Two students suspended from Plymouth University over a spoof newspaper article urging students to kill vice-chancellor Roland Levinsky say they have been victimised for campaigning against the closure of their campus.
James Lewis and James Messenger told The THES that they had not even written the offending article. They are threatening legal action against the university, claiming that their suspension during exams could damage their education and that it has caused them unnecessary distress.
The two senior student union activists at the university's Seale-Hayne Agricultural College have accepted responsibility for distributing the spoof article, but say they have been unfairly targeted for their leading role in protests against plans to close the campus.
"We have been thorns in the side of the vice-chancellor over his plan to close Seale-Hayne," said Mr Lewis, the union's president, "so we are very cynical about this suspension, and we feel there is a link. We have been suspended during exam week, and I'm sure it has affected our performance.
We are consulting lawyers."
The article, headlined "Kill Levinsky and win a Robin Reliant", was intended as a spoof of one that appeared in the Sunday Sport newspaper, headlined "Kill Saddam, win a Metro". The spoof story said that the Seale-Hayne gun club had "been putting in some serious training time...in preparation for their assassination attempt" and was accompanied by a photograph of a topless woman holding guns.
The university acted after Professor Levinsky received telephone death threats at his home, understood to have been made by a woman. It was not clear whether there was a link between the death threats and the article.
The university called the police, who questioned Mr Lewis and Mr Messenger but took no further action.
A university spokesman said that the suspensions had no connection to the students' activities in opposing plans to close Seale-Hayne. "Their views will not affect the outcome of their disciplinary procedure."
He added: "The vice-chancellor received death threats of a serious nature that went far beyond a student prank. The students have acknowledged the seriousness of the content of the student newspaper and have apologised to the vice-chancellor, but for the time being they remain suspended pending the completion of the formal disciplinary procedure."
The student union has suspended publication of the newspaper in which the article appeared - the Seale-Hayne Chronicle - and will itself investigate.
"Once the university has concluded its investigation, the student union will follow disciplinary and complaint procedures that are outlined in its constitution," said welfare officer David Clark.