating with this hardline approach”.
In his first public statement on the unrest at London, Sir Adrian says the occupation was “intimidating” for staff, who were “trapped…in their offices for four hours”.
By blocking fire exits, students “created a situation which had the singular purpose of requiring a police presence”, Sir Adrian adds. This meant “they got their desired headlines the next day”.
Sir Adrian says he is “personally saddened” that the university had been accused of “stifling protest in an undemocratic manner”, saying “no-one has a problem with peaceful, lawful student protests”.
Indeed, several people within the senior management team had participated in student protest themselves including “anti-apartheid, CND, Miner’s Strike, student fees, etc”.
However, the campaign against the abolition of ULU was misguided as “the overwhelming response” from a consultation with college students’ unions “was that ULU’s time was over”, given that the “relevance of the federal union has declined”.
He also accuses ULU of “hypocrisy” in its campaign for improved terms and conditions for outsourced staff, saying it had only recently introduced the Living Wage for its own staff.