Written by Student Rights on 7 August 2013 at 5pm

Protest ban at University of London highlights hypocrisy

Political activism has been an important part of student life since the 1960s, and as the crowds which filled London in protest against fee increases in 2010 showed, it remains a cornerstone of student life.  

Despite this, it appears that one university is attempting to prevent students from protesting on its property, despite the legal obligation to protect freedom of speech and expression set out in the Education Act of 1986.

A letter sent from the University of London to its Student Union (ULU) reads:

The University’s management is no longer willing to tolerate demonstrations in Senate House, the cloister entrance and the East and West car-parks.

If this policy is not followed then the University will consider protesters to be trespassing on University property and will take all the necessary legal measures to prevent and prosecute such trespass”.

Commenting on the letter, ULU President Michael Chessum said:

This is an outrageous and draconian response from University management, and it comes after the violent arrest of a campaign supporter on campus on 16 July.

Clearly the University is rattled by campaign, which has highlighted the stark inequalities at the heart of the institution in the national press and beyond”.

In response to this, a statement from the university was released which said:

The university is not preventing student protest; we are merely trying to ensure we protect the best interests of the wider student body, the researchers and other users of Senate House”.

Whilst this attempt to shut down protest would be disappointing at the best of times, in this case it is compounded by the fact that it appears to be an attempt to suppress criticism of the university.

Since 2012 students have been protesting for better sick pay, holiday and pension entitlements for outsourced contract workers at the University of London, with one student arrested in July after chalking slogans on pavement in front of Senate House.

Given that University of London colleges including Goldsmiths and Queen Mary have defended events featuring extreme or intolerant speakers in the past by emphasising their commitment to protecting freedom of expression, it is noteworthy that when that freedom challenges the university it is dealt with less leniently.

If the University of London is to regain any credibility on this issue it must disavow this letter and ensure that proportional and peaceful student protest is allowed.