‘Justice for Owen’: 400 Cambridge students rally against rustication ruling

Laurence Tidy, Deputy News Editor 18 March 2012

Students and academics took to the streets of Cambridge on Friday to protest against the recent ruling by the University concerning PHD English Student Owen Holland’s involvement in the protest staged against David Willetts last term.

The protesters, around 400 in number, assembled at Great St. Mary’s Church at 1pm, where Gerard Tully, CUSU President, read out a statement on behalf of Holland.

“Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to assemble here today,” the statement read, “and to everyone who has signed one of the various petitions expressing consternation at the severity of my sentence”.

Holland, in the statement, affirmed that he plans “to appeal the sentence before a higher court” and has “every that the seven senior members of this University will heed your calls for the sentence to be overturned.”

Setting off down King’s Parade, the group walked holding placards that read ‘This is ridiculous’ and ‘#1 University for Law Doesn’t know what ‘justice’ means’.

One student, objecting to the march, carried a placard that affirmed: ‘A small cult of individuals shouldn’t be allowed to decide who gets to speak’.

Current CUSU officers, as well as those recently elected for next year, and members of campaign group Cambridge Defend Education, led the march down King’s Parade. Turning down Pembroke Street, the march continued on to Emmanuel College before heading towards Sidney Street.

Chanting ‘2, 4, 6, 8, don’t make Owen rusticate’ and ‘What do we want? Justice for Owen! When do we want it? Now!’, the group then marched on to Bridge Street and St Johns Street, before finally reuniting at Great St Mary’s Church.

A meeting was then held outside Senate House to allow for academics and students to speak, and for a ‘vote of no confidence in the University’ to be held.

Around 60 protesters sat in a circle on King’s College lawn, next to Senate House, to hear members of CUSU and CDE speak, including Dr Priyamvada Gopal, who described the post-protest gathering as ‘a battle for the soul of the university’.

Other speakers told of how ‘change is necessary’ and that the protest should aim to ‘take a step forward’.

The peaceful protest was met with little police presence, though University officials did close the gates of Senate House, ‘in the interests of safety’, a University spokesperson said. ‘Senate House Yard is closed today…and the University will be monitoring the situation’.

Speaking to The Cambridge Student after the protest, Gerard Tully commented that the turnout was ‘pretty amazing’.

‘I think it’s really important that this is a really broad coalition of students. I’ve seen students from all parties here, I’ve seen people who agree with what he did, disagree with what he did, but they are all united in saying the sentence is wrong’.

Concerning the appeal, Tully said that Holland was advised not to be here so as not to ‘prejudice his appeal’.

Though nobody has received a written copy of the detriment yet, Tully did state that Holland ‘is getting a lot of good lawyers, with a very good legal team behind him’.

‘The University, I think, is surprised by the sentence itself’, he added.

With pressure from academics, deans and Masters of several colleges, Tully suggested it was likely that the University would change its decision.

Pleased with the support so far of ‘senior members of the University, such as the Dean of Kings College’, Tully also cited the success of the ‘This Is Not Justice: Stop the Sentence’ CUSU petition. At the time of writing, the total number of signatures stood at 2,541.

Laurence Tidy, Deputy News Editor