On 16 March, over five hundred Cambridge students and staff protested against the 2 1/2 year suspension of a student. The student was suspended by a private university court – the “Court of Discipline” – after reading a poem in November 2011 at a peaceful protest against David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Sciences.
Following the news of the student’s punishment, Cambridge University Student Union (CUSU) organised a protest in support of the student. At a general meeting held after the protest, a statement of “no confidence in the university Vice Chancellor, management and Court of Discipline” was endorsed after a vote by the hundreds of students and staff present. A petition against the judgement has already garnered over 6000 signatures, with over 2000 of them coming from students and academics at the university. The university also continues to receive hundreds of letters, emails and phone calls from its alumni who are pledging not to donate any further until the university repeals the decision.
Before the hearing, sixty students and twenty dons signed a ‘Spartacus’ letter, which insisted that the protest against Willetts was a collective act and that singling out one student for punishment was “arbitrary and wrong”. In the letter the signatories asked to receive the same charge for the action. The letter has so far been ignored by the university Court of Discipline.
Gerard Tully, president of CUSU said: “The student body is demonstrating unprecedented anger over the disproportionate sentence handed down. The University has been caught out acting with no thought to precedent or to fairness, and ought to be ashamed of the message it sends. Two and a half years suspension for one person for one action is madness.”
Rachel Bower, a PhD student in English said: “Like the suspended student, I am also studying for a PhD in English. The punishment undermines the foundations of critical thought and debate that underpin our discipline, and supposedly the University as a whole. It endangers academic freedom, and makes me ashamed to be a member of the University today. I am glad so many of my fellow students have come out in support of our right to protest today.”