Tuesday, 24 February 2009

Statement on University Behaviour

Cambridge Gaza Solidarity expresses its disappointment and outrage at the behaviour of university authorities in both this country and the USA in response to the recent wave of peaceful student protests. While some universities have engaged constructively with the protest movement, many have chosen to ignore and suppress it, displaying a concerning disregard for the welfare and expressive freedom of their own students.

Occupations at Manchester Metropolitan and Nottingham have been forcibly closed down. Recently, occupiers at New York University presented a wide range of demands centred around Palestine, the marketisation of education, and working conditions within the university. Security forces responded with pepper spray and batons.

University bureaucrats parrot the same line: protests have disrupted learning, and therefore the use of force has been a legitimate response to such action. Yet we state again: the occupied spaces have been educational spaces. They have seen debates, talks, and film showings, deepening students' understanding of the political situation in the Middle East. High profile speakers have included Prof. Priyamvada Gopal and Vandana Shiva; messages of support have been received from Prof. Noam Chomsky and Dr. Norman Finkelstein. Education is not confined to academia. Nor should it be.

Despite assurances of amnesty, students in Sheffield Hallam now face suspension. Eighteen NYU student negotiators exited their occupation only to be served with papers detailing their expulsion. The hypocrisy of the NYU administration is shocking: whilst protesters were beaten by security forces, the university continued to reassert its commitment to “a culture of openness, opportunity, and tolerance that allows all members of the community to thrive.”

A university bureaucracy that attempts to silence or ignore student protest should ask itself why, if universities are dealing adequately with student concerns, students are compelled to take direct action at considerable personal risk. It is not enough to demand academic ‘business as usual’ when these institutions are failing students and academics alike. Universities are in a position to promote awareness and change, and yet continue to use their vast resources to justify humanitarian apathy.

The occupied spaces have seen students participating in democratic processes that far surpass the official forums open to students within universities. They have seen mass meetings and debates, in contrast to the closed-doors negotiations and coercion favoured by the institutions. Universities are denying students the right to establish forums for open debate and constructive criticism, despite their educational responsibilities and commitment to intellectual freedom.

The current wave of protest has exposed many institutions for what they truly are; students have witnessed a dangerously dismissive attitude towards the opinions of the student body, and, most disturbingly, the thoroughly undemocratic nature of modern educational establishments.

We reaffirm our admiration and solidarity with all those who have faced victimisation while engaging in peaceful protests, and encourage others to speak out against universities that treat their own students with such disgraceful disrespect.

-Cambridge Gaza Solidarity

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