Students face crackdown after sit-in
By Edd Bauer
I’m a student at the University of Birmingham, and one of twelve facing disciplinary action that could lead to my expulsion after a peaceful one-day sit-in that ended with our forceful eviction by university security and the police.
A second-year student in the theology department, which has already lost a third of its staff due to swinging cuts, was assaulted by a police officer forcing his way into the room. He was linking arms across the door when he was head-butted by an officer and then thrown against the wall. This was described by West Midlands police in a press release as “an officer accidentally clashed heads with a student”.
This video taken in the immediate aftermath as the last students are being pushed out shows a another female student, who has pressed charges of assault against a security guard in a very distressed state describing being pushed to the floor, punched and kicked.
There was no intention for the sit-in to be malicious; we were only attempting to follow the time honoured tradition of student protests to draw attentions to injustices. The University of Birmingham was founded by Joseph Chamberlain because he believed in the principle of free and universal education for all. If anyone should be put through the disciplinary process for their actions it should be the Vice Chancellor David Eastwood, whose damaging cuts are ripping up the principles of the public university.
David Eastwood and the University of Birmingham are pushing ahead with cuts of ten million pounds and 200 jobs despite its income actually being projected to increase by 2012/13, despite government cuts.
The Vice Chancellor David Eastwood sat on the Browne review and has also written a number of letters in the Guardian encouraging fee increases (link to http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2010/nov/10/education-cuts-graduates-tuition-fees).
He has also opted to award himself an 11% pay rise this year despite his staff some of whom are on £12,000 pounds only getting 1%. With inflation at 4.8% this can be taken as a hugely damaging cut to people whose wages are already below the poverty line.
David Eastwood has overseen the hugely controversial closure of the Sociology department. The excellent exposing research done by Academic FOI shows that the University of Birmingham is treating its staff in a very aggressive manner, being one of the top five universities in deployment of gagging orders.
The University of Birmingham’s managers are treating the cuts as opportunity for growth, a veil for disgusting cuts to staff wages and as a chance for self aggrandisement, alienating staff and students from across the political spectrum. By being the first university to attempt to discipline students for standing up to education they are compounding their error.
The hundreds of signatures we have received on our petition and the letters we have received from as far afield as Australia and South Africa are testament to this.
The support we have received from the excellent student body at Birmingham University has been brilliant and unstinting. However, the case has not only thrown into sharp contrast the university’s hard line attitude but also the student union’s inability to represent students. While we have received exceptional support from students and the unions TUC, UCU and Unison, the support from the Birmingham Guild of Students has failed to materialise. The Guild has told us that they can’t support us because they will later sit on the disciplinary panel as our “prosecutors” and so it would be a conflict of interest. I find this deeply troubling; any student union that can’t support its students against the university is failing significantly in its role.
We have a cause that is worth fighting for and no amount of university threats or timid student unions will cause us to cease fighting for it. But the process of a disciplinary is a problem for many of us and is causing a lot of stress and worry. A friend of mine wants to apply to PGCE, but she can’t graduate with a disciplinary case ongoing, and if this case stretches out then the final year students involved are not going to be able to graduate and apply for jobs.
The hearings will take place on Wednesday, 2nd February; the students involved are worried they will go on for sometime. Please spare a thought and spread our petition by e-mail, Facebook, blogs and Twitter.