On Friday the 20th of June, a three day disciplinary against students at the University of Birmingham begins for their involvement in the Senate Chamber Occupation which occurred earlier this year. Despite this being a peaceful protest where no staff were hurt and no part of the occupied building damaged, the three students (Hattie Craig, Simon Furse and Kelly Rogers) remain under the threat of expulsion, as they have been since the disciplinary action was announced against them in December. The occupation, which called for better wages for staff, bursaries for students and lower halls fees amongst other demands, lasted for over a week and involved upwards of 100 students throughout the period, only ending after the University spent thousands of pounds to obtain an injunction and have the students forcibly removed by police and bailiffs.
The charges against all three of these students are those that almost every student at Birmingham would be guilty of doing at some point during their years there. For example, “the unauthorised use of university property” includes sleeping and eating on campus. Kelly Rogers’ disciplinary papers specifically accuse her of using a kettle in the occupation. So it can be seen that the university is exclusively choosing political targets to punish through long and stressful disciplinaries. In addition, all three have another disciplinary to follow.
It is typical for the University of Birmingham to have singled out a few individuals to punish for an act of peaceful dissent. Just last month Simon Furse was found innocent of assaulting a security guard during the occupation of the Senate Chambers, as well as having charges of violent disorder dropped against him in March after being targeted by police during the national demonstration on January 29th. The magistrate overseeing the case described the University’s witness in the assault case as “manifestly unreliable “due to the level of inconsistency of their account of events. Furthermore, another intimidation tactic used by the university management was to name specific protesters on an injunction that mean they were liable for damages of up to £25,000, a method used to suppress dissent by effectively threatening to bankrupt individual activists.
The University of Birmingham has a long history of victimising activists who have taken part in peaceful protests on campus. The lack of representative for the students involved, the drawn out and stressful process only serve to attempt to quash any dissent towards the continued privatisation of universities. It is a threat to democracy when a university can impose punishments on their students for simply sleeping and eating on campus, let alone operating outside the system of law that has already all of these students from any wrong doing.