Sit-ins are a breach of state law too

Further indications of a concerted move by universities to clamp down on student protest can be found in this item from today’s Guardian:

A letter from the vice-chancellor of the University of Nottingham warned students yesterday that sit-ins were trespass and contrary to the law of the land as well as against university regulations. Letters were also sent to students’ homes by Kent University saying that students, examinations, and teaching could be suspended should further sit-ins take place. Any direct-action protest was forbidden.

Student discipline looks like being the major issue as the universities open for the summer term. With a general election in the offing, the situation is likely to be exacerbated by the growing debate over law and order. The summer term is usually quieter because students are preoccupied with examinations.

But the issues which have kept student revolt alive  remain and the battle lines are being drawn for confrontation in the coming months. The president of the National Union of Students, Mr Jack Straw, yesterday spoke out against unfair disciplinary measures which would constitute the greatest provocation to students.

The warning from Nottingham’s Vice-Chancellor, Dr F S Dainton, was contained in a newsletter. He said : ” Sit-ins are always unlawful and irregular, no matter how great the efforts to keep them nonviolent or to minimise damage,”

Since the sit-in is becoming the standard form of nonviolent student protest Dr Dainton may find his legally correct argument imperfect politics. But his letter was at least reasonable in tone, and he appealed for the restoration of trusted staff-student relationships which a small minority had managed to breach last term.

The Kent letter, signed by the university registrar, Mr Eric Fox, accused participants in the sit-in at the end of last term of  ” monstrous theft ” totalling £500.  Damage to the Cornwallis building and contents was assessed at £800  and other costs, including staff wages for a fortnight’s occupation, came to £1500.

The letter says that all students involved in future ocassions will be suspended pending disciplinary proceedings.  In any severe confrontation the university will consider suspending teaching or examinations or both.  Student reaction was predictably unsympathetic.

There was anger and resentment at Essex University yesterday from the administration at the remarks of Mr Justice Milmo on Wednesday when sentencing three students to borstal for conspiracy to set fire to a bank on the campus.  The Judge said: “What you need, quite obviously, is to be taught discipline and ordinary standards of civilised behaviour, without which society cannot exist.  This does not appear to be a subject within the curriculum of this university – but that is what borstal is for.” […]

Mr Jack Straw, president of the National Union of Students, thought the Judge’s comment was ” based on misinformation.” He expressed concern that students as a body would become a political football in the next months and they would get very annoyed.

He added : ” There is no question of the universities as communities not being entitled to enforce discipline. The argument is not that there are rules, but what they should be, and who should apply them.

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Author: Gerry

Retired college teacher living in Liverpool, UK.

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