Written by Student Rights on 8 March 2010 at 1pm

Controversy over cuts protest at Sussex

A protest that took place last Wednesday at the University of Sussex has led to five students being suspended following the 'illegal occupation' of Sussex House, in protest of funding cuts to the University. A statement from the University of Sussex outlines the reasoning behind the Vice-Chancellor, Prof. Michael Farthing suspending five students on the basis of breaches of the law and aggressive, confrontational and intimidatory behaviour towards members of staff.

Alternate sources, from the 'Education Activist Network', claim the Vice Chancellor bypassed normal disciplinary procedures to suspend students following the protest. Campaign group 'Defend Sussex' is petitioning the university to "immediately reinstate all suspended students", "follow due process before issuing sanctions" and "issue a condemnation of the police response to the protest". 

However, the university claims that disciplinary policy means some actions need to await the outcome of current police investigations. The University has also taken another, separate measure to protect the campus from the threat of any future occupations. An injunction which the University has obtained from the High Court specifically prevents anyone from undertaking "occupational protest action" on the University campus. It does not prevent peaceful protest action carried out without the threat of occupation.

The Vice Chancellor went on to state in a separate e-mail to stakeholders, "This was not a peaceful protest but an aggravated trespass, involving forced entry into Sussex House. We know that at least one of the identified leaders of those who broke into the building is not in fact a student at the University."

Unfortunately, and counterproductively to the protestors intent, it appears that staff will now be unpaid for a week as payroll staff working in the Sussex House building were disrupted and unable to process payments when the protestors occupied the building at midday. Police did not forcibly remove students, however negotiations led to occupiers leaving by 5.30pm.

Student Rights Director Raheem Kassam has commented, "While students should not be discouraged from protesting, in the great tradition of activism amongst younger members of society, it is another thing to trespass and occupy a building on campus which has reportedly caused distress to staff. We can empathise with the rationale behind the protest, however exercising restraint and ensuring the safety of students and those who staff the university are of paramount importance."

A petition by students to reinstate the protestors can be found here.