We’re having an open meeting tomorrow (Friday 1 June), 1pm in the Lounge of the Graduate Union (17 Mill Lane) to discuss the next steps in the campaign.
With Owen’s appeal likely to be decided upon over the next month or so, we need to keep up the momentum. Join us!
Tonight we’re hosting an evening of poetry and music at the Graduate Union (17 Mill Lane) to raise awareness of Owen’s sentencing. Some of Cambridge’s finest poets – student and otherwise, will be reading their work. There’ll also be music and a cheap bar. Entry is free, open to all, and the venue is disabled accessible.
Ian Patterson is a Fellow in the Faculty of English and is Owen’s second supervisor.
Last November, the higher education minister, David Willetts, came to Cambridge to deliver a talk, in a series about ‘the idea of the university’ organised by the Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities. But as he came to the lectern, a number of audience members (both students and academics) stood up and read, or performed, collectively, a poem articulating opposition to the policies he was advocating. They continued to read and repeat the poem until after a few minutes Willetts was ushered away and the lecture and question and answer session cancelled.
In the aftermath of this, and of the small occupation of the lecture theatre that followed it, one PhD student was singled out for reprisal by the university authorities, and made subject to the university’s disciplinary procedures. As earlymodernjohn asks in an eloquent blogpost today: ‘What is this singling out and rash punishing of one man other than scapegoating?’ And as he goes on to point out it is, actually, more: ‘It’s bullying.’
The scapegoating was widely felt to be unfair, and a letter signed by sixty dons and students advertising their own actual or implicit part in the protest was drafted and sent. This had no effect on the proceedings, and the hearing went ahead. Like everyone else, I expected that the student, Owen Holland, would be fined. The prosecution asked for a term’s suspension, or ‘rustication’. But a sense of outrage and disbelief unparalleled in my experience spread through the university today as it became known that the court had imposed a sentence of seven terms rustication which, as earlymodernjohn points out, is almost the whole period of PhD study.
I have to declare an interest at this point, as I’m Owen Holland’s second supervisor, and want very much to read the work he is currently doing and which this sentence is cruelly designed to abort. But my anger, like everyone’s, is directed not only at the absurd and destructive disproportion of the sentence, but at the way it uses bureaucratic authority to punish effective dissent. As earlymodernjohn says:
In representing Cambridge, the Court of Discipline hasn’t just misunderstood protest, or free speech: it’s forgotten what a university is supposed to be. For shame.
Milton and Dryden were both rusticated from Cambridge, it’s true, for quarrelling with college authorities, and Swinburne from Oxford for speaking in support of an attempt to assassinate Napoleon III, but I don’t think anyone has previously been punished in this way for reading a poem.
(Originally posted on the LRB blog on March 15)
This Friday (25 May) from 7.30pm till late, we’re hosting a relaxing evening of poetry and music at the Graduate Union (17 Mill Lane) to raise awareness of Owen’s sentencing. Some of Cambridge’s finest poets – student and otherwise, will be reading their work. We’ll also have some low-key music and a cheap bar.
Entry is free, open to all, and the venue is disabled accessible.
Come along, and please share the invitation widely!
Poets already confirmed for the evening:
On Monday (14th May) CUSU Council – the decision-making body of Cambridge University Students’ Union – passed a motion condemning Owen’s sentencing. Council noted that he was singled out for a collective action that many other students and academics have also taken responsibility for. It was also noted that the verdict would deter future acts of legitimate protest. The motion drew attention to the dubiousness of the legal process; the lack of transparency over appointments for the Court of Discipline and the refusal to allow a student union representative to accompany Owen to the proceedings.
CUSU has therefore resolved not only to campaign for the sentence to be overturned and to support a solidarity demonstration outside Owen’s appeal, but also to push for a change in the University’s disciplinary procedures.
Anger at the University’s actions has not subsided; over the past few weeks, the Cambridge branch of the UCU, the Cambridge Graduate Union, the NUS, and now CUSU have condemned the University’s decision to single out one of its own members, to subject him to an unfair trial, and to punish him with a vindictive seven term suspension. As documents leaked from the court have shown, the process was explicitly intended to deter future protest and to ‘rehabilitate’ the student. This ‘rehabilitation’ (given how doctoral degrees are funded) means effectively ending his career. This cannot stand – join the campaign!
At the NUS Postgraduate Conference that took place last week (10th and 11th of May) Owen Holland’s case – and the broader issue of victimisation of activists and student officers – was discussed. Following this, members voted:
- To express solidarity with Owen Holland and issue a statement of support.
- To express support for Birmingham students facing disciplinary action (or the threat of disciplinary action).
- To actively support the right of all students to engage in peaceful protest without impediment from university authorities.
Those present voted overwhelmingly for the NUS to support Owen’s appeal, many taking the opportunity to voice concern at the growing trend of aggressive and disproportionate punishment being meted out to student protestors by University administrations.
The support of postgraduate representatives from across the country and the backing of the NUS further demonstrates widespread anger over Owen’s sentencing.