Toope concedes ground on Prevent but stalls on divestment and pensions negotiations

Image credit: Richard Humphrey

Over 300 people gathered from 2pm in Great St Mary’s Church this afternoon to hear how Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope would stand up against the CUSU Officer for Education, Martha Krish and UCU vice-president Dr Sam James, who grilled him on everything from the ongoing pension strikes to divestment and the new sexual misconduct disciplinary procedures.

Opening with a discussion of the recent strike action, Toope defended Cambridge’s advocation for lower risk pension plans by arguing that the 42% of institutions who voted for a ‘more moderate’ attitude to risk in September of last year were in fact representing the “vast majority of people” with interest in the scheme.

Unable to explain why the threat to dock 100% of staff pay for industrial action has not been withdrawn (or was ever made), Toope acknowledged that the impact of ongoing strike action throughout Easter Term exams will be “both terrible and really unacceptable”, and lamented that the Higher Education sector is largely bound to “regulatory frameworks”, suggesting that it would be preferable to move away from spending time “justifying our economic value in order to convince governments to support Higher Education”.

Climate justice was the next order of business, as Martha Krish asked Toope what he would be doing to ensure that Cambridge ‘divests’ from fossil fuels. “I can’t ensure the University divests”, Toope responded, refusing to reveal his own position on the matter, but admitting that the social context of student demands is “absolutely crucial” and asserting climate change to be the “biggest ethical issue of our generation”. In response to questions from audience members, he claimed to have asked for “greater transparency” in the reporting of the University’s investment policies and acknowledged the escalating “frustration” among the student body.

Other issues covered included the sexual misconduct disciplinary procedure, with CUSU women’s officer Lola Olufemi questioning the University’s need for proof “beyond reasonable doubt” in cases of alleged misconduct. Toope advocated the move towards “a civil standard of proof”, due to an insufficient position to reach criminal standards, but acknowledged that it would be an “active conversation” with groups across the University over the coming weeks.

As Krish brought the discussion to a close, she presented Toope with a collection of letters written by student and staff on picket lines ‘to the future University’ and implored him to reflect on “peoples’ hopes and fears”.

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