Letter to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Sir Leszek Borysiewicz
16th March 2012
It was with great anger and sorrow that I heard on Wednesday of the University Court of Discipline’s decision to suspend PhD student Owen Holland for two and a half years for his part in a protest which disrupted a planned speech by the Secretary of State for Education in November.
You have found him guilty, on the University’s terms, of “recklessly or intentionally impeding free speech within the Precincts of the University”; The premise that Mr Willetts’ freedom of speech was, both in general and on this particular incident, somehow more vulnerable or open to impediment as Mr Holland’s is ridiculous. Furthermore, people other than Mr Holland were part of the action for which he alone is being punished. Many other members of the university have publicly stated that they aided or supported this action; they wrote to you and the University Advocate on this matter, to no response. It appears that Mr Holland is the scapegoat for this action; quite clearly, his education and career may suffer hugely as a result. Moreover, the University Advocate recommended rustication for one term, or a fine. Why was their advice not followed on this occasion?
There is anger about this decision not just within the University but in the wider alumni community, and indeed in other academic institutions worldwide. If Mr Holland’s rustication goes ahead, I and many others will campaign fiercely against it. It perhaps goes without saying that I certainly will not be giving any money to my college or to the University in future. I imagine a number of more significant alumni than I will also consider this line of action.
In my time at Cambridge I participated in protests, a handful of them disruptive to proceedings which I and others believed to be objectionable. I did so without fear that the University would judge me to have been guilty of ostensibly breaching the human rights of others more powerful and more uncontested than I. I value hugely the education I received at Cambridge, and the part I value most did not go on in lecture theatres and seminar rooms. It happened because I met people there who helped challenge received ideas about politics, power and domination. I abhor utterly this abuse of power by the University, in a move which many will interpret as upholding the sanctity of politicians above other visiting speakers, which ironically suppresses the freedom of speech and thought that the University in this instance purports to uphold.
I therefore ask that the University Court of Discipline immediately revoke the decision to suspend Mr Holland.
More info here: http://www.defendeducation.co.uk/
Petition here - please sign: http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/support-suspended-cambridge-university-student/