YES – Tom Davies
The short answer to the question of whether universities are within their rights to ban protests on campus is yes, yes it is. After all, it’s their campus and they can do whatever the hell they want with it, regardless of how dictatorial it may seem. The real question is whether it is acceptable that a university should be allowed the right to do this sort of thing. Again, although the issue is a little more complicated, I feel belatedly that the answer has to once again be yes.
Ultimately, all universities are service providers; they are not arenas for political debate or agents for revolutionary change. Whilst political discussions inevitably will happen on campus, and there’s nothing wrong with them doing so, the sole responsibility of universities is to provide the service of higher education to paying customers, i.e. students. If you have a situation such as the one at the University of Sussex, with groups of protesters taking over study rooms, committing acts of vandalism and other general rioting which disrupts the day-to-day running of the University, then the University’s ability to provide that service is also disrupted, in which case you can’t blame them for taking such drastic action.
At Sussex, the student loony left have once again outdone themselves with their acts of rampant criminality and flagrant disregard for the lives of everyday students and local residents who are not so inclined to their brand of radicalism. With incendiary posters bearing such slogans as: “Sick of waiting for the general strike, come fuck shit up at Sussex” and local houses having their front doors smashed in by protesters, these trust-fund Trotskyites not only bring disgrace to their own progressive causes but further alienate the people they claim their actions are helping. After all, Sussex homeowners and students trying to get to lectures through swathes of angry protesters squatting in their seminar rooms are hardly the 1 per cent.
Student protest, it seems, simply cannot control itself. Whatever the leaders of said protests may say about it being a small minority tainting the message, it is becoming apparent that the campaigners who call for this direct action struggle to prevent such action from descending into violent and destructive chaos. Much as we saw during the 2010 student “protests,” with then NUS president Aaron Porter flapping around BBC news in his Harry Potter specs and a jumper knitted by his grandmother about how it’s not his fault that Central London had devolved into a pitched battle and Dave Gilmour’s son was swinging from a memorial to the War dead like George of the bleeding Jungle.
Ultimately, these protests always achieve nothing, and therefore every bit of damage and inconvenience they cause is just that, damage and inconvenience, and although I fully support the right to freedom of speech, expression and association for these would be bourgeois revolutionaries, I for one would not miss all the hoo-hah and in-your-face activism that tends to follow them. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.
NO – Agnes Chambre
As the news hit this week that an injunction issued by the University of Sussex had been served to halt the student protests, there seemed to be an anguished sigh from the national press. Ah, yet another battle of have the “loony left” once more gone too far? Or is it completely reasonable to liken the characters at Sussex university to fascist Hitler types who would silence Rosa Parks if they had the chance?
University of Sussex students started their protest in response to the University’s proposed privatization of 235 university jobs. What started as a calm and civilized sit-in ended with posters advertising that the campus was the place to “fuck things up.”
As soon as a protest becomes violent, G8 and the 2011 London riots flash through everyone’s minds and the police have their riot gear on quicker than you can pick up your baton. However, Sussex’s protests have not been banned until September, and the question remains: “were they within their rights to do that?” It appears, after weighing up the arguments, that they were very much not.
Students are historically and notably the people who speak out the most, so if protests are banned for them, it seems to follow that others could lose their rights as well. If we live in a state which dubs itself as ‘free’ then its fundamental premise must be that it doesn’t ban any freedom of speech. If the University of Sussex bans protests then they are, in short, censoring their students.
Of course, needless displays of violence need to be stopped, and slogans about “fucking shit up” are clearly not the answer. However, there will always be some people using the guise of a demonstration to take out their aggression on society.
When violence is involved it tends to supercede the initial point of the protest. It seems essential that there are strategies to stop things getting out of hand, but that these don’t allow the initial message to become lost.
The idea of feeling powerless before your university or even your government is a case that could cause anyone to feel fearful. To censor one’s voice is a flagrant disregard for human rights and an outrageous example of censorship. There is no difference between quieting one voice and silencing a million.