Cambridge student protester suspended from University until 2014

14 March 2012

Owen Holland, a Cambridge PHD student and activist associated with the Cambridge Defend Education protest group, has been banned from the University for a period of two and a half years for his part in the protest staged against David Willetts, Minister for Universities and Science, at Lady Mitchell Hall last term.

The Cambridge Student understands that Holland has been found guilty of “recklessly or intentionally impeding free speech within the Precincts of the University”. The Court of Discipline ruled that Holland would not be allowed to attend the University until October 2014 after he took part in the “epistle to David Willetts” which prevented Willetts from beginning his speech on ‘The Idea of the University’. He has 28 days in which to appeal the ruling.

This follows the ‘Spartacus letter’ signed by more than 60 staff and student members of the University, which asked for “the same charge be brought against each of us”. Dr Priyamvadaa Gopal, who signed the letter, told TCS “I am deeply shocked by this disproportionate and clearly vindictive exemplary sentence against a vulnerable individual, a disgraceful verdict sentence which is intended, above all, to deter others, including those who have signed the Spartacus letter from expressing their views freely and peacefully. Today, I am ashamed to be call myself a lecturer at this university, an institution which is in imminent danger of losing its soul, its moral bearings and its right to call itself a community of thinkers.”

Cambridge University Students’ Union President Gerard Tully told TCS “We are dismayed by the University Court’s bizarre decision to hand down to a single student a punishment seven times stronger than what the University’s own prosecutors had asked for – rusticating him until Michaelmas 2014. As the ‘Spartacus letter’ indicates, many students and fellows took part in the action that the student is being singled out for. This is in no sense a fair application of justice, and students and academics expect better from Cambridge.

A balanced judgment reflecting the evidence and severity of the charges would not have handed down seven times what the University itself asked for. Should an appeal be lodged, we fully expect the University to apply reason and quash this heavy-handed and unfair sentence. For a University that so rightly prides itself on academic freedom and the justness of its procedures, there is simply no alternative.”

When contacted for a statement on the sentence, a University spokesman said,

“The University notes the decision of the Court of Discipline in its proceedings held today. By Statute the Court of Discipline is an independent body, which is empowered to adjudicate when a student is charged by the University Advocate with an offence against the discipline of the University. The Court may impose a range of sentences as defined in the Statutes.”

Emily Loud – News Editor

Related Stories:

Student singled out for punishment over Willetts protest

Students and dons unite over Willetts protest

The Cambridge Student – Editorial Lent 2012 Issue Seven

Questions raised over Cambridge University no confidence in David Willetts vote

Don raises serious questions on tied Willetts no confidence vote

Occupied (again)

Cambridge students hijack Willetts speech

Student anger as Government Minister visits Cambridge