Academics petition VC to demand answers to spying on students

Ben Redwood 18 November 2013

A petition has been made to the Vice-Chancellor demanding that he issue an official statement condemning the covert surveillance of student campaigning societies by the Cambridgeshire Constabulary.

The letter of petition, created by Cambridge Defend Education and addressed to the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, Professor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz, has been signed by teachers and researchers at the university. The letter by 16:30 had already gained 130  signatures from some of the University’s most respected academics, and is currently still in circulation.

The petition comes in the wake of the leak of a secretly filmed meeting, in which an undercover police officer attempted to persuade an activist associated with various student political societies to become an informant. The activist, previously arrested for campaigning, was encouraged to target groups such as Cambridge Defend Education, environmental groups, UK Uncut and “student-union type stuff”.

The petition also demands that the Vice-Chancellor “call for an official explanation and apology from both the Home Office and from Cambridgeshire Constabulary”, asserting that these covert practices “infringe the traditional boundaries of University self-governance”.

Previously the University has declined to comment on the situation, stating that “The University will not be commenting on this as this is a police matter”. The petition nevertheless demands that the University make it explicitly clear that they are in no way involved in such practices, stating that “we cannot help but feel that the very threat of such unjustifiable surveillance will have a chilling effect on students involved in or hoping to join campaigning organisations.”