My University is trying to ban me from protesting. Because they know it works.
Almost a month ago, I discovered University of the Arts London (UAL) was making huge cuts to Further Education courses, with dozens of staff jobs on the line. Today, I went to court to discover they are now attempting to ban the majority of our elected sabbatical officer team from protesting: a move to sideline democracy, but one that will not be successful.
As the President of the Students’ Union, you may have expected me to have been consulted on a big budget cut; but at UAL, changes are continually made without the views of students taken into consideration. The only time they seem to care what we think is at the end of our final year, when we fill in the National Student Survey.
When students heard of the cuts, they were rightly angry. Foundation, which is being cut by 560 places, is a 1-year, multi-disciplinary course which prepares students for art and design at degree level. It’s free for home students who are under 19 and there are no A-Levels required: meaning that Foundation opens up art education to many from non-traditional and working class backgrounds. These cuts will be hitting the kinds of students we so urgently need to be helping.
With course closures and redundancies imminent, students chose to occupy a space at Central Saint Martins college in protest. The Students’ Union and the UCU (the academic staff trade union) gave full support to this action. Three weeks on and we are being dragged through the courts.
Last night I was made aware of a possession order being sought by UAL and notified of a request for a hearing in court for this morning. This gave us 0 days to seek legal advice. In court, Hannah (SUARTS Education Officer) and I found that not only does UAL want to spend thousands of pounds in an eviction; they actively want to ban protestors.
Of the 15 individuals the university is seeking an injunction against, 7 are elected Students‘ Union representatives, including myself. Not only is our university victimising those who speak up; but it is attempting to crush our Union’s campaigning capacity and totally undermine democracy.
UAL wanted to bring this to court by Monday morning, again giving us 0 working days to understand procedures and seek support. For many of us, this process has had a very negative impact on our mental health and personal lives, and none of us is au fait with legal processes. We managed to convince the Judge to delay the hearing by 24 hours, giving us a small window of extra time and a minor blow to the University’s underhand maneuvering.
In the last couple of years we have consistently demonstrated at this university, and we have consistently won. From the Living Wage and affordable rents to international student sign in. Even when we got Wednesday afternoons free for sports teams, it was an occupation that pushed through policy. When consultation has been exhausted (or in this case denied), then direct action is a necessary and effective tool, and it works.
At first, the University seemed to embrace the occupation as a novelty, describing them as ‘joining a long tradition of art school demonstrations’. Now they claim they are trying to ‘regain possession of the campus’. But that is exactly what this protest is about: students reclaiming possession of education, rejecting cuts and defending our right to protest. We will not be silenced.
We are asking students, staff and other supporters of the fight to save Foundation to join the demonstration outside the court hearing on Tuesday, to send a strong message against the victimisation of activists.
10AM at Royal Courts of Justice, 7 Rolls Building, Fetter Lane, London EC4A 1NL.
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