Vegetarian food petition sparks censorship row at Emmanuel

Hazel Shearing 3 May 2014

Emmanuel College has been accused of restricting student communication this week after one student was banned from publicising a petition through the college mailing lists.

Paul Rubenstein launched his petition last week to improve the vegetarian food provided in the buttery. The petition, which now has 170 signatures, addressed the Master, Senior Tutor and Bursar of the College, Mike Gross. It read, simply, “Improve the quality of the vegetarian food served in Emmanuel College”.

Originally, Rubenstein received positive feedback on the campaign. Last week he posted an update on the petition page, reading, “I've just received an email from the Bursar – the college seems to recognise that this is an important issue and that in order to improve things they must take an active role in reaching out to the students and seeking feedback!”

However, a further update saw a turn of events when Rubenstein claimed, “The Bursar has told me that I do not have permission to publicise this petition using college mailing lists! This appears to be an attempt to restrict my ability to communicate with other students. Please distribute this amongst your peers!”

When asked if the Bursar’s actions amounted to censorship, Rubenstein told The Cambridge Student that the move had sparked debate on the term: “The Bursar of Emmanuel College has denied me permission to further publicise the petition using college mailing lists. I wouldn't like to speculate on the motivation of the senior administration but some think that it has been done in an attempt to restrict the spread of the petition amongst college members.”

Mike Gross failed to respond when asked to explain precisely why Rubenstein’s petition was banned on college mailing lists. Instead, he commented, “All students have been contacted and asked for their detailed comments and suggestions relating to vegetarian food so that these can be considered by the Food Forum.”

The Food Forum, which includes representatives from the MCR, will meet on Monday to discuss the petition. Hilary Ledwell, MCR President, told TCS that while the MCR has a good working relationship with the College, there is room for improvement. “I'm encouraged by and pleased with College's convening a meeting to discuss the matter with students next week,” she said.

Rubenstein stressed to TCS that his main priority is still to provide members of college with satisfactory vegetarian food. This incident has, however, highlighted the difficulties facing students who wish to make changes to college life. “Many students at Emmanuel will testify to the college's poor track record of dealing with complaints and critical feedback from its students,” Rubenstein commented. “I will remain skeptical of high-level committee discussion until actual change is made.”