The anti-privatisation campaign at the University of Sussex is gathering strength - and there are signs university management are feeling the pressure.
The student-led occupation of the Bramber House conference centre is now 6 weeks old. Monday 25th March has been called as a national demonstration against the privatisation and marketisation of universities. At the time of writing, nearly 900 people are 'attending' the Facebook event, while free coaches are being laid on from London. In the build-up to Monday's mass demonstration, management have attempted to clamp down.
On Tuesday evening, private security hired by university management attempted to impose a checkpoint to conduct bag searches and student ID checks on the occupation. This led to an academic speaker being denied entrance. The occupiers, in line with their policy of "peaceful non-compliance" resisted. One occupier was grabbed by the neck and thrown to the floor, but student reinforcements arrived and security withdrew. The established arrangements of open access between 8am and 10pm were preserved.
On the same day, the university's senior communications officer sent an email to all schools claiming that a survey on attitudes to privatisation being conducted by student paper the Badger was in breach of university rules, and urging staff not to co-operate. This was understood by students as clear contempt for freedom of the press. It has also been reported that a student who wrote a letter of complaint to management has been fined £100. The fine was subsequently commuted to a mandatory seminar on the “ethical lines relating to the boundaries of ‘fair comment’ in polemical communications”. The student's offending remarks were reported to be suggesting that a manager's job title should be “director of corporate tyranny and human suffering”.
These incidents follow threats to staff for attending campaign or union meetings, bans on wearing yellow badges in opposition to outsourcing, and management attempts to prevent union reps including campaign logos in their internal emails. These attacks on freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of the press fly in the face of the university's claims to welcome dissent and dialogue, and contravene rights supposedly guaranteed in the university statutes. The occupation responded by taking over the Bramber House kitchen, part of the lucrative catering buisness which is facing outsourcing (see photo, top). Occupy Sussex tweeted:
Management attempted to restrict access, so tonight we have expanded the occupation. Escalation brings escalation. Bring on #Mar25
Meanwhile, academics and support staff from the departments of anthropology and international relations have written statements of support, while a local MP has tabled an early day motion in parliament. The national demonstration is scheduled for 1pm, Monday 25th March, Library Square, University of Sussex, Falmer.