Defend Education is back in occupation, and have taken over Horton Grange conference centre. We are building off the back of a term of actions that garnered wide support. Our demands are reasonable, and students and staff alike have argued for them – you can read them here: http://www.defendeducationbrum.org/our-demands/
We have sent senior management another letter, declaring our willingness to cease action in the case of negotiations starting and our demands being met.
Dear University of Birmingham senior management,
We received two letters from you yesterday, regarding both this occupation and the demonstration planned for the 29th. We would like to remind you that the blame for these actions rests entirely with you, the senior management team overseeing an agenda of austerity and inequality, thus far unwilling to meet us and negotiate our demands.
Instead of engaging with our concerns, you have consistently tried to repress our right to protest and legitimate dissent within our own university by bullying students; typified by the disciplinary investigations currently being levied against six students from the previous occupation. As you can see, your repressive tactics are not working; we will not be cowed. In your letter to us you labelled some of the students under investigation as ‘senior members’ of Defend Education, but we don’t have leaders - we organise non-heirarchically - and it is illustrative of the haphazard and selective way you chose students to discipline that students are continuing to occupy. There are plenty of students voicing their dissent, willing to engage; it is you who is shutting down dialogue.
In hiding behind legal teams, court injunctions and disciplinary procedures you break down the democratic dialogue that is so vital to a university environment. Occupations such as ours have been used throughout history when no conventional option of engagement remains. The rubber-stamping that takes place in spaces such as Senate, so-called “democratic channels” for student engagement, is but one example. Student representation has become mere window dressing; a tokenistic gesture on your part to give management proceedings an air of legitimacy, allowing you to present yourselves as “respecting our right to free speech”, whilst eschewing the very notion of democracy that you claim to hold in such high regard.
Last term you spent over £30,000 on a civil court injunction against the occupiers; you brought in extra security, to police and patrol us 24/7; you hired in bailiffs from all across the country to remove us; a vast number of staff have been redirected to the role of surveillance, control and repression of the students protesting. Meanwhile, our vice-chancellor earns over £400,000 every year basic salary, plus expenses; you’re replacing his shiny chauffeur-driven car with a shinier chauffeur-driven car, you have an obscenely high paid executive board and over 100 members of staff earning £100,000+.
It strikes us as evident that the living wage has been paid for many times over; that staff time could have been better used drawing up a review of the (un)democratic structures of the university, and engaging students and staff in designing replacement structures; that by now a statement could easily have been delivered condemning the privatisation of the student loan book and rising fees; the list goes on. It is perplexing that all of our demands remain so reasonable and feasible, and yet you maintain the deadlock.
We will join our staff at the picket lines when they strike. We will continue to occupy and disrupt, because we are committed to our vision of a better university. If you want actions to cease, then meet us and negotiate our demands with us, in good faith.