Cambridge student banned for poem protest

first_imgA Cambridge student has been suspended for seven terms following his role in the peaceful protests that took place during a speech by David Willetts in November 2011.Owen Holland, studying for a DPhil in English, was charged with “recklessly or intentionally impeding free speech within the Precincts of the University”, because of his reading of a protest poem which disrupted the speech. The sentence was passed on Wednesday by the Cambridge University Court of Discipline and has provoked widespread outrage and subsequent action from students and dons alike.A ‘Spartacus’ letter written to the University Advocate was signed by 60 dons and students, admitting to their role in the protest and demanding that they be punished accordingly. A number of petitions have also been penned, including one by the Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) which has already garnered almost 2500 signatures.On Friday afternoon a mass demonstration comprising 350 students, staff and lecturers took place outside the Cambridge Old Schools. During the protest, which passed without incident, a statement was read out on behalf of Holland in which he commented, “I have been humbled by the level of support I have received these past few days”.He continued, “I can tell you that I plan to appeal the sentence before a higher court, and I have every [confidence] that the seven senior members of this University will heed your calls for the sentence to be overturned.”The general reaction amongst students has been one of indignation regarding the “excessive” suspension, and worries about the effects that this could have upon the protest movement as a whole.Cambridge student Dominic Morris labelled the ruling as “disgraceful, disproportionate and discriminatory”, commenting that “regardless of the politics, the two and a half year sentence can only be seen as designed to silence peaceful protest.” Freddy Powell, a fresher reading Politics, Psychology and Sociology at Robinson College, responded similarly, criticising the “absurdly disproportionate response”. He observed, “rarely in recent times has Cambridge been so illiberal in its response to protests, a recognised part of student and academic life.”Julius Handler, a student at Churchill, agreed, commenting, “at Cambridge we are encouraged to think and to engage in discourse, and it is this kind of gesture that suppresses all that Cambridge embodies.”Oxford students voiced similar concerns regarding the impact of the suspension upon peaceful protest. Nathan Akehurst, a student at Lincoln, linked the “grossly unfair” suspension with “wider attacks on the right to protest, including the banning of occupations at Birmingham University and the ongoing trial of peaceful protesters at Fortnum and Mason”.Ben Hudson, a student at Regent’s Park agreed that “brash though it is, this tactic is the only way to make evident the opposition to the government’s ideological drivel”. Notably, students uninvolved with and even opposed to protest movements have reacted similarly, with Samuel Lin, a member of Oxford Conservative Assocation, branding the suspension “excessive”.A statement issued by the University of Cambridge following the ruling did not comment explicitly upon the sentence, but simply reasserted the right of the Court to make decisions as defined by statue law.Some Cambridge students, however, supported the suspension. One History fresher at Murray Edwards commented that although the ruling seemed “harsh”, “a strong message did need to be sent out to the protestors, as they were expecting a fine which would have had little effect”.A CUCA member, who also wished to remain anonymous, went further still, stating, “I totally believe that Holland got his just desert. Unrest is never the answer.”last_img

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