Students and staff stage silent protest as new Cambridge University Chancellor installed

Emily Loud - News Edito 21 March 2012

Over one hundred members of the University staged a silent protest at 10am today in objection to the seven-term rustication sentence handed to PHD student Owen Holland for his involvement in the David Willetts protest last year. Protesters wore their academic gowns and assembled outside the University Senate House as Lord Sainsbury, the new chancellor, was installed with an official ceremony.

Many participants wore duct tape over their mouths, and held a large banner reading ‘Freedom of Expression? University Repression’, while others explained the affair to passers by with the message, ‘There was a young man called Owen/ Whose political colours were showin’ / He spoke out real loud / Just part of a crowd / And got sent down for reading a poem’.

At around 11am many of the protesters stepped up onto the fence of the Senate House and draped their banners over the other side so that the procession of University staff could read their messages.

Those in the crowd expressed their outrage at Holland’s sentence; Subha Mukherji, an English fellow at Downing College, told The Cambridge Student “I came down to protest against the scandalous and disproportionate sentence – it’s outrageous. If anything can change the public opinion it is this.”

Arthur Kaletzky, a retired research associate of the University, added, “As an activist of UCU I feel that Owen’s protest was justified and not excessive in any way, and that it would be the subject of industrial action. His sentence was vindictive, irrational and shameful for the QC who imposed it. The University it implicitly siding with the government who are ruining higher education, the health service and the whole of Britain, and supporting ‘Bullingdon David’.”

Amy Gilligan, a Cambridge student involved in the protest, commented, “Everybody is so angry about this decision. In the last few days the university has shown itself completely out of touch with its students and staff. Nobody in their right mind thinks a student should be punished for exercising his right to peacefully protest. I can’t imagine why they have gone after one student when over sixty people signed the Spartacus letter.”

Once installed, the chancellor received the petition against the rustication of Owen Holland, which has received more than 2800 signatures. He did not sign it himself.

Today another letter in condemnation of Holland’s sentence also received the signatures of 50 academics. Posted by Cambridge Defend Education, it reads, “irrespective of individual opinions on the action itself, this exemplary sentence undermines the University’s professed commitment to freedom of speech and the right to protest”.

Emily Loud – News Editor