We’ve put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions to help people understand a bit more about what we’re doing and why. If you have any other questions, feel free to comment or contact us through Facebook or Twitter.
Why are you in occupation?
The university management have consistently acted against the interests of students and staff over recent years - through course cuts and closures, to employing managerial practices that put lecturers under high levels of stress, and creating a climate non-conducive to a good education.
Due to the lack of democracy in the university institution (beyond nominal and mostly tokenistic representation in certain bodies), students have no real say over the decisions made here and are forced to accept top-down impositions which we do not agree with and have damaging, long-term implications for us and our education.
This occupation aims to draw attention to this fact and take steps towards creating a fairer, more democratic, public university. Our full list of demands can be read here.
What could this achieve? Is it not alienating for the rest of the student body?
The aims of the occupation are wide-ranging. Ultimately, we want the university to agree to our demands. Occupying a space that they want to utilise and preventing them from doing so is an act of protest that gives us a platform to air those demands to management, and a negotiating power that we would otherwise never have access to.
Even if they do not agree to all of our demands at this time, effective protest and occupation makes the university wary of carrying out actions which are detrimental to the interests of students and staff in the future, in the knowledge that students are monitoring their decisions and willing to take action that could cost them money and damage their reputation over it. This gives students the ability to exert and assert more control over the decision making processes than the university management have been willing to concede to us.
However, taking direct action has a number of other benefits. It helps to raise awareness of the terrible actions that the university are undertaking by being considered “newsworthy” enough to appear in the national press. We believe that whilst the occupation may divide opinion amongst some students this is a good thing as it gets those on campus talking about the issues and new people involved who can contribute. It’s empowering and inspiring for students who are normally powerless within their institution to take part in/see others undertake an action which redresses the balance somewhat and leads to more students believing in the collective power they can have over what often seems a monolithic institution.
Is this action disrupting students’ education?
No. The area that is under occupation is the Senate Chamber and some corridors surrounding it. This has meant that the Telecommunications room is also blocked off. None of these rooms are used for teaching or regularly used by students. Access to Earth Sciences is still open through another staircase.
Is what you’re doing illegal?
The university have claimed that it is ‘aggravated trespass’, however, the police have been to the occupation and subsequently left. There has been no attempt on the part of the police to enter the occupation or arrest anyone. We believe the university are trying to get an injunction to make us leave. This would mean that we are trespassing which is a civil, not a criminal, offence. We would also argue that it is well within our rights to occupy university buildings. Occupations are a valid form of protest and students shouldn’t be villainized for exercising their right to protest.
You’re wasting the university’s money through this protest. Won’t this just mean more course cuts?
We are not asking for them to deploy security around the clock. This is a measure taken by management simply to prevent anyone accessing the occupation and is unnecessary for a group of people essentially sitting in a room. We also do not want them to pay money take out an injunction. This is again their decision.
They could easily let the occupation continue and enter into negotiations with us regarding our demands but instead would rather pay thousands of pounds to prevent students from sitting in a room.
Whilst the university might claim that some of its decisions and cuts are necessary because of their financial position, this is simply not true. The university is in a healthy financial position, and makes a surplus of tens of millions of pounds each year. Where they choose to spend their money is currently up to a handful of unaccountable senior managers. The Vice-Chancellor gets paid over £400,000 a year, with 111 other members of staff earning over £100,000. There are plenty of places they could cut without it affecting courses.
Although we disagree with the amount of money the university spends shutting down protests, them choosing to do so each time acts as a deterrent against them carrying out actions which are likely to lead to opposition from students and staff, further strengthening our power and negotiating position.
How can you claim to be in favour of democracy when you’re a minority of students taking action without a democratic mandate?
We are occupying because we believe that students and staff should democratically control the institution they work and study at. Whilst a group which is small in relation to the rest of the student body have taken this action, we do not want it to remain as such. We would like any student or member of non-managerial staff to have free access to the occupation, whether you agree with it or not, to come to discuss and debate the demands we are proposing. We want every student, regardless of their politics, to have an equal say in how the university is run and the occupation is a means of highlighting and working towards this goal.
What can I do to show my support?