Five Sussex students were today, Wednesday 4th December, suspended by Vice-Chancellor, Michael Farthing as he exercised his “authority to temporarily suspend [their] studies and exclude [them] from the University campus.” The suspensions follow protests against the outsourcing of Sussex services to private companies, the occupation of Bramber House in support of fair pay in higher education and the presence of students at the picket lines on the December 3rd national strike.
The occupation was a legal, peaceful means of protest and one undertaken as a last resort. Approximately one hundred students entered the conference centre on Tuesday 26th November in a calm, non-confrontational manner. The occupation was not disruptive to any academic activity nor were any academic lectures rescheduled or disrupted as a result of its presence. Its purpose was to reclaim a University space now owned by a profit-driven private company and to support striking staff in their endeavours to gain fair and equal pay. Any “disruption”, then, was to the private company and its business ends as opposed to students or University staff. It raises concern that Management prioritise the concerns of a business above the concerns of their students and employees. Further, it is laughable that Management have chosen to accuse students of “intimidating” behaviour given the continued and systematic intimidation and censorship of those involved in legitimate, peaceful protests at the University.
Last year, Sussex students voted overwhelmingly against the forthcoming outsourcing (a decision made by Management without any consultation with the student body, staff or relevant unions) in a referendum held by the Student’s Union. Furthermore, a large number of students came to join the picket lines on December 3rd in support of a nationally organised strike. In spite of any such empiricism, Management continue to disingenuously assert that any protests and campaigns at Sussex are composed of a “disruptive minority” of students.
The suspended students are being scapegoated as the “ringleaders” of the campaign against privatisation. This assertion is factually flawed in that the anti-privatisation movement is, and has always been, horizontally organised and involved no leadership. As such, there are no positions or hierarchies within the anti-privatisation campaign. Management cite the Five’s “organising role[s]” in the occupation. Such language misunderstands not only the nature of the movement, but the ideas and ideals of democracy – any “organising” is, and was, always undertaken by all of the individuals in the movement.
The suspensions are arbitrary, unjustifiable and detrimental to the education of five, academically high-performing students (three of whom are also representatives in the Students’ Union). Such punishment, beyond being morally deplorable, directly contravenes rights guaranteed by the European Convention on Human Rights (Arts 10 & 11) and undermines the ethic of care which ought to be present in any educational institution.
It is beyond regrettable that Management continue to ignore requests by students and staff for meaningful dialogue and chose instead to intimidate, criminalise and penalise those who speak against them. Their methods and approaches are indicative of their detachment from the campus community. Intimidation, suspensions and evictions continue to be a preferred (if a more costly) way of dealing with legitimate concern and peaceful resistance at the University of Sussex.