Dear Dr Greatrix,
This is a direct response from Notts Students Against Fees and Cuts to two statements made to us by the Registrar.
In those statements, which demanded that we end our occupation of the Great Hall and refused to negotiate with us on our demands, the following points were made:
1. That the university had always supported and facilitated peaceful protest by members of the university community
2. That our actions imperilled the ability of students of the university to carry out their studies
3. That our actions were in contravention of the principles of academic freedom
4. That a forum for discussion of the issues would be arranged for the New Year (probably in February)
In response to the first point, we would like to remind the university of a previous occasion (in 2008), when a student engaged in protest was arrested while on campus at the request of the university. We also reiterate that our current action is undertaken peacefully. We are operating a policy of collective decision-making, non-violence and respect. Supporting and facilitating protest means enabling communication; by refusing to engage with us in discussion of our demands and removing our access to the Internet the university clearly demonstrates that it wishes to silence our voices and curtail our right to protest.
Regarding the claim that our actions stand in the way of the learning of students, we have made clear from the outset that any classes and student groups booked to use the hall will be welcomed by our group. We have also engaged in a programme of lectures and workshops, which are offering a lively, broad and critical education to our participants. Students and staff of the university are encouraged to attend these sessions. We would further highlight that the occupation is providing a positive work space and that participants are continuing to work and study as they would at any other time. They are, of course, severely hampered in doing so by the removal of Internet access in the Great Hall.
On the matter of academic freedom, we must reinforce that the occupation is an environment of discussion and inclusion. United in our battle against education cuts, we welcome participants of all academic and political persuasions. We contrast our open stance to that of the university who excluded a student on the basis of accessing controversial information with the specific purpose of informing a research proposal. An institution genuinely committed to academic freedom would not refuse to engage their students in debate.
On the final point, our primary demand (that the university lobby against the government’s iniquitous cuts to education) is highly time-sensitive, as the debates and legislation to enact those cuts are currently progressing through parliament and the university is already preparing to implement those cuts. The urgency has only been increased by yesterday’s announcement that the vote on increased tuition fees is to be held on 9th December. In the light of these time factors, the opportunity for discussion in February is derisory. By that time the future of Higher and Further Education in this country and the social and academic integrity of our university may well already have suffered irreparable damage. This is not a game to us. The decisions that are about to be made will determine our life chances, the life chances of the students who attend the university in the future, and, vitally, those of the potential students who will be excluded by the regressive measures. The university must, therefore, engage with us and with its students and staff ahead of that vote.
We disagree profoundly with the thrust of the university’s statement, that our action is irresponsible or an attack on the university. Universities are more than tools to train the wealthy for work. They are the spaces where people can become critically conscious and learn to participate in society. We are active, committed members of the community of the university and our occupation is working to preserve and improve university education accessible to all.
We will continue to occupy and urge all members of the student and staff bodies to join us.
Nottingham Students Against Fees and Cuts