Student singled out for punishment over Willetts protest

The University has taken disciplinary action against an individual student for "impeding freedom of speech" following the disruption of a talk by Universities Minister David Willetts last November by Cambridge Defend Education.

60 academics signed a letter addressed to Vice-Chancellor Sir Leszek Borysiewicz "to express grave concern that one individual is being singled out for disciplinary action when a great many members of the University, both junior and senior, were involved."

The letter continued: "By choosing to proceed in this way, the University has embarked on a course of action which could reasonably be supposed to intimidate this individual, and which therefore represents a failure of the University's moral duty to them."

The dons also expressed concern over whether the University's possession of photographic and audio-visual records of the protest was "indicative of a move towards a ‘surveillance culture' within the University" and questioned whether such material complies with the Data Protection Act 1998.

The student in question has chosen to remain anonymous while proceedings are ongoing.

While the letter was initially sent privately to Sir Leszek on 21st February, no reply has since been given by his office, and the letter was yesterday produced in full on the Cambridge Defend Education website.

One of the signatories, Dr Priyamvada Gopal, Fellow of Churchill College, told The Cambridge Student: "I and 59 other dons signed this letter because we believe there is a real moral problem and a dereliction of duty of care when a university singles out one individual for punishment for a collective protest that was supported then and now by a great many students and lecturers.

"It is essential that we defend the right to protest on university campuses; without this right, there is neither free speech nor academic freedom."

Students have also spoken out against the University's actions. Naiara Bazin, a third year Natural Scientist at King's, and member of Cambridge Defend Education, said: "The fact that a letter expressing concern at the victimisation of an individual student has now been signed by 59 dons is an indication of how serious this issue is."

She continued: "Singling out one student for a collective action is completely wrong and the University risks suffering the same damage to its reputation as Birmingham did when it attempted a similar individual victimisation in the case of Simon Furse."

Second year University of Birmingham student Simon Furse was called to a misconduct committee hearing on Wednesday 15 February, which CDE have also condemned, and currently faces disciplinary action due to his participation in a student occupation last November.

A Cambridge University spokesman said: "The University Advocate is an independent authority and in deciding whether to bring charges against a member of the University does not act under the direction of any officer or body of the University.

"A case brought by the University Advocate is currently being heard by the Court of Discipline.

"No further comment can properly be made while that case is ongoing."

This would not be the first time an individual protester has been singled out by Cambridge officials. During the Old Schools Occupation of December 2010, the University addressed legal documents to "Mr Wills and persons unknown", referring to King's student Jacob Wills who took part in the Occupation.

Judith Welikala - Co-Editor-in-Chief

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