The management of the University of Birmingham appear to have been plunging new depths these last few weeks. Not content with having disciplined and suspended a larger amount of students this academic year for political protest than anyone can remember, and despite an open letter signed by over 200 members of staff the last time that these students were suspended, the University management have now opted to suspend 2 of the University’s leading student activists in what has been described as a “kangaroo court”.
This is a particularly vindictive act as the students in question each have only a few weeks remaining of their registration at the University of Birmingham – or, rather, they would have done if they hadn’t now been suspended for 9 months each.
In each case, the evidence provided to support these suspensions was, at best, flimsy and the sanctions imposed were entirely disproportionate. We should bear in mind that a previous court case making similar claims was thrown out of court on the grounds of insufficient evidence. We should also bear in mind that the last staff member at the University of Birmingham who was dismissed through the University’s disciplinary procedure – Thelma Lovick – was successful in bringing a claim for unfair dismissal to the Employment Tribunal. In that tribunal the judge determined that “no reasonable employer in the circumstances of this case” would have reached the conclusions reached by the University management, and that there was “no reasonable basis in the evidence” for the conclusions reached.
The actions taken by the University management have also tarnished the name of the University, with national newspapers reporting on how poorly acts of student dissent are treated, and the heavy-handed and disproportionate forms of repression that have been meted out.
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Students have also only very recently re-occupied parts of the University building, calling for the immediate re-instatement of the suspended students – and subsequently suffered another heavy-handed eviction.
BUCU is committed to opposing all attempts by the University to outlaw or prevent non-violent protest at the University of Birmingham. We believe that the actions taken by the University of Birmingham management towards students this year have been draconian and contravene principles of natural justice and the presumption of innocence. The branch stands in solidarity with and will actively campaign to support any student who is targeted by the University leadership for expressing legitimate dissent. UCU Congress (Higher Education sector) also adopted a resolution this year in which it condemned the increasingly brutal tactics being used to silence student activists, noting those tactics adopted at the University of Birmingham as being especially severe. These developments appear to be worrying signs of the direction in which higher education is being led by university managers, and signals attempts to prevent student dissent and to hinder free and open criticism within universities.
We will continue to support all students expressing legitimate dissent in the current context of damaging reforms to higher education.